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Florida Governor's Race Could Hinge on Legal Marijuana

Two years after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved the use of medical marijuana, Gov. Rick Scott continues to try to stop patients with chronic diseases from smoking a drug their doctors say could help them.

It’s not just the governor who’s stood in the way of the 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized cannabis for certain patients, an amendment approved by 72 percent of Florida voters.

Last year the Florida Legislature passed a law banning smokable cannabis, a method proponents say is easier, less expensive and brings quicker relief than edibles, vaporizers, oils and sprays.

For understandable reasons last month, a circuit court judge struck down the smoking ban.

Florida Governor's Race Could Hinge on Legal Marijuana

The constitutional amendment references smoking, after all. It says smoking medical marijuana in public places doesn’t have to be accommodated. It’s clear the amendment anticipates that cannabis would be smoked — just not in public places.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled the ban violates patients’ constitutional rights. In her 22-page ruling, she said Floridians “have the right to use the form of medical marijuana for treatment of their debilitating medical conditions as recommended by their certified physicians, including the use of smokable marijuana in private places.”

But here comes the governor, announcing he would appeal the ruling. The state Department of Health argues it “goes against what the Legislature outlined when they wrote and approved Florida’s law.”

Give it up, governor.

Trust that voters knew what they were doing when they passed the constitutional amendment pushed by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, who promised this lawsuit if you signed the ban into law.

Consider people like Cathy Jordan of Manatee County, who has ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She told the Associated Press that smoking marijuana dries her excess saliva, increases her appetite and works as a muscle relaxer.

“So many people won’t smoke due to the stigma and it being against the law. This is legitimate medicine,” said Jordan, one of the plaintiffs. “This ruling is not just for me, but for many other people.”

Smoking marijuana is a more affordable option than vaping, said Ben Pollara, who was the campaign manager for the medical marijuana amendment.

“It is the (method) most people are most comfortable with. It’s also the most effective delivery system,” he said. “There’s also the basic notion of voter intent. They were thinking about the green leafy stuff you smoke.”

The governor’s lawyers argue that smoking marijuana isn’t an appropriate way to administer medicine. But do they have medical degrees? Shouldn’t doctors decide the best administration method?

Lawmakers also argue that allowing cannabis to be smoked will open the door to recreational use.

But the ban on smokable cannabis could now have that effect.

On Tuesday, Morgan announced he would lead a referendum to ask voters in 2020 to legalize recreational marijuana in Florida.

In an email to the Orlando Sentinel, Morgan said he believed such a constitutional amendment “would pass overwhelmingly. And I believe in light of President Trump’s position, America is ready and willing.”

Earlier this month, Trump said he was inclined to support a bipartisan congressional effort to end the federal ban on marijuana, allowing states to determine the best approach.

Putting a marijuana amendment on the Florida ballot in a presidential election year will surely draw voters who might not otherwise turn out. Given Florida’s role in presidential politics, such an amendment could well affect who will be our next president.

Perhaps it’s too late for the governor to avert such an amendment. But before causing any more political damage or spending any more taxpayer money, he should end his appeal, do what voters intended and accept that medical marijuana, in all its forms, is here to stay.

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