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Medical marijuana could make Florida nirvana for patients

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On Monday, January 27, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court decided to allow an initiative to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes to advance to Florida voters this November in the general election. The initiative was being challenged by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on October 24, 2013 as she claimed the language to be put on the ballot for voters was misleading. The court saw otherwise and voters will now be able to vote on the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions.

The language of what voters will see on the ballot reads:

"Allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.

Allows caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana. The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Applies only to Florida law. Does not authorize violations of federal law or any non-medical use, possession or production of marijuana."

Candidates to be Florida's next Governor are mixed on the issue. Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie stating on his website, "Medical marijuana is becoming acceptable among people across party lines. It’s a natural choice for pain relief." Rick Scott has not commented, however with his signing last year the criminalization of selling a marijuana pipe, it is not hard to see where his head it at on the issue. Charlie Crist has flip-flopped on the issue stating he was strongly against legalization in 2012 until a poll came out last year showing over 75% of Floridians were for it, now he's for medical marijuana legalization.

As for candidates running for the Florida Attorney General position, they are just as mixed. Libertarian Bill Wohlsifer wrote the first medical marijuana legalization bill last year which was introduced, however it did not make it through the Republican-controlled legislature. He says, "The time has come to make a distinction between the medical and non-medical use of cannabis and to protect patients who have qualifying medical conditions, as well as their physicians, and their caregivers from arrest, criminal prosecution, property forfeiture, and other penalties if such a patient engages in the medical use of cannabis." His opponent, Republican Pam Bondi, the current Florida Attorney General, is obviously opposed to the measure as she was the one to file the petition to have the issue taken away from Florida voters in fear they will pass the new amendment. She, along with Democrat Dave Aronberg, also has aggressively prosecuted those using too much in the way of prescription drugs denying those in need of their pain medication, so if she is re-elected, it would not be a far reach to believe she would do the same with medical cannabis. Democrat George Sheldon stated, “By legalizing a medicinal cannabis alternative, we provide these patients with an option that is less harmful, less expensive, and less subject to widespread abuse.” Democrat Perry Thurston stated, "“The prescription of medical cannabis should be a matter decided between doctors and patients. The extreme efforts by Republican legislative leaders like Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and others to block voters from deciding this matter has been inappropriate."

Although the Florida Department of Health has not weighed in on the issue, it is expected that if medical marijuana passed in Florida this November, Floridians will be able to posses between 1-2 ounces of marijuana without fearing arrest. The measure is high in state regulation and could be a big boost for Florida's agricultural industry which has taken some hits in the last few years. Patients with AIDS, cancer, ALS, HIV, Parkinson's disease and a long list of other medical conditions would be able to receive medical cannabis treatment should the measure pass. Committees in Tallahassee have already been meeting to figure out how to deal with the amendment as it is expected to pass in November.

The effort to legalize marijuana has been going on for a number of years by Libertarians, Democrats and some Republicans. Organizations such as the Florida Cannabis Action Network, The Silver Tour, United for Care, Marijuana Policy Project and a long list of other activists.

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