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  1. Opinion

Column: Why five former justices oppose Amendment 2

SCOTT KEELER | Times
Editor's note: This column is signed by former Florida Supreme Court Justices Parker Lee McDonald, Stephen H. Grimes, Major B. Harding, Raoul G. Cantero III and Kenneth B. Bell.
Published Sep. 16, 2016

Editor's note: This column is signed by former Florida Supreme Court Justices Parker Lee McDonald, Stephen H. Grimes, Major B. Harding, Raoul G. Cantero III and Kenneth B. Bell.

As former Florida Supreme Court justices, we once took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the state of Florida. Today, we urge all Floridians to protect and defend our Constitution by voting "no" on Amendment 2.

The amendment's sponsors say they fixed the problems that caused Floridians to reject a similar amendment two years ago. We have read this revised amendment and have studied its impact. This amendment is still defective and again should be rejected. Here are five problems we see with Amendment 2:

First, Amendment 2 is a much broader authorization for marijuana use than its sponsors might suggest. The amendment is not limited to doctors prescribing marijuana as a compassionate, alternative treatment for debilitating medical conditions. Instead, it makes marijuana available merely on the "recommendation" of any doctor who believes its use "would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient." This subtle difference between allowing a doctor to prescribe marijuana as a compassionate, alternative treatment and a person obtaining marijuana on a doctor's recommendation that its use "would likely outweigh the potential health risks" is significant. And though the amendment lists several serious conditions for which this "recommendation" may be given, it adds a very broad provision allowing the use of marijuana for conditions "of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated." The result is an amendment that will open wide the door to marijuana use regardless of its need as a compassionate, alternative treatment option.

Second, this marijuana will not be sold at our pharmacies but at new "Medical Marijuana Dispensaries" referred to as "pot shops" in states that have passed similar measures. State economists estimate there will be over 2,000 such pot shops in Florida — that's more pot shops in Florida than McDonald's, 7-Elevens and Starbucks combined. Ironically, even though sponsors say the new version of Amendment 2 provides for narrower use of pot than the version voters rejected two years ago, these economists predict more marijuana users and more pot shops if this version passes than the previous version. One need only look at the experience with such pot shops in other states to understand the unintended consequences of such an amendment.

Third, Amendment 2 includes a right to privacy for medical marijuana users over 18 years old. As other states have experienced, an unintended consequence of such a provision will be the impact in our high schools. Since most youths turn 18 before graduating from high school, the amendment will create a new pipeline for pot into high schools throughout Florida.

Fourth, Amendment 2 creates the role of medical marijuana "caregiver." Florida's Department of Health estimates that, if Amendment 2 passes, there will be approximately 130,844 medical marijuana caregivers. The version voters rejected two years ago limited caregivers to five medical marijuana "patients." This large number of caregivers increases the likelihood that caregivers under Amendment 2 will simply be people who can legally deal drugs. Yet another undisclosed, unintended consequence.

Finally, and most importantly, the use of marijuana does not belong in our Florida Constitution. Approval of Amendment 2 would make Florida one of only three states with the right to marijuana in its state constitution. Other states that have authorized medical marijuana have done so by statutory laws. This approach has allowed the legislatures in these state to modify their laws to make them more effective and to deal with a host of unintended consequences.

If we enshrine Amendment 2 in the Florida Constitution, the people of Florida will forfeit their ability to legislatively improve the law and to address the inevitable unintended consequences.

In fact, "medical marijuana" is already available in Florida. Several years ago, the Florida Legislature legalized medical marijuana by making low-THC marijuana available to treat seizures; and it recently gave patients with terminal conditions access to marijuana to alleviate pain during their last year of life. If broader access to marijuana is needed, Floridians should see that our elected representative do so legislatively.

Legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is an issue on which reasonable people disagree. But all should agree that imbedding Amendment 2, as written, into our Constitution is a very bad idea. Other states have experienced a host of unintended and undesirable consequences when they have legalized marijuana use. The same will occur here. Given this indisputable fact, we believe Floridians should agree that this amendment does not belong in Florida's Constitution. Instead, the use of marijuana should continue to be addressed through the legislative process.

As former Florida Supreme Court justices who love Florida and its great Constitution, we urge voters to protect and defend our Constitution and the fundamental principles of representative government by voting "no" on Amendment 2.

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