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Medical Marijuana Rejected in Florida

A ballot measure that would have made Florida the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana failed by a 2 percent margin.

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Barry Staver ©2012 Governing Magazine
©Barry Staver
A constitutional amendment that would have established medical marijuana in Florida failed to reach the 60-percent mark it needed for passage. 

Amendment 2 would have made Florida the first Southern state to allow medical marijuana and the third largest market outside of California and New York. The measure came in at 57.6 percent.

The law differed from most of the other 23 other states where medical marijuana is legal in some key ways, and opponents used that to their advantage. For one, the measure would have established a constitutional amendment, making it difficult to alter or repeal. In addition, the measure wouldn’t limit the conditions for which doctors can prescribe medical marijuana, which often include ALS, multiple sclerosis and AIDS. Doctors would have been able to prescribe it any time “the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks.”

A video of Amendment 2’s main financial backer also didn’t help. John Morgan, a prominent attorney, was captured on video after a debate, apparently drunk, amid a crowd of supporters chanting “smoke weed!” Opponents used the footage to undermine the campaign’s message, arguing that the measure is a backdoor to legalizing recreational use. 

Morgan has pledged to restart the initiative for the 2016 ballot in hopes that a presidential-year election will push it above the 60-percent threshold. 

“This time I had to collect signatures in five months; next time I would have two years," he told the Tampa Bay Times.

But first, he says he's determined to push the issue in the 2015 legislative session because medical marijuana has now clearly demonstrated majority support.

"This fight does not end tonight. This fight begins tonight. Tomorrow we go to Tallahassee," he told supporters in an email. 

Of the 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana, 11 passed it in just the past four years, signaling growing acceptance among the American public, which now narrowly supports full recreational use as well. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., passed measures to legalize the recreation use of marijuana Tuesday.

Southern legislatures haven’t seriously taken up full medical marijuana, but a growing number have legalized a marijuana extract that contains extremely low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the molecule that makes users high, for treating children with epilepsy. Florida is one of them, but it took some wrangling in the House. That indicates Morgan will have a tough climb getting state lawmakers to pass a full medical marijuana law, particularly one that maintains the wording of the ballot measure. But the issue won't likely fade from Florida's radar or the national one.  

Chris covers health care for GOVERNING. An Ohio native with an interest in education, he set out for New Orleans with Teach For America after finishing a degree at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. He later covered government and politics at the Savannah Morning News and its South Carolina paper. He most recently covered North Carolina’s 2013 legislative session for the Associated Press.
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