From local courtrooms to the U.S. Supreme Court, thousands of lawsuits are on the docket in Florida for 2018. In the first of a three-part series on some of the higher-profile cases, it’s the limbo involving 2016’s Amendment 2.
Seventy one percent of voters approved expanding Florida’s existing medical marijuana law beyond those who are terminally ill and with less than a year to live. Amendment-2 includes patients with HIV/AIDS, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Lou Gehrig’s, Crohn’s and Parkinson’s diseases, among others.
“These dispensaries, these businesses that dispense the drugs are popping up in various parts of the state, and the number of patients getting marijuana are increasing,” said Jim Saunders, Executive Editor of The News Service of Florida.
“The industry is slowly gaining speed,” Saunders said. “But there’s been a ton of litigation related to medical marijuana that challenge various parts of the state’s carrying-out of the medical marijuana amendment.”
Orlando Attorney John Morgan is the face of the medicinal cannabis movement, who largely bankrolled the 2016 ballot initiative. Part of the campaign’s genesis was a radio ad in 2013.
“Pill mills are prescribing dangerous narcotics like candy; people get addicted and many die,” said Morgan in the commercial. “Medical marijuana has been proven to give loved ones relief they need; helping with pain, appetites, seizures and spasms.”
After succeeding in getting the original bill on the ballot and on the books, Morgan is now embroiled in another lawsuit, over what form the medical marijuana should be taken. The state contends it cannot be smoked -- even though many say that works better with some patients.
“People who have ALS, people who have epilepsy; they find greater relief with smoking,” Morgan said.
“[Morgan] says when people voted for this amendment, they had it in mind they would be able to smoke medical marijuana, if they meet the qualifications as patients,” said The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders. “I think that’s the most prominent legal challenge out there right now to moving forward with medical marijuana.”
House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues sponsored the legislation, and pushed for the smoking ban. He’s confident that the courts will uphold the law.
In all, 29 states and the District of Columbia have statutes legalizing marijuana in some form. Seven states and D.C. allow for recreational use of the drug, including California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada – where voters approved it in November.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is shelving an Obama-era policy that advised authorities to tread lightly on enforcing marijuana laws in states that legalized weed. A former U.S. Senator from Alabama, Sessions has long viewed pot as a public menace and a source of street crime.
“This drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it’s not funny, it’s not something to laugh about,” Sessions said during a Senate hearing in 2015. “And trying to send that message with clarity, that good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
Sessions’ announcement allows federal prosecutors to consider bringing marijuana cases; but it falls short of ordering them to do so. It’s not clear if pot shops and legal growers would be targeted.
In Florida, journalist Jim Saunders says one question now is whether the state becomes the next pot battleground.
“Recreational marijuana has been discussed quite a bit, but I think from a practical standpoint it would take a constitutional amendment to get that passed,” said Saunders. “If recreational marijuana ever comes down the road, hopefully all these lawsuits would kind of resolve some of these issues that would probably recreational marijuana as well.”
A Leon County circuit judge is scheduled to hear arguments January 25 about whether Morgan's lawsuit should be dismissed. Other pending cases involve the issuance of a highly coveted marijuana license to a black farmer; and the constitutionality of a preference for the citrus industry in awarding marijuana licenses.