When Florida voters head to the polls on November 8, the first thing on their mind is almost definitely going to be their presidential vote. If you're a medical marijuana supporter, however, there's a great reason to turn up even if you're not thrilled with any of the leadership choices available this year.
Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization, Amendment 2 is the second serious attempt to make cannabis more broadly available for medical patients in the state. The first, which went before voters in 2014, fell just two percentage points short of being passed. Cancer patients and those suffering from seizures or severe muscle spasms currently have limited access to low-THC cannabis thanks to the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act passed earlier that year, but obviously this is not even close to sufficient to address the full range of medical needs.
So, what's different this time out?
The big difference with this new amendment is a change in language to very clearly define which conditions medical marijuana would be approved for. In total, it would be approved for 10 conditions: cancer, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, HIV, AIDS, glaucoma, ALS and PTSD. This new amendment also adds stronger language regarding parental consent for minors to use medical cannabis, and allows the state Department of Health to put a limit on how many patients a doctor can prescribe it to.
Support for the amendment was strong two years ago, and it's actually a little bit stronger now. Polling shows that 65 percent of the state's residents are in favor, with 28 percent opposed. Those numbers cut across all political lines; Democrats and independents have the strongest support, with 70% in favor, but even registered Republicans are 53% in favor of the measure.
So with this much support, how can this second effort fail? The main reason the measure two years ago failed to go through is attributed to Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas casino magnate, who threw over $5 million into negative advertising in the state aimed at defeating the measure. Adelson is back again this year, and is speculated to be throwing in up to $10 million this time out (mostly funneled through the Drug Free Florida action group). Primary legalization support group United For Care has reportedly raised over $8 million for their own series of TV ads during the run-up to the election, however.
And the numbers look better for cannabis supporters, too; voter turnout in 2014 was unusually low even for a non-presidential election year, close to the record lows of the 1942 election. Turnout in 2016 is all but guaranteed to be "huge" in Florida (as one of the candidates might put it) given the polarizing presidential contest and the state's swing status.
The measure doesn't go as far as everyone would like, not providing the full range of freedom for physicians to prescribe for non-debilitating conditions like anxiety or insomnia, which is allowed in other states such as California. It would definitely provide much-needed relief for seriously sick people who are suffering the most, however.
Florida joins Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota as states with medical measures on their ballots for 2016. California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts will be voting on legalizing for recreational use.