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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Latvala and former Supreme Court Justice Bell declare opposition to Amendment 2



The campaign against a medical marijuana constitutional amendment is rolling out high profile names who have joined their cause, including two on Friday: State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell.

"I just see too many opportunities for abuse," said Latvala, who will be appropriations chairman next year. "I'm concerned that the constitution is permanent. I just think that that's a big risk we're talking about with this amendment."

Amendment 2 would expand medical marijuana in Florida, allowing doctors to recommend it for patients with a long list of conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many opponents, including Latvala, say it could have disastrous effects: Teens with access to drugs, children going to the hospital after eating "pot candy," an influx of dispensaries on every street corner in the state.

Bell said the Legislature won't be able to effectively regulate the medical cannabis industry because Amendment 2 will be in the constitution.

"Though shrewdly written, Amendment 2 does not belong in our constitution," he said.

However, the amendment explicitly allows for the Legislature to pass laws "consistent with this section" and for the Department of Health to write and enforce regulations.

Latvala is putting money into the race, as well, dipping into "the lion's share" of his well-padded campaign account to oppose Amendment 2. He has no opponent in his bid for re-election to the Senate. An ad he recorded opposing Amendment 2 begins airing this weekend in the Tampa Bay area on a $100,000 buy.

Supporters of Amendment 2 argue the Legislature has had its chance to enact a broad-based medical marijuana program after nearly 60 percent of voters approved a similar constitutional amendment in 2014. But Latvala believes the state has taken big steps, including a law signed this year that allows terminal patients within one year of death access to the drug, which Latvala opposed.

He's not the only senator who has weighed in on the medical marijuana initiative. Sen.  Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, whose district is just south of Latvala's, announced his support for the initiative two weeks ago.

"The Legislature believes it knows better than physicians on how to treat patients," Brandes said in a statement at the time. "And the only way we’re going to see meaningful change in that area is to put it in the Constitution."

Update: United for Care, the political committee supporting Amendment 2, released a statement responding to criticism by Latvala and Bell.

“If the legislature had done their job in the first place, Senator Latvala wouldn’t have an amendment to oppose. They didn’t," said United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara. "If Senator Latvala is displeased that this issue is now before voters as a constitutional amendment, perhaps he should reflect on why the legislature failed to enact the people’s will."

[Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2016 2:25pm]


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