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Florida Supreme Court grills attorney defending medical marijuana amendment

Florida Supreme Court justices on Thursday peppered the attorney for the group backing a proposed medical marijuana amendment with lots of questions on several issues concerning the language and intent of the amendment during an hour-long hearing.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, legislative leaders and other opponents have raised numerous objections to the proposed state constitutional amendment, which People United for Medical Marijuana wants to put on the 2014 ballot if the group can get the 683,149 signatures it needs by early next year.

Most questions directed at People United attorney Jon Mills addressed possible vague or misleading language in the amendment's title -- "Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions." They focused on the words "debilitating" and "disease" versus medical condition, honing in on the state's initial complaint that the amendment is too broad, in effect, leading to de facto marijuana legalization under the guise of compassionate medicine.

The proposed initiative would allow marijuana to be used in several specified conditions but it also states that it could be used for "any other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient."

Mills argued that the amendment was indeed narrow and would apply to people with serious conditions, not someone with a headache or anxiety over a test. 

Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince appeared inclined to ask Mills questions to help explain the amendment where Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justice Charles T. Canady were more challenging in their remarks, with Canady asking more probing questions of Mills than the state's Solicitor General Allen Winsor.

None of the amendment's major opponents -- Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford or Senate President Don Gaetz -- were present but John Morgan, the high-profile attorney backing the People United Campaign, was in the courtroom. After the oral arguments, he said tactfully that hee thought the justices were "smart" and asked smart questions.

Morgan said if the amendment makes it to the ballot it won't have a big impact on the candidates. "People who will vote for Rick Scott will vote for this, said Morgan, who has spent about $1 million on the campaign so far. "People who vote for Nan Rich or Charlie Crist will vote for this."

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law.

The justices have to make a decision by April 1.

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