Fla. Supreme Court Justices Seem Split On Medical Marijuana Amendment Summary

Dec 5, 2013

Florida Supreme Court justices seem split over whether the summary of a proposed amendment legalizing medical marijuana should be kept off next year’s ballot. The attorney general’s office argued before the court Thursday that the summary tells two lies about what the amendment does.

Justice Charles Canady seemed to agree with State Attorney General Pam Bondi, legislative leaders and other groups opposing the ballot placement of the amendment. Canady took issue with a line in the 75-word summary that says the medical marijuana amendment would "not authorize violations of federal law."

He said, “This is just a confusing statement that is likely to lead people to believe that nothing in here that is authorized here is going to be illegal under federal law.”

Although several states have legalized medical marijuana, any use of the drug is still illegal under federal law.

Solicitor General Allen Winsor argued the ballot summary also misleads voters into thinking patients could get marijuana certificates only if they have “debilitating diseases.” But he says the actual text of the amendment gives doctors discretion to prescribe it for any condition they deem appropriate.

“We’re talking about a football injury. That’s not considered a disease. And you’ve not heard the sponsor to my knowledge tell you that a football injury would not be covered by this," he said. "Back pain...all of those things that are not diseases.”

But Justice Barbara Pariente seemed to disagree, saying voters should be able to understand the amendment’s scope based on the summary and its title.

“If I’m debilitated because of something medical, whether I call it a condition or a disease, that’s what I’m concerned about, so what is it that is so important about the difference between one being a condition versus a disease?” she said.

She added that the summary title mentions “certain medical conditions,” not diseases, so taken together with the summary, it is clear that the amendment isn’t limited to just a couple of diseases.

Jon Mills, a lawyer representing the amendment sponsors, pointed out the amendment still requires doctors to diagnose a debilitating condition before certifying a patient, in contrast to Attorney General Pam Bondi’s assertion that marijuana could be prescribed in "limitless" cases.

Sponsors have until February 1 to get almost 700 thousand signatures certified before the amendment could appear on the 2014 ballot. The Supreme Court has until April 1 to rule on the summary.

CORRECTED: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the statement by Justice Canady to Chief Justice Ricky Polston. While Polston expressed similar thoughts during the oral arguments, Canady said the quote in this story. We regret the error.