Push to get marijuana on 2014 ballot gets pushback from lawmakers; Crist looms as factor

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The push to put marijuana on the Florida ballot next year gets push back from legislators. House and senate leaders say they will ask the state supreme court to block the amendment from going on the ballot, saying it would mislead voters, and open the door for anyone to smoke pot.

Lawmakers have not acted to pass a law to allow what supporters call medical marijuana, so they're doing an end run around the legislature to put the issue directly on the ballot. Orlando attorney John Morgan has poured money into the campaign to legalize marijuana for medical uses, and paid for radio ads featuring his voice asking people to sign petitions to get the matter onto the ballot. It needs roughly 700,000 signatures by next February.

Supporters say that pot helps everything from easing suffering for late-stage cancer patients to  treating Lou Gehrig's disease, as Kathy Jordan, an ALS patient from Parrish, says it has done for her for 27 years.  Some even tout it as an antidote to Florida's narcotic pain pill addiction problems.

Legislators, including State Rep. Doug Holder, (R-Venice), believe the ballot language may mislead voters. “We certainly don't want to turn into a situation like they've got in Colorado,” Holder says. “We don't want to have the marijuana pharmacies spring up on all corners.”

The text of the amendment says that it would let doctors prescribe marijuana for “debilitating medical conditions,” which could include the ones mentioned above "or other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for the patient." Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says that would essentially allow marijuana for any use, and has also petitioned the state's supreme court to keep the amendment off the ballot.

“We want to make sure that voters understand exactly what the amendment does before they go to the polls and vote on it,” Holder says.

The issue has a political aspect as well. Former governor Charlie Crist will run for his old job as a Democrat, and could benefit, some observers believe, if people turn out to vote on the marijuana issue. And right now, Crist works for Morgan's law firm. “That's part of the reason we're so concerned,” Holder says.

In previous interviews, Morgan has denied any connection between his effort and Crist's coming campaign. The group listed on the petition, People United for Medical Marijuana, says it has gotten about 200,000 of the 700,000 petition signatures it needs to put the issue on the ballot.