FLORIDA update – medical marijuana initiative back

Florida’s medical marijuana initiative is back and, its backers say, new and improved.

The proposed amendment, submitted Thursday to the Florida Secretary of State’s office, closely resembles the 2014 initiative that narrowly failed at the ballot box — however it was rewritten throughout in an attempt to quiet critics who said it had too many loopholes.

The amendment backers, People United for Medical Marijuana, on Monday will start gathering the 683,149 voter signatures needed to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.

“I’mmmmmmmm baaaaaaaaaack,” joked John Morgan, the wealthy Orlando trial lawyer who sunk about $4 million of his own money into last year’s effort.

“Last time I did this, it was like a maze,” Morgan says. “Well, I’ve been through it once. I know how to do this. We made a lot of mistakes and we won’t make them this time.”

The new proposal specifies that parents would have to consent if their child is to receive medical marijuana. It adds extra language to clarify that only people with “debilitating medical conditions” can receive the drug. It makes sure to say that it can only be recommended by a licensed medical physician. And the Department of Health would be empowered to deny felons the ability to be so-called “caregivers” who deliver marijuana for a qualified patient.

All of those issues were brought up by opponents in 2014. But it’s not as if last year’s amendment was unpopular. It garnered 57.6 percent of the vote. However, it failed because it takes 60 percent to pass an amendment to the state Constitution.

Months before the election, the proposal was polling in the 70 percent range. However, a group called Drug Free Florida, led by Republican financier and former Ambassador Mel Sembler, outspent and out-advertised Morgan’s group in the final months of the election by a ratio of about 3 to 1.

Nearly all of Drug Free’s advertising money came from Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and friend of Sembler’s, who contributed $5.5 million. Adelson, who opposes illegal drugs, gave the money primarily because of his friendship with Sembler, a spokesman said.

This year, though, Adelson might focus more on his home state of Nevada where proponents are trying to legalize marijuana outright. There are 23 states that allow for medical marijuana.

“He has not made any determination as to the next specific steps but the Adelsons remain committed to the cause,” spokesman Andy Aboud said.

A Sembler group affiliated with Drug Free Florida, Drug Free America, said it still has problems with the gist of any medical-marijuana ballot amendment.

“To create medicine through a ballot initiative in our state constitution we don’t think is a smart thing to do. Just the process itself we would object to,” said Drug Free America’s executive director, Calvina Fay.

Fay said the group is “very much” in favor of research and the prescribing of a marijuana derivative, called “Marinol.” But, she said, the group opposes smoked marijuana because it’s an unsafe “delivery system.”

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