Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana this week sent 100,000 petitions to county elections supervisors, one of the first steps in getting the proposal before voters next year.
It's the second shot for United for Care, the committee behind the petition drive, to get the proposal on the ballot. A similar plan received 58 percent of the vote in November, just shy of the 60 percent required for passage.
Local supervisors of elections have 30 days to validate at least 68,317 petitions to trigger scrutiny by the Florida Supreme Court, which signed off on the previous version of the proposal last year on a 4-3 vote. Like all other petition initiatives, United for Care needs 683,149 validated, signed petitions to get "Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions" on the November 2016 ballot.
United for Care Campaign Manager Ben Pollara said Wednesday that his organization is months ahead of schedule compared to the previous attempt to get the language on the ballot. Pollara said he expects the Supreme Court to receive the validated petitions by August.
"We're way ahead of the eight-ball this time. Last time, I was totally stressed and our staff was working 18-hour days all through the holidays and this time I believe we will have effectively put this thing to bed well before Christmas," he said.
Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who bankrolled last year's effort – spending nearly $4 million of his own money and that of his law firm – has again pledged to open his wallet to get the proposed amendment added to the constitution. In June, Morgan dumped about $233,000 into the political committee supporting the proposal.
Backers changed the name of the proposal as well as some of its language to address concerns expressed by the Supreme Court justices and used by opponents of the measure, including the Florida Sheriffs Association, to dissuade voters from approving it last fall.
"What this will do is to clarify things that will make it really impossible to misinterpret," Jon Mills, a constitutional law professor and former House Speaker who drafted the amendment and the revision, told The News Service of Florida in January.
The revamped measure clarifies that doctors cannot order medical marijuana for children without their parents' approval, Mills said. Mills and other supporters of the ballot initiative have insisted all along that, as with all other medical conditions, minors could not get the medical pot without their parents' or guardians' permission. But the sheriffs railed about the issue last year, raising the specter of "a joint in every backpack" in discussions about the proposal.
The new language also clears up ambiguity about what diseases would make patients eligible for medical marijuana treatment, another major point of contention for the law enforcement opponents of last year's measure.
The Florida Sheriffs Association is reviewing the revised plan and does not yet have a position on it, association spokeswoman Nanette Schimpf told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday.
But St. Petersburg-based Drug Free American Foundation Executive Director Calvina Fay said Wednesday that the new proposal isn't any better than the last.
"There are still very significant, fatal flaws in it," she said. "They didn't change the fact that they're creating a big marijuana industry."
Anxious about the proposal's possible impact on drawing out young, Democratic-leaning voters last year, lawmakers passed a law authorizing a type of medical marijuana that purportedly does not get users high and is believed to dramatically reduce seizures in children with rare types of epilepsy. State health officials were supposed to begin selecting licensing nurseries to act as "dispensing organizations" to grow, process and distribute the pot —- low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD – on Jan. 1. But the law has been mired in legal challenges and health officials have yet to grant the first license for the new industry.
Backers of the medical marijuana initiative were hopeful that lawmakers would address the issue by expanding on the current law during the legislative session that ended in May. But that didn't happen, and Morgan and his cohorts have since given up on getting the Legislature's approval for the "traditional" medical marijuana legalization.
"My impression from our experience with the Legislature in this last session is this is not a body that has a particular want to engage a whole lot on this particular issue," Pollara said.