Judge to Decide Whether Smoking Medical Cannabis Is Legal in Florida
The original voter-approved measure to legalize medical marijuana would have allowed patients to light up in private, but legislators banned all smokable cannabis last year.
Published on May 17, 2018

Photo via iStock/ shanecotee

A court case that could reverse Florida's ban against smokable medical marijuana is currently nearing its resolution. Sunshine State residents voted to approve a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in 2016, but before the measure could become law, state legislators passed an amendment banning patients from smoking whole-flower cannabis. The state's medical cannabis patients are now restricted to vaping or using oils, tinctures, edibles, and sprays.

Cannabis advocate John Morgan — who wrote the original MMJ ballot initiative — sued the state last year, arguing that the legislature’s amendment violated the original intent of the voter-approved measure. This week, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers heard testimony from two medical marijuana users who argued that smoking pot was the most effective treatment for their respective illnesses.

"Smoked cannabis works best for me,'' testified Diana Dodson, who is suffering from HIV and neuropathy, according to the Miami Herald. "It's easier to get the amount that I need and I don't get too much in my system." Dodson added that vaping is "about 50 percent less effective and you had to ingest quite a bit more." Cathy Jordan, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, testified that “edibles cause terrible stomach pain and vaping makes me gag. Smoking makes my life a lot more bearable."

The original voter-approved measure legalized “all types of medical marijuana, including flowers, which is smokable marijuana,” Jon Mills, attorney for the plaintiffs, explained to the court. "The Constitution of the State of Florida promised the ability of people with debilitating conditions to seek treatment through medical marijuana, including smokable medical marijuana. If the state is able to prohibit smokable marijuana, why shouldn't they be able to prohibit vaping? Why shouldn't they be able to prohibit edibles? Why shouldn't they be able to prohibit medical marijuana?"

Rachel Nordby, attorney for the state, argued that “the legislature here has enacted a law that embodies reasonable safety concerns of medical use.” Nordby told the court that the amendment is "entirely consistent" with the Florida Constitution, because the state government "has a role in setting parameters and it can absolutely base those parameters on health and safety concerns… This case is not about what is or what is not marijuana. What this case is about is the permissible plain uses of marijuana.”

"Today we saw a woman, literally fighting for her life, hoping to be able to smoke marijuana to be able to dry up her saliva so she doesn't choke and die on her own spit,'' said John Morgan to reporters after the trial, reports the Herald. "The State of Florida, who is here to protect our lives, is in fact trying to take her life — and so many like her, and so many who will be like her."

After hearing the evidence, Gievers promised to rule on the case quickly, given the “time urgency” of the case, but added that whatever her decision, she expects that the opposing party will have her decision appealed. "The judge implied as much herself. Whatever her ruling is, this ain't stopping in Leon County Circuit Court," Ben Pollara, of advocacy group Florida for Care, said to the Associated Press. "I've always thought we had a strong case. It is in the constitution and [a] pretty clear conflict with the statute."

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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