Via The Associated Press. The following editorial was published in the The Gainesville Sun, April 23, 2017:
State constitutional amendments aren’t suggestions. When at least 60 percent of voters feel strongly enough about an issue that they approve putting it into the Florida Constitution, they expect state lawmakers to implement the measure without revisions.
Attempts by Republicans in the Florida Legislature to rewrite recently passed constitutional amendments are an insult to the people they’re supposed to serve. From amendments dealing with redistricting to land conservation to medical marijuana, state lawmakers have time and again put their own political beliefs over the priorities of voters.
Florida’s medical-marijuana amendment was approved in November by more than 71 percent of voters. It was supposed to provide access to medical marijuana to individuals with debilitating medical conditions such as AIDS, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
The state’s role should be setting up a system to help sick individuals get medical marijuana, not putting roadblocks in their way. Yet lawmakers are considering restrictions such as requiring patients to have a 90-day relationship with a doctor to get marijuana and banning smoking marijuana and other methods of its use.
The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau reported that many of these restrictions were suggested by the St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation and its lobbying arm. The group’s founders spent $1 million to try defeat the amendment and are now being allowed to determine how it should be implemented.
The Legislature is playing games with people’s lives in doing so. That was illustrated last week during a state Senate hearing on medical marijuana legislation, when a epileptic man suffered a seizure in the middle of the debate. He had come to speak about marijuana’s effectiveness in treating his condition.
Some lawmakers pushing excessive limits on medical marijuana say they’re trying to avoid the problems that lead to an opioid crisis, but they’re really just worsening that crisis. Medical marijuana provides an alternative to prescription painkillers that are responsible for addictions and overdoses.
Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states, with seven states allowing marijuana’s recreational use. Two former Florida state lawmakers now serving in Congress — Matt Gaetz, a Republican, and Darren Soto, a Democrat — have introduced legislation to move marijuana from a classification alongside heroin to a more proper classification allowing for medical access and research.
Florida, with its huge retiree population, should be at the forefront of studying medical marijuana’s effectiveness. State lawmakers should focus on promoting such research rather than trying to rewrite an amendment that already passed.
Unfortunately the Legislature has a lousy track record in following the will of voters. Lawmakers have repeatedly failed to fund land conservation, despite a voter-passed mandate to do so, and are considering rules on solar installations that conflict with another amendment recently approved by voters.
They tried to ignore an amendment putting rules on redistricting until the Florida Supreme Court stepped in. Such obstinance goes back even further, with lawmakers repeatedly trying to circumvent an amendment limiting class sizes and using money from the voter-approved Lottery to replace state education funding and not supplement it.
Lawmakers should simply follow the state Constitution in implementing voter-approved amendments, not try for after-the-fact rewrites. The medical-marijuana amendment will provide another test showing whether lawmakers will again defy the will of the people.
In the end, it is up to voters to hold the Legislature accountable. We’re to blame if we keep approving these amendments, only to also elect people who don’t respect us enough to implement them as written.