The fight for medical marijuana in Florida should have ended with the resounding 2016 vote authorizing it in the state Constitution. Instead, the battle for access drags on, with Attorney General Pam Bondi waging the latest round in a lengthy legal brief defending the state’s ban on medical pot in smokable form. The details of how medical cannabis is used should be left to patients and their doctors, and state officials should drop their campaign of obstruction.
Voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment two years ago authorizing doctors to recommend medical use of marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis. The amendment also authorized the Department of Health to create a database regulating doctors, patients, caregivers and dispensing organizations. But instead of following that straightforward directive, the Legislature wrote a law that hinders access, banning smokable forms and specifying that chronic pain alone would not qualify. Then the Department of Health failed to effectively implement the program, resulting in backlogs for identification cards for patients and lags in approving dispensing licenses.
Now Bondi’s office insists on defending bad policy. A circuit judge in Leon County has struck down the ban on smokable pot, ruling it invalid because the amendment does not specifically prohibit smoking. Judge Karen Gievers wrote that because the amendment makes clear there is no right to smoke pot in public places, it thus implies the right to smoke in private.
The state has appealed and persuaded a higher court to keep the ban in place for now. Bondi essentially argues that the amendment does not require smoking to be permitted and gives the Legislature authority to "set parameters governing the permissible medical use of marijuana." Lawmakers, she wrote, enacted the smoking ban in the best interest of patient health. But health concerns should be addressed by a patient’s individual doctor who can weigh, say, the tradeoff for someone suffering from cancer who can’t ingest edibles. The case now rests with the First District Court of Appeal, which has signaled that opponents of the smoking ban are unlikely to prevail.
The 2016 constitutional amendment was broadly written to help anyone with a debilitating illness get relief. But the law Bondi is defending interferes with that goal. What she should defend is the will of Florida voters by facilitating access to medical marijuana in any form.