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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Facts, not hype, should decide marijuana issue

Medical marijuana has taken its rightful place on the November ballot, and now the debate begins on whether there is merit in legalizing the drug for limited medicinal use in Florida. Both supporters and opponents have an obligation to be accurate in their depiction of the issue — namely what is actually on the ballot and what is not. And voters should brace for what will be a flood of impassioned arguments. Facts should decide this issue, not sound bites.
Published Jan. 28, 2014

Medical marijuana has taken its rightful place on the November ballot, and now the debate begins on whether there is merit in legalizing the drug for limited medicinal use in Florida. Both supporters and opponents have an obligation to be accurate in their depiction of the issue — namely what is actually on the ballot and what is not. And voters should brace for what will be a flood of impassioned arguments. Facts should decide this issue, not sound bites.

The proposed state constitutional amendment seeks to allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to people with debilitating diseases. Unlike states that allow recreational use or those that have lax regulations for medicinal use, this proposal would require doctors to examine patients and their medical histories before issuing a prescription. If approved for a prescription, a patient would have to obtain an ID card from the state health department and purchase his or her medical marijuana from a regulated dispensary. To pass, the proposed constitutional amendment must be accepted by 60 percent of the electorate. Then the Legislature is expected to fine-tune the regulation through law.

The Florida Supreme Court's decision Monday confirming the measure qualified for the ballot comes after proponents have spent years unsuccessfully lobbying lawmakers and circulating petitions to legalize marijuana for medical use. In March, the effort got a boost from personal injury lawyer John Morgan of Orlando, whose donations enabled the campaign to secure the 683,149 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. Opponents got busy, too. Led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, they urged the high court to toss out the ballot measure for lack of clarity, saying its language was misleading about who could receive medical marijuana and the impact on medical malpractice provisions.

But in a 4-3 decision, the justices ruled that taken together, the ballot and its accompanying summary made clear that voters were being asked to establish a state regulatory structure whereby doctors would have to examine patients and review their medical histories before prescribing medical marijuana. Only people with debilitating conditions such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis would qualify. The dissenting justices argued the ballot language did not accurately reflect the discretion doctors would have to determine which medical conditions merited a prescription.

Public opinion polls suggest that Floridians are predisposed to pass the amendment. And a campaign in the Legislature over another niche medical marijuana product, Charlotte's Web, is bringing more attention and some bipartisan support to what some scientists say is the drug's medicinal potential. But opponents say they are just getting started, and there are likely to be reverberations throughout the summer as candidates weigh in on the matter. Already, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has said he opposes the amendment while Democratic challenger Charlie Crist supports it.

Now is the time for voters to start doing their own homework so they can separate the facts from the spin.

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