Legalizing medical marijuana in Florida will be decided by voters in November, thanks to a favorable state Supreme Court decision delivered this week.
To make it from pipe dream to reality, however, proponents still must meet a steep requirement: Convincing 60 percent of voters statewide to punch "yes" on the ballot.
But no matter what happens in the election nine months from now, Florida lawmakers should act to legalize a new form of pot that offers no drug-induced high, but plenty of relief for seriously ill children.
The time for medical marijuana, in one form or another, has come for Florida.
This is not about legalizing recreational pot. Period.
This is not about Florida becoming the first state in the South to legalize medical marijuana.
And this is not about offering a backdoor for sprouting crops of pot dispensaries. Nobody wants the California-cation of Florida, where anyone with a — wink, wink — allergy or other mild condition can apply and win a right-to-use medical card. Nobody wants to see rows of retail pot dispensaries lining our beachfronts or strip malls.
This is about taking advantage of best medical practices to provide real, in-reach relief for suffering patients.
And in Florida, this issue is about something called Charlotte's Web. The strain of light weed is a miracle come true for families of truly ill children; it can help stop kids' seizures.
Think about Seth Hyman. The Weston father has an 8-year-old daughter, Rebecca. Her tiny body is struck by dozens of seizures daily.
Hyman was among a group of parents who made the trek to Tallahassee earlier this month to testify before the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice about the benefits of Charlotte's Web. That day lawmakers became aware of a version of intractable epilepsy that cannot be controlled by traditional medications. But for kids like Rebecca, caught up in the grip of a cruel disease, Charlotte's Web helps by halting the seizures.
"We want to be on the right side of history and medicine," Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, told the Sun Sentinel after the subcommittee hearing. "The work begins today to take into account the pleas of people all around the state to do something and do it quickly, to make sure these individuals can gain access to the safest treatment without playing politics or hiding behind antiquated arguments."
Edwards is now sponsoring a bill that legalizes, for medical use, marijuana strains low in THC. Edwards also calls for both tight regulation and for research and development of the promising marijuana strain at a Florida state university — a smart move considering the role medical marijuana has already begun to play nationally. Twenty states now legalize medical marijuana.
In Florida, pot medicine has a tough battle before it.
The Supreme Court decision was great news for proponents. The justices approved the ballot language 4-3, after deciding it was clear and met legal requirements.
The losers include Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Attorney General Pam Bondi and others who have lined up against medical marijuana. Bondi argued before the court that the ballot language was misleading and allows too much leeway for doctors to approve medical usage.
Winners include John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who spent $4 million on a marijuana petition drive. And whose law firm employs Charlie Crist.
Other winners include gubernatorial candidates Crist and Nan Rich, who back medical marijuana. Political experts expect the ballot measure to draw large numbers of Democrats and others sympathetic with the cause. Some believe those voters could cost Scott his re-election.
But the political calculus is cold, considering the stakes and impacts are much bigger here.
Imagine your child's best chances at relieving pain that deprives them of comfort, peace and much-need rest was in medical marijuana.
It's tough to get 60 percent of voters to agree on anything. The fate of Charlotte's Web — and buzz-free medical marijuana — shouldn't be tied to what happens in the next election.
Rep. Edwards is leading the way. Her fellow lawmakers should jump on the wagon and legalize low-grade medical pot for children.