January 9, 2015 / 11:12 PM / 5 years ago

Florida medical marijuana backers seek law, ballot drive in 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - The push to legalize medical marijuana in Florida continues with a two-pronged campaign, supporters said on Friday, sharing plans to mount another ballot drive in 2016 as a way to pressure state lawmakers to consider legislation permitting prescription pot.

A constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida last year fell just short of the 60 percent approval needed to pass in the state.

The campaign’s main sponsor, Orlando attorney John Morgan, said he has restarted a new petition campaign, seeking to convince state legislators to make Florida the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana.

Morgan, who spent about $4 million on his United for Care campaign last year, said he has revised the ballot language to close some of the loopholes in the failed version, which were seized by opponents to raise doubts.

The new language makes it clear that minors may not obtain marijuana prescriptions without parental consent, Morgan told reporters on a conference call.

Additionally, doctors could be held liable for wrongly prescribing medical pot. The state Department of Health would set qualifications for caregivers allowed to administer the drug.

Morgan noted that last year’s amendment drew 58 percent support, shy of the three-fifths required to pass, but still far more popular than many politicians on the ballot.

“We know that a lot of people want this, but they didn’t want it as a constitutional amendment,” Morgan said.

He intends to secure more than 700,000 petition signatures by March, when the state legislature convenes, in order to show public support for the idea.

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature last year approved the use of a non-euphoric marijuana extract, known as Charlotte’s Web, to treat seizures and some other medical conditions, but state health officials have not yet adopted rules allowing it to be dispensed.

Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation in St. Petersburg, said a public referendum is the wrong way to handle the issue. She said there is scientific evidence that marijuana smoke contains harmful elements.

“The science still very much indicates that smoking a crude weed is not a healthy thing to do,” she said. “We just don’t think a constitutional amendment is a good way to go about establishing a so-called medical program in our state.”

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