While a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida fell just short of the 60 percent approval needed to pass, more than half of the voters supported it. The Legislature should take the hint and craft responsible medical marijuana legislation before its supporters push the issue back onto the ballot. Writing a narrowly tailored state law that can be easily adjusted would be more responsible than forcing this complicated issue into the Florida Constitution.
Voters did the right thing Tuesday by rejecting an amendment that was too broadly written and ripe for exploitation and lawsuits. Amendment 2 would have allowed doctors to recommend marijuana to patients with debilitating conditions including cancer, glaucoma, HIV or multiple sclerosis. Qualifying patients would have had to secure a patient ID card from the Department of Health and pick up medical marijuana from state-regulated dispensaries. The amendment also provided civil and criminal immunity for doctors, patients, caregivers and dispensaries engaged in the lawful use or distribution of medical marijuana.
The Legislature should concentrate on the three issues that were most problematic with Amendment 2. First, lawmakers should clearly define and list the conditions that can be treated by medical marijuana. There should be no room for doctors' interpretations such as the "other conditions" language used in Amendment 2. Lawmakers also should develop a procedure for adding to the list of treatable medical conditions in the future. Clarifying these issues would help prevent abuse by patients and physicians.
Second, the Legislature should write strict rules for caregivers and limit the role to people without criminal backgrounds.
Finally, lawmakers must address the issue of criminal and civil liability. During the Amendment 2 campaign, there was broad disagreement from both sides about exactly what civil and criminal immunity meant for recommending doctors, patients, caregivers and dispensaries. Lawmakers should sort it out.
Though it failed to win the 60 percent required for approval, Amendment 2 got more votes — more than 3.3 million or 57 percent — than any of the candidates for governor and Cabinet. It is clear that a significant majority of voters want to see marijuana for medical use legalized in the state. Legislators should step up before Amendment 2 supporters try to revive their efforts in 2016.
Improbably, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that allows for a non-euphoric strain of marijuana to be used by children with epileptic seizures. Lawmakers should build on that law to allow medical marijuana use for all patients who qualify with specific illnesses.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have now legalized some form of medical marijuana. Most have done so by legislative statute. The paths some of those states followed can serve as road maps for Florida lawmakers. Legislators have acted with compassion regarding marijuana for medical use before, and they should do it again next spring.