Am. 2 Opponents Scream Fire; Supporters Try To Clear Smoke

Jun 13, 2014

Will Florida residents start seeing these sometime soon?
Credit Chuck Coker via Flickr

According to recent polls, a plan to allow medical marijuana in Florida enjoys strong support among the state’s voters.   Opponents of the proposed amendment to the state constitution are ramping up the rhetoric.  But some, including one former attorney general, say the claims coming from organizations like Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot, may be a bit overblown.

Polk County Sheriff and president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, Grady Judd is throwing his weight behind the Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot campaign.  Judd says he opposes Amendment Two which would make medical marijuana legal in the state, because he’s skeptical of the amendment’s aims.

“Amendment Two is about legalization of marijuana,” Judd says. “This is not about the medical use of marijuana, it’s about legalization of marijuana.  And this amendment is in fact is a wolf in sheeps’ clothing.”

But supporters say Judd’s statement isn’t supported by the text of the amendment.  In order to get the drug, the proposal specifies a person must have a “Debilitating Medical Condition”.  Opponents focus on the amendment’s definition of that term.  It lists a series of diseases like cancer and AIDS, but it also allows doctors to designate ‘other conditions.’  Judd worries that language could allow Floridians to get marijuana for something as trivial as a broken arm. 

But this reading is incomplete.  The proposal says to recommend the drug, a doctor must believe use of marijuana would outweigh the potential health risks for a patient. 

Drug Free America Executive Director Calvina Fay is also concerned medicinal marijuana could lead to a resurgence of fly-by-night doctors offering recommendations for bogus complaints.

“If you just look at the history of what we’ve gone through with pill-mills, you can imagine that it would the same type of doctors making those recommendations,” Fay says.

Judd echoes these fears, and says Amendment Two could lead to children getting drugs without their parents’ knowledge

“So you go to one of your pot docs that used to be your pill doc, till we put them outta business.  And they have no civil or criminal liability, and they say ‘hmm kid, you really could use some of this stuff’ and they provide it for you,” Judd says.

But the amendment explicitly calls for the Florida Department of Health to “issue reasonable regulations necessary for the implementation and enforcement” of the amendment.

The group United for Care ran the petition campaign to get Amendment Two on the ballot this November, when voters will have a final say on the issue.  Director Ben Pollara says Judd’s arguments show little faith in the government’s ability to construct regulations.

“His core argument presupposes that the state will implement this in an irresponsible way, which I don’t think is the case,” Pollara says.  “We left a lot of the implementation up to the state so that they could specifically do what is best for the state of Florida, rather than having a very strict set of guidelines shoved down their throat.  We left it open to the state to figure out how best to regulate this.”

In response to Judd’s claims about children getting marijuana behind their parents’ backs, Pollara is very direct.

“It’s simply false,” Pollara says, “it is Florida law, it is the law of the land across the country that you cannot provide non-emergency medical treatment to a minor without parental consent except for very, very narrow circumstances.”

But Judd, Fay, and Pollara are deeply invested in the issue.  What about someone on the outside looking in?  Former Attorney General, and former sheriff, Bob Butterworth says he supports the amendment but understands its opponents’ fears.

Butterworth says he doesn’t think the amendment will lead to out-and-out legalization, but there’s a wildcard that no one is talking about.  Every 20 years, Florida has a Constitutional Revision Commission charged with reviewing the constitution and proposing potential changes to the electorate.  The last commission met 17 years ago, and Butterworth was a member. 

“If in fact this goes the wrong way, the Revision Commission definitely has the authority to go forward and put something on the ballot to correct something that they think is inappropriate.”

The next Revision Commission begins meeting in just three years, so even if Amendment Two passes, it will face review almost immediately.  But with four months left before Floridians head to the polls, the rhetoric is likely to get worse before it gets better.