Monday, May 21, 2018
Politics

State officials passed up their chance to have more say over medical marijuana

Looks like their court briefs are in a bunch.

Yes, it seems the Senate president, the speaker of the House and the attorney general are all so worked up about the wording of a proposed medical marijuana amendment, they have filed briefs that will be argued this week before the state Supreme Court.

Good for them.

That's democracy in action. It's the legislative and executive branches of government coming before the judicial branch in healthy debate.

It's also a little desperate.

And far too late.

You see, the folks in Tallahassee have virtually ignored the medical marijuana debate for several years now. They have paid little attention as nearly half the other states in the nation passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical use. They have disregarded polls that show a majority of Florida residents are in favor of new laws. And the Senate and House refused to give a fair hearing to bills introduced each of the last three legislative sessions.

But now?

Now that some citizens groups are working feverishly to get enough signatures on a petition to place the amendment on the 2014 ballot, the big shots in Tallahassee suddenly have a lot to say about this issue.

So why the interest?

Might it have something to do with a marijuana amendment on the same ballot as a conservative governor's re-election bid?

"Too many people are thinking of it in political terms instead of a policy decision, and I think that's a miscalculation of the electorate," said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who has sponsored legislation for medical marijuana every year since 2011. "If it's on the ballot, I don't think this amendment will have a big impact on who comes out to vote.

"I've been getting calls and emails for three years from Republicans, Democrats and independents who are all passionate about this. I've been telling my Republican friends that instead of fearing this, it would have been a lot smarter to get out in front of it and frame it as a personal freedom issue."

And there's the rub.

The same legislative leaders who are now stomping their feet over the amendment's language could have helped craft their own — presumably more restrictive — language when Clemens brought it to the House in 2011-12 or in the Senate in 2013.

Instead, they wouldn't even let it out of committee.

And that forced people to take it into their own hands. So now legislators have mega-rich attorney John Morgan bankrolling a grass roots effort, and they have polls that tell them Florida voters are likely to exceed the 60 percent threshold for passage.

Still, none of this means it's a sure deal.

There are the Supreme Court arguments to be heard on Thursday, and there are still hundreds of thousands of signatures to be collected and verified before the Feb. 1 deadline to get the amendment approved.

If the amendment doesn't reach the ballot, it won't be the end of the issue.

Not when the latest polls indicate more than 80 percent of residents are in favor of medical marijuana.

Clemens says he is prepared to reintroduce his bill next year.

"I still hear snickers in the hallways about it, but it's a lot less than it was three years ago," Clemens said. "Of course, this isn't a Legislature well-known for listening to the desires of its citizenry."

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