As stated in a previous post, the Florida Constitution permits amendment by ballot initiative. Once a proposed amendment sponsor has registered as a political committee, submitted the title, substance, and text of an amendment to the Secretary of State, and has obtained 10 percent of the total signatures required to place the proposed amendment on a ballot, the Secretary of State is required to submit an initiative petition to the Attorney General, who is then required to request an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court as to whether the proposed amendment complies with s. 3, Art XI of the Constitution and section 101.161, Fla. Stat.
The Supreme Court is then tasked with determining whether the amendment addresses one subject, and whether the ballot title and summary are fair and do not mislead the public. The Court must also decide whether the required financial impact statement is clear and does not exceed a seventy-five word limit. While the financial impact statement has not yet been submitted, the Attorney General contends that the proposed amendment’s title and summary are misleading.
Specifically, the Attorney General argues that the proposed amendment’s ballot title and summary mislead voters about the amendment’s scope because, while the summary provides that the amendment would permit physicians to prescribe medical marijuana for “individuals with debilitating diseases determined by a licensed physician,” the actual text of the amendment would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to individuals with a “debilitating medical condition”, which would include a condition for which a physician believes “the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for the patient.” The Petition also notes that there is no precise definition of who is a physician authorized to prescribe marijuana under the amendment, and this might result in ambiguity as the term “physician” is not uniformly defined in statute. For example, s. 456.056(a), Fla. Stat., includes chiropractors, podiatrists, and optometrists under the umbrella term “physician,” whereas s. 409.9131(2), Fla. Stat. limits the term to a person licensed to practice medicine under chapter 458 or a person licensed to practice osteopathic medicine under chapter 459.
The Attorney General also contends that the ballot title, which reads “Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions,” is misleading, because use of the word “certain” implies that the conditions for which marijuana would be allowed are specific and discrete. The petition points out that the word certain is defined as “ascertained, precise, …exact,” (though this interpretation seems to only consider the use of “certain” as an adjective, while ignoring its widespread use as a pronoun), and so would lead voters to think that a physician is limited in the conditions for which he or she may prescribe marijuana.
Finally, the Attorney General argues that the amendment misleads voters into thinking that the ballot summary may lead voters to believe that there is no conflict between the effect of the amendment and federal law. The argument there is that since federal law prohibits any use or possession of marijuana that would be allowed under the amendment, it is misleading for the summary to represent that the amendment “[a]llows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases.”
The Attorney General mentioned that her office will submit a brief with full legal argument against the proposed amendment pursuant to the Constitutional provision allowing “interested persons to be heard on the questions presented” in proceedings reviewing proposed amendments. Art. IV, sec. 10, Fla. Const.