‘Major tipping point’ as Florida voters approve medical marijuana

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 November, 2016, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 November, 2016, 4:24pm

Voters in Florida on Tuesday handily approved a medical marijuana proposal that was narrowly defeated just two years ago. With 66 per cent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press has declared that Amendment 2 has passed with 71 per cent support. Constitutional amendments require 60 per cent support to win at the ballot box in Florida.

It is the first in a string of state measures on ballots on Tuesday aimed at legalising medical or recreational use.

This is a major tipping point
Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority

Two years ago a nearly-identical measure in Florida earned 58 per cent of the vote, just shy of the 60 per cent threshold. Then, as now, opposition to the measure was fueled by multi-million dollar donations from Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and Republican donor. In 2014 Adelson spent US$5.5 million to defeat the measure. This year he’s spent US$1.5 million in Florida, and several million more to defeat recreational marijuana measures in other states.

“This is a major tipping point,” said Tom Angell of the marijuana reform group Marijuana Majority in a statement. “With Florida’s decision, a majority of states in the US now have laws allowing patients to find relief with medical marijuana, and these protections and programmes are no longer concentrated in certain regions of the country like the West and Northeast.”

This year’s measure is similar to the 2014 proposal, with the addition of several provisions backers say are designed to allay concerns that arose in the 2014 contest. Those provisions include requirements for parental consent for underage medical marijuana patients and clarification of the illnesses that qualify for treatment with marijuana.

Still, the Florida amendment has the potential to be one of the more permissive medical marijuana regimes in the nation. In addition to diseases like HIV, cancer and PTSD, the measure also allows doctors to recommend medical pot for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

While the 2014 measure allowed doctors to prescribe marijuana for any illness they believed it would be useful for, the new measure requires they show the illness is severe – though the wording gives physicians considerable leeway in determining which conditions would meet those criteria.

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With the passage of Amendment 2, Florida will become the first southern state to enact a robust medical marijuana regime. Medical marijuana is already legal in 25 other states and the District.

“Better late than never,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the drug reform group Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “Most states outside the South already have legal medical marijuana, but the overwhelming victory today in Florida is likely to accelerate the momentum for reform throughout the region.”

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Arkansas and North Dakota area also voting on medical marijuana. Voters in Montana are considering whether to loosen restrictions on the medical use of marijuana in that state.

Voters in five other states – Massachusetts, Maine, California, Nevada and Arizona – are also considering whether to legalise recreational marijuana .