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State says marijuana amendment clears signature hurdle; next step is court approval

The Florida Division of Elections today confirmed that the proposed constitutional amendment to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes has received enough valid signatures to make it to the ballot. That leaves the only remaining hurdle: court approval of the language. 

The number of signatures validated: 710,508. The number needed by the Feb. 1 deadline: 683,149.

"This is an amazing feat,'' said Ben Pollara, of United for Care, the organization working to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot. "I have to admit, less than a year ago I never thought we'd see this day - but thanks to your support and hard work, we were able to make history together...The only thing holding up official certification and placement on the ballot is the ruling by the Florida Supreme Court, which could come anytime between now and April 1."

The petition drive succeeded in part because of the substantial financial backing of Orlando trial lawyer, John Morgan. Morgan contributed more than $2.5 million to the initiative effort, much of it in the final weeks as the group hired hundreds of petition gatherers to collect the signatures needed in time to have them verified by the Feb. 1 deadline.

Under state law, the group needs 683,149 valid signatures, and must have its language approved by the Florida Supreme Court in order to make it to the ballot.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz and Gov. Rick Scott have all argued to the court that the justices should reject the language as misleading.

The proposed amendment would allow people to buy marijuana at state-regulated dispensaries if they obtain written permission from a doctor who attests that they need it for medical reasons. The amendment prohibits people from growing their own marijuana and allows the Legislature to shape the details of the enforcement provisions.

Recent polls have shown that voters throughout the state, from both parties and amid all demographic groups, strongly support the sale of marijuana for medical use, even though federal law prohibits it.  Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia and is legal for recreational use in two states, Colorado and Washington.

The shift in attitude is changing opinions in the Florida Legislature as well. Legislators in the House have proposed a bill to allow for the decriminalization of a strain of marijuana that is low in the psychoactive properties, THC, and high in properties that help to control seizures. One strain, known as Charlotte's Web, is considered medically promising for children who suffer from severe seizures.