Protest for the legalization of medical marijuana
Protest for the legalization of medical marijuana ()

In a 4-3 split Monday, the Florida Supreme Court flung open the door for a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot.

Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the court to review whether the ballot language met the single-subject rule. Opponents argued the amendment language was too open ended and would allow doctors to liberally apply it.

Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry sided with the sponsor, People United for Medical Marijuana backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan of Morgan & Morgan.

The court broke its regular opinion schedule to release the 84-page advisory opinion.

“We hold that the voters are given fair notice as to the chief purpose and scope of the proposed amendment, which is to allow a restricted use of marijuana for certain ‘debilitating’ medical conditions,” the majority said.

Jon L. Mills of Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Miami argued for the amendment last month before the court.

“I’m glad to see the majority affirmed what we thought to be the case. We’re glad the people have a right to decide,” Mills said.

Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justices Charles Canady and Jorge Labarga dissented, each with an opinion.

Polston said the summary and title “hide the ball and allow this initiative to fly under false colors regarding the severity of medical issues that qualify for marijuana use, a type of deception this court has previously disallowed and assailed against.”

Mills said the title and summary describe how marijuana may be used by someone with a debilitating disease as determined by a Florida physician.

“Doctors have to sign an authorization which states a person has a debilitating condition and with the use of medical marijuana the benefit will outweigh the risk,” he said.

Polston noted the word “disease” in the ballot summary is replaced with the word “condition” in the amendment text.

“The word ‘condition’ is what actually is to be given effect,” he said. “It is plainly obvious that the word ‘condition’ is much broader in meaning.”

Canady called the amendment “radically defective,” adding it seriously misrepresents the interaction of the proposed amendment with federal law.

“The summary states that the proposed amendment ‘does not authorize violations of federal law,’ but the truth is that violations of federal law unquestionably are authorized,” Canady said.

Finally, Labarga called it “fatally confusing.” Even allowing for the fact that the court presumes voters will do their homework before voting, Labarga said, “No amount of voter homework would disclose exactly what conditions or diseases may be treated with medical marijuana.”

Attorney General Pamela Bondi, whose office wanted to short circuit the ballot item, issued a statement saying the ruling “leaves the issue of medical marijuana in the hands of Florida’s voters. I encourage every Floridian to read the full amendment in order to understand the impact it could have on Floridians.”

The majority acknowledged the dissents but concluded the amendment “has a logical and natural oneness of purpose—namely, whether Floridians want a provision in the state constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, under Florida law.”

Mills said there are enough signatures on the public petition to get it on the Nov. 4 ballot.

“We are on the ballot,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for People United for Medical Marijuana. “We are thrilled with the decision. This is a historic day for Florida.”

He said the signature drive successfully concluded Friday. The organization needed to certify 683,149 signatures.

“As of right now, we have 745,000,” he added.

Twenty states have some form of legalized marijuana. Colorado and Washington are the only states allowing recreational use.