Florida OKs medical marijuana amendment

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida voters approved a state constitutional amendment Tuesday to legalize medical marijuana, broadening access to pot beyond the limited therapeutic uses approved by the legislature two years ago.

Amendment 2 passed with 71 percent approval, well above the 60 percent needed to become law. Two years ago a similar measure received 58 percent.

“We were confident going into the election that it was going to pass but this is truly historic,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care.

Pollara said internal polling suggested that over 70 percent would vote for the amendment, but he was still surprised to see the actual results.

Currently, the law allows non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. The ballot measure formally legalizes medical marijuana, and broadens access for diseases with symptoms other than seizures or spasms.

Specifically the measure allows prescriptions for 10 illnesses: cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. It also allows doctors to prescribe pot for any other similar kind of ailment.

Two years ago, when the measure fell short of approval, opponents expressed concerns that the state would be overrun with pot shops and that children wouldn’t be adequately protected from potential bad effects of the drug.

Many thought that having the issue on the ballot during a presidential election would help the measure this time.

“There is more embracing of marijuana, especially for medical purposes, nationally,” said Pat Allen, a 51-year old teacher from Tallahassee who voted for it.

Florida becomes the 26th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize the marijuana plant for medical use. Before the passage of Amendment 2, Florida was one of 16 states where only part of the marijuana plant is used.

Proponents said loopholes were closed this time, including requiring parental written consent for underage patients.

“Better late than never,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Most states outside the South already have legal medical marijuana, but the overwhelming victory today in Florida is likely to accelerate the momentum for reform throughout the region.”

The Department of Health will regulate how medical marijuana can be distributed along with mandating identification cards for caregivers and patients. Many rules and regulations — from how the marijuana is grown to regulations on how it can be transported for in-home delivery — already have been passed by the legislature under laws for limited use of marijuana. Those regulations also will apply to the constitutional amendment.

The No on 2 campaign issued a statement saying that they hope the authors of the amendment are true to their word that the legislature will have wide discretion on regulation of medical marijuana.

Pollara said there have been conversations with the legislature about the next steps before the 2017 session begins in March.

“There is still a lot of work to do. There are still a number of clear and present conflicts between the current statute and the amendment. However it is nothing that can’t be worked out,” Pollara said.

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