Florida: Medical Marijuana Ballot Petition Nears Signature Goal
By Steve Elliott
A petition drive in Florida for the medical use of marijuana is nearing its signature goal, according to organizers, who said they expect to submit enough signatures this week to get the issue on ballots in time for November's election.
Campaign organizers have to get 683,149 valid voter signatures before February 1 in order to qualify. Almost one in three signatures are typically rejected, but polls show the petition has a good chance of success, reports Bill Cotterell of Reuters.
Backers are shooting for about 1 million signatures, to account for any ruled invalid; organizers say they will hit the million-signature mark by next week, reports Reid Wilson at The Washington Post.
"By this time next week, we should have more than enough to give us some comfort that we should be on the ballot," said Ben Pollara, who runs the People United For Medical Marijuana campaign that's backing the initiative.
So far, PUFMM has submitted 265,000 valid signatures, according to the Florida Department of Elections. The group says it still has hundreds of thousands of signatures being processed by county elections officials.
Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan has contributed $3 million to the campaign.
The petition, even if it makes the ballot, still has a steep hill to climb to become law. Under Florida law, 60 percent of voters must approve the initiative, since it is a constitutional amendment. If it passes, Florida will become the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana, joining 20 others nationwide.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican, tried to stop the ballot drive in the Florida Supreme Court, claiming the ballot language misleadingly implies that the state can trump federal marijuana laws. Bondi also claimed that the measure might allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for "non-critical" ailments.
But the language of the amendment permits medical marijuana authorizations for "debilitating conditions," leaving that judgment up to actual physicians. Once the signatures are submitted and verified, the state Supreme Court will rule on whether the amendment's ballot title and summary language meet legal requirements, a decision likely to come by April.
The medical marijuana question is poised to become a major factor in November's gubernatorial election in the Sunshine State. Top backer Morgan is a law partner of former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who switched to the Democratic Party and is now running against the state's GOP incumbent, Gov. Rick Scott. Crist favors medical marijuana; Scott opposes it.
A Qunnipiac University poll in November showed a huge majority of Florida voters -- 82 percent -- support allowing adults to use marijuana for medical reasons if their doctor authorizes it. Just 16 percent said they opposed medical marijuana.
Pollara said PUFMM will raise at least $10 million for the fall campaign.