When 71 percent of the voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in Florida, nothing in that amendment said smoking marijuana shouldn’t be allowed. Yet Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature refuse to allow access to smokable pot even though doctors recommend it for some patients. Now that a circuit court judge in Tallahassee has ruled the ban unconstitutional, the state should drop its appeal, respect the will of the voters and clear the way for patients to legally obtain smokable marijuana and get the relief they need.
Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled last month that the 2017 state law that prohibits smoking marijuana is unconstitutional. The amendment passed by voters, she said, included all types of marijuana for medicinal use. Her sweeping order characterized the law as conflicting and overreaching and said it "cannot be allowed to overrule the authority of the people to protect rights in the Constitution." She doubled down this week by lifting an automatic stay on her ruling and gave the state until June 11 to make smokeable marijuana accessible at dispensaries throughout the state. That can’t happen soon enough, but the stubborn state has appealed Gievers’ latest order to the First District Court of Appeal and asked that the stay remain in place until the core issue is settled.
The plaintiffs in the case — Diana Dodson of Levy County, who has HIV and neuropathy, and Cathy Jordan of Manatee County, who has ALS — break the law and smoke marijuana to get relief from their ailments. There’s simply no reason that their doctor-prescribed medical regimen should be a criminal matter. And there are countless other patients around the state like them, who may have trouble swallowing and can’t use edible marijuana or don’t get the same effect from oils or sprays. The constitutional amendment approved overwhelmingly by voters certainly does not exclude them.
The state’s argument against lifting the stay is both self-serving and circular. Attorneys argued that any patient who smokes marijuana would have acquired it illegally since the state hasn’t set up a system for selling smokable marijuana. But that is only because lawmakers have violated the Constitution by banning it.
Also thanks to Gievers, that point might become moot. She ruled recently in a separate case that Tampa’s Joe Redner, who is recovering from lung cancer, can grow his own marijuana, which he uses in a raw form for juicing. That ruling applied exclusively to Redner but opened the gates to similar lawsuits from other patients.
Litigation was the predictable outcome of Florida’s foray into medical marijuana, which required a special legislative session to implement. Since then the Department of Health has dragged its feet on setting up a framework for cultivating and distributing it even as thousands of patients register every week to be able to use it.
Floridians made clear their desire to have medical marijuana when they approved it in 2016 by a huge margin. By responding with a law that bans smoking, arguably the most common way the drug is used, lawmakers made clear their disdain for the people’s will. Now, by continuing to fight for the ban, the state is needlessly adding to the suffering of sick patients.