Florida medical marijuana drive nears 1 million signatures

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By Scott Gacek | The Daily Chronic | January 5, 2014
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

TALLAHASSEE, FL — With the deadline looming for supporters of Florida’s medical marijuana initiative to turn in signatures, the organization leading the effort says they now have a comfortable margin that should bring the proposed constitutional amendment one step closer to the November ballot.

“We have collected close to 900,000 and by Monday or Tuesday of next week, we should be close to 1 million,” Ben Pollara, campaign director for United for Care, told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. “We are going to make it.”

If activists are successful in placing the initiative on the ballot, it would require a 60% approval from voters in November to pass.  Recent polls have found that over 82% of Florida voters are in support of medical marijuana legalization in the Sunshine State.

In order to make the ballot,  the proposed constitutional amendment needs to submit 683,419 valid voter signatures.  Signature rejection rates historically run 25 to 30 percent, so organizers hope to submit over 1 million signatures to ensure the initiative makes the cut.

Election officials in each of Florida’s 67 counties must validate the signatures on the petitions by February 1.  Because it can take days, or weeks, for election officials to validate the signatures, petitions that are turned in late in January may not get counted.

To speed the validation process, organizers have been renting vans and hand delivering the petitions to election officials state-wide.  Under state law, petitions must either be hand delivered or sent via snail mail, electronic petitions are not accepted.

Even if organizers gather the necessary number of signatures to place the proposal on November’s ballot, a pending ruling by the state’s supreme court could still prevent voters from deciding on the amendment.

By law, the seven justices of the state’s highest court will not rule on the merits of marijuana legalization, but will decide only if the proposed ballot is specific enough and whether its title and summary sufficiently explain what it does.

State Solicitor General Allen Winsor, who is seeking to block the initiative from the ballot, argued the ballot summary is misleading because it refers to prescribing marijuana “for debilitating diseases,” while the amendment itself refers to “debilitating conditions” in the title.

“You don’t even have to have a disease to get marijuana, the way this amendment is worded,” he said.

He also argued that the wording is deceptive in saying that nothing in the amendment authorizes violation of federal drug laws. Except in certain tightly controlled research conditions, Winsor said, it is illegal to possess or use marijuana. He said the amendment implies that state authorization of medical marijuana use would somehow trump federal law.

The state Supreme Court has a deadline of April 1 to make their determination on whether the amendment will make it to the ballot.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow patients in Florida to use marijuana if they have a  debilitating medical condition and approval from their doctor.  Certain diseases such as cancer, glaucoma and Parkinson’s are specifically mentioned in the amendment.

Doctors would also have the discretion to recommend marijuana for any “conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient,” similar to medical marijuana laws recently passed in several other states.

For Florida voters looking to sign the petition, it is available online for registered voters in the state of Florida to print out and sign, but residents should do so quickly to ensure their signature is counted before February 1.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Chronic

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