Despite the ravings of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, it appears more than four out of five Floridians support making medical marijuana available in the state through a Constitutional amendment.
As we reported earlier, Sheriff Judd explained in an op-ed that “this is straight out of the pot-legalization playbook from other states. Yet I believe Floridians are smarter than these pot-promoting hucksters think.” We believe Floridians are smarter than Sheriff Judd thinks, with not only 82% of them supporting medical marijuana in the latest Quinnipiac University poll, but also more of them in support of outright legalization than oppose it.
In the polling, only 16% of Floridians, less than one in six, oppose the medical marijuana issue. This poll shows drastic improvement in medical marijuana support; as we reported, the last poll, commissioned by St. Pete Polls in August, put Florida’s support for medical marijuana at 73.5%. A previous poll by People United for Medical Marijuana found support at 70%. It seems the more Florida hears about medical marijuana, the more they support it.
Quinnipiac’s poll is worded slightly different from the others in that it asks about allowing marijuana use for medical purposes with a “prescription” rather than a “recommendation.” Florida’s proposed amendment cannot mandate “prescriptions;” as in all other medical marijuana states, it must be just a “recommendation,” lest the physician run afoul of federal DEA prescription monitoring that forbids Schedule I drugs like peyote, heroin, LSD, and cannabis.
Outright legalization of marijuana is also gaining more support than opposition, with 48% of the Floridians surveyed in support and 46% remaining opposed. However, wording of the question may have brought support down compared to the St. Pete Poll. Quinnipiac asked if Floridians support “legally possess[ing] small amounts of marijuana for personal use?” and St. Pete asked if marijuana “should be taxed and regulated like alcohol and be made legal for any adult to use?” The “tax and regulate” question garnered 58.8% support, suggesting that Floridians prefer well-regulated recreational marijuana over the idea of simply allowing recreational marijuana.
If supporters can get the medical marijuana amendment, known as the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, on to the ballot, it seems destined to pass. That explains why Florida’s statehouse Republicans and the Republican Attorney General, Pam Bondi, are challenging the amendment at the Supreme Court, saying supporters are “hiding the ball” and deceiving voters as to the extent of the Amendment’s scope. "If the amendment passed, Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations," Bondi wrote. "Any physician could approve marijuana for seemingly any reason to seemingly any person (of any age) -- including those without any 'debilitating disease.' So long as a physician held the opinion that the drug use 'would likely outweigh' the risks, Florida would be powerless to stop it."
Attorney General Bondi refers to sections that prevent the arrest of a physician and allow an affirmative defense for a patient if, in the physician’s opinion, “the potential benefits of medical cannabis would likely outweigh the health risks for a patient.” So while the amendment does have a list of 24 qualifying conditions such as AIDS, Hep C, glaucoma, cancer, and PTSD, conditions that would guarantee protection from arrest, it appears that a physician who writes a recommendation for non-qualifying conditions like depression, insomnia, or anxiety couldn’t be arrested or punished, and a patient with those conditions arrested for possession or cultivation would have a solid defense in court.
“For any other condition” was the famous clause in California’s medical marijuana act that opened the floodgates to cannabis access for anyone who had a compelling story and forty dollars. If Bondi can convince the Florida Supreme Court that a ballot summary promising medical marijuana only for “debilitating” conditions hides overreaching ballot text that authorizes California-style medical marijuana, the change 82% of Floridians support may be stymied before they ever get a chance to vote on it.
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of "The Russ Belville Show."