TALLAHASSEE, FL — The Florida Secretary of State gave final approval Wednesday for signature gathering to begin on a proposed medical marijuana legalization constitutional amendment aimed at the 2014 ballot.
The initiative sponsors, United for Care, have until February 1, 2014, to gather about 700,000 valid voter signatures to place the measure before voters. If activists are successful in placing the initiative on the ballot, it would require a 60% approval from voters to pass.
The campaign is estimated to cost about $3 million, and the group has raised $200,000 so far.
Legal analysts say a successful campaign in the Sunshine State could cost upwards of $10 million, but United for Care’s Joe Morgan, who put his personal fortune behind a successful 2004 constitutional amendment raising Florida’s minimum wage, is not deterred and said he thinks he can recruit an “army of angels” to help gather the necessary signatures for the ballot initiative.
“I think it could be unprecedented in Florida politics, when you have so many volunteers with a passion for compassion out there collecting signatures,” Morgan says. “This will cost me quite a bit of money in proportion to what I have, but if it happens, I see it as political philanthropy – that through politics, a whole lot of good could be done for a whole lot of people for a whole lot of time.”
Volunteers can sign up via their website to help collect signatures and coordinate efforts in their area. The petition is also available online for registered voters in the state of Florida to print out and sign.
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.
Once a patient receives a recommendation for medical marijuana from their doctor, they would have to obtain an identification card from the Florida Department of Health, who would be charged with administering the program and be responsible for developing “reasonable regulations” for medical marijuana, including the procedures and fees for opening a dispensary in the state, as well as the amount of marijuana a patient could obtain or possess at a time.
Recent polls have found that over 70% of Florida voters, including 56% of Republicans, are in support of medical marijuana legalization in the Sunshine State, which has become a popular retirement destination in recent decades.
“I believe there is going to be kind of an uprising of people who have needed it in the past or had a loved one who needed it who are going to say I don’t want this to happen to someone else.”
And that includes Morgan himself. Over a decade ago, when his father was dying from esophageal cancer and emphysema, one of his brothers would bring him marijuana to help.
“He would smoke it or eat it and his nerves were steadied, his pain went away, his nausea went away, he had an appetite,” Morgan says. “It wasn’t a wonderful way to die, tethered to a machine but at least he was not being tortured.”
Earlier this year, Florida lawmakers passed on an opportunity to provide medical marijuana to the state’s sick and elderly. Senate Bill 1250, the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, was introduced to the Florida legislature in February and assigned to the Health Policy Committee, where it immediately stalled until it was officially killed May 3 by lawmakers, never receiving a hearing or serious consideration by lawmakers.
Instead, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to pass a law making the sale of virtually all pipes and paraphernalia a felony, a law that has been highly criticized as unenforceable.
Florida’s now-defeated 2013 legislative effort would have allowed patients with certain qualifying medical conditions, or their caregivers, to possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to eight marijuana plants.
It would have also required the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
The bill was named in recognition of Cathy Jordan, president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, who uses marijuana in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Just hours after the bill was first introduced to the legislature in February, a task force from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office raided the Jordan’s home, claiming a tip that the couple had two marijuana plants growing in their back yard.
Deputies did not arrest Cathy or her husband Robert, but they confiscated their plants and referred the case to prosecutors, who refused to press charges against the couple. The Jordans have since sued the Sheriff’s office for protection from future raids.