Why Florida’s Medical Marijuana Amendment Took So Long

On Nov. 8, 2016, with 71 percent of the vote, Florida residents overwhelmingly voted to legalize medical marijuana. Florida joins 28 other states and Washington, D.C., in legalizing the drug since California got the ball rolling back in 1996. But why did it take the Sunshine State so long to reach a ruling on medical marijuana that the Golden State reached 20 years ago?

Even though medical marijuana has been used to treat a vast number of ailments dating back to China in 2737 B.C., the American outlook on the drug has fluctuated numerous times throughout the United States’ history.

Throughout the 18th and 19th century, marijuana was used in the U.S. for medicinal purposes only be outlawed in the year 1914. Since then, politicians and U.S. citizens alike have been in constant battle regarding marijuana rights. The swinging ’60s were just that. A relaxed attitude on marijuana continued long into the 1970s. It wasn’t until the infamous war on drugs initiated by President Ronald Reagan at the start of the 1980s that attitudes toward marijuana soured and the incarceration rate rose exponentially.

For a number of years following California’s legalization of medical marijuana, Alaska was the only red state to legalize the drug for medical use. In the early 2000s, an increasing number of both Democrat and Republican states started to pay attention to the reported medicinal benefits of marijuana and voted to legalize the drug accordingly.

Upon the passing of Florida’s Amendment 2, many expressed surprise that it took such a long time to come to fruition — with Florida lawmakers trying and failing to do something similar two years previous. Back in 2014, an identically named Amendment 2 found itself on Florida ballots on voting day. If passed, it would have allowed the cultivation, purchase and possession of medical marijuana.

The History of Amendment 2

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Medical marijuana has faced an uphill battle in Florida.

The 2014 amendment failed to pass, gathering just 57.6 percent of the vote (with a 60 percent supermajority required for constitutional amendments). This ballot entry had been a long time coming but faced tough opposition from both more conservative members of the public along with several organizations, such as Drug Free Florida, as well as multiple noteworthy politicians.

For the 2014 amendment to make its way onto the ballot, a minimum of 683,149 valid signatures was required by the February 1, 2014, deadline. In August 2013, signatures had already reached 110,000, triggering a ruling by the Supreme Court of Florida. It was later approved for ballot Jan. 27, 2014. The inevitable rocky road for medical marijuana proved too much for the ballot, yet an earlier poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 88 percent of Florida’s voters supported legalization.

With significant contention from politicians, such as Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Jeb Bush — who prior to the 2014 vote stated in regards to Florida’s family-friendly reputation, “allowing large-scale marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts” — and the ultimate failing of the bill, medical marijuana faced another uphill battle.

Amendment 2, Round 2

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An indisputable shift in outlooks toward medical marijuana was a key component to the 2016 passing of Amendment 2 in Florida.

Following the 2014 disappointment, a further initiative by the same name was established and, once again, was sponsored by the United for Care organization for the 2016 ballot. In the weeks leading up the general election, election officials of Florida’s Broward County omitted Amendment 2 from some of the mail-in ballots, which led to a lawsuit from the pro-marijuana legalization firm NORML but was eventually dismissed.

Nevertheless, the amendment passed Nov. 8, 2016, with 71.3 percent of the vote, thwarting efforts to kill the amendment by a number of organizations and individuals. An indisputable shift in outlooks toward medical marijuana was a key component to the result, but success was also found due to four significant differences from the 2014 amendment:

• Parental consent is required for doctors to treat minors.
• There is an improved definition of the chronic illnesses that allow patients to receive treatment.
• The bill does not repeal any preexisting laws involving negligence or malpractice.
• Clauses were inserted to more effectively close the “drug-dealer” loophole.

With researchers estimating that Florida’s medical marijuana industry will be worth upwards of $1.5 billion by 2020, medical marijuana is quite literally having its moment in the sun.

“With this historic vote, we can expect similar programs acknowledging the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis begin to take hold in the southeastern region of the United States,” stated NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano.

Although many are reveling in the 2016 result, there are several hurdles yet to conquer. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been one of the principle opponents of marijuana throughout his career, and many are concerned about how his attitudes may affect state laws.

Florida, specifically, now faces severe cost concerns, too. In February 2017, medical marijuana in its purified form cost a staggering $240 per gram, forcing users to continue to buy off the black market for as little as $15 per gram.

It’s been a long and arduous journey for medical marijuana in Florida. Although further obstacles are certain to occur, the passing of Amendment 2 indicates a brighter future for those seeking medical marijuana as an alternative form of medicine.