Seven former state Supreme Court justices say they oppose medical marijuana amendment

Published Sept. 10, 2014

An anti-drug group fighting Amendment 2 has elicited the backing of seven former state Supreme Court justices to oppose the effort to legalize medical marijuana, but the spokesman for a pro-amendment group countered "what's relevant is the majority opinion" of the current court.

A divided Florida Supreme Court ruled in January that ballot language for a proposed constitutional amendment meets all legal requirement.

"It strikes us as disrespectful to the sitting justices on the bench that these former members of the highest court in our state would publicly question the decisions of the court in such a manner," Ben Pollara, spokesman for United for Care, the prime group fighting for Amendment 2, wrote in an email.

In a press statement, billed as a "paid political advertisement paid for by Drug Free Florida Committee," former Justice Kenneth B. Bell stated that "Once an Amendment is in the constitution, it is extremely difficult to change. A subject such as this should be addressed by general law ... The Legislature has already legalized a strain of low-THC marijuana for medical use that is not smoked. Any expansion of marijuana use should reflect further development in medical knowledge and have a carefully limited scope, which Amendment 2 does not do."

Bell is referring to a noneuphoric strain of marijuana, known as Charlotte's Web, to treat conditions such as epilepsy, Lou Gehrig's disease and cancer. It's mostly touted for helping children who suffer from severe epilepsy. Authorized patients will be allowed access to the drug through oil or vapor form, but it may not be smoked.

If 60 percent of Florida voters approve Amendment 2, it would allow doctors to recommend other forms of marijuana, including a form that can be smoked, to treat more conditions.

Pollara said "While we have the utmost respect for the past service and unquestionable legal acumen of the former justices, their legal opinions are irrelevant. What is relevant is the majority opinion of the current Supreme Court of Florida - that which placed amendment 2 on the ballot this fall."

The former Florida Supreme Court Justices who have announced their opposition to the amendment, according to the Drug Free Florida Committee, are:

Parker Lee McDonald, chief justice 1986-1988; justice 1979-1994

Leander J. Shaw, Jr., chief justice 1990-1992; justice 1983-2003

Stephen H. Grimes, chief justice 1994-1996; justice 1987-1997

Major B. Harding, chief justice 1998-2000; justice 1991-2002

Charles T. Wells, chief justice 2000-2002; justice 1994-2009

Raoul G. Cantero, III, justice 2002-2008

Kenneth B. Bell, justice 2003-2008

Here's more from the press release:

"Constitutional Attorney Susan Kelsey noted that the Florida Supreme Court only very narrowly allowed Amendment 2 to go on the ballot, with a 4-3 vote. Kelsey explained: "Then-Chief Justice Polston ruled that Amendment 2's ballot summary is 'egregious' in misleading voters, and uses 'deceptive wordsmithing,' which will result in 'Floridians voting on a constitutional amendment in disguise.' Justice Canady concluded that 'Foisting this seriously deceptive ballot summary on the voters does a severe disservice to the people and to their constitution.' And, current Chief Justice Labarga deemed Amendment 2's ballot summary 'fatally confusing ...

"With three current Justices adamantly opposed to putting Amendment 2 on the ballot, and now seven former Justices warning Floridians of the dire legal consequences of passing this Amendment, voters should take note and vote no on 2," concluded Kelsey."

A majority of the court -- justices Barbara Pariente, James E.C. Perry, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis -- pointed out that, under the plain text of the amendment, physicians had to use sound medical judgment, conduct a thorough exam and recommend marijuana in writing for those who suffered from debilitating medical conditions.

Pollara said "the suggestion by Susan Kelsey that a 4-3 decision is somehow less relevant than any other majority vote of the court demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the court works, an affront to the intelligence of the voters or both. It should be telling that this assessment comes only from Ms. Kelsey and not one of the former justices."