Sunday, February 25, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Legislature ignores will of voters on medical marijuana

With the arrival of every election cycle, Tallahassee gets the hand-wringing vapors over the evildoing prospect of — cue The Phantom of the Opera theme — voter fraud! Oh, let's throw in one more exclamation mark for dramatic effect — !

By the Florida Legislature's reckoning, there are all manner of brigands lurking behind every voting booth to cause widespread election criminality. You might well think vast swaths of Klingons, illegal aliens and the Taliban were all casting ballots in our elections. And they are all Democrats, too.

The fake news that the state is a haven for voter fraud persists even though there is precious little evidence. But that's not entirely accurate.

As it turns out there is plenty of voter hanky-panky. There is indeed a vast conspiracy to undermine the democratic processes of Florida. And no, Hercule Poirot will not be needed to finger the villains here. The lineup consists of members of the Florida Legislature.

We have a system in this state that allows citizens to band together to put constitutional amendments on the ballot. The process exists mostly to deal with issues the Legislature is too timid to undertake itself. When it comes to demonstrating courage, if Florida legislators had constituted the Founding Fathers, then King George, Oliver Cromwell, Queen Elizabeth and Basil Fawlty would be carved into Mount Rushmore.

Last year, Floridians approved by 71.3 percent an amendment that broadly legalizes the use of medical marijuana. That was huge. You'd have a hard time getting 71.3 percent of the state to agree on the color of an orange.

Then it was left to the Legislature to craft the rules for implementing the amendment. That's the way the system is supposed to work. It's called democracy and it's all the rage, except in Florida.

Instead, Tallahassee has turned to one of the referendum's harshest critics to help draft the medical marijuana rules. And the resulting handiwork would make it more difficult for people to gain access to marijuana to treat a variety of health and pain issues.

For decades, Mel and Betty Sembler have been ardent marijuana opponents. The Semblers were the driving force behind Drug Free America and now they are among the primary voices the Florida Legislature is turning to for advice and counsel on crafting the medical marijuana rules. This would be like enlisting the late temperance movement leader Carrie Nation for her opinions on the state's liquor laws.

It's also worth noting that Mel Sembler is one of the leading GOP fundraisers in the nation. And so when the St. Petersburg developer and former ambassador talks, Tallahassee goes into full bowing and scraping mode.

There is no question the Semblers' work fighting against the perils of drug addiction is admirable and well-intentioned. They are a voice to be heard. Fair enough.

But so are the collective voices of 71.3 percent of the voters who sent an unambiguous message that the time has come to allow people struggling with various ailments for whom medical marijuana is believed to provide some relief from their pain and suffering to have access to the drug.

The debate over the efficacy of marijuana in treating pain is ongoing.

But there is no debate that the will of the people has been delivered. We had an election. The proponents of medical marijuana, with the financial help of Orlando lawyer John Morgan, played by the rules. The measure collected enough petition signatures to be placed on the ballot. The Florida Supreme Court approved the wording of the referendum.

And they won fair and square.

In an ideal world it should matter little what the members of the Florida Legislature, or the Semblers for that matter, think about legalizing medical marijuana. The people have spoken. Tallahassee has a moral and legal obligation to write the rules regarding the dispensing of the drug in keeping with the spirit of the referendum.

And therein can be found the problem. Florida legislators have been tasked with rising above politics. They've been asked to do their jobs.

Dismissing grass-roots citizen initiatives is an assault on the sanctity of the ballot. It makes you wonder what they are smoking up in Tallahassee.

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