Floridians will vote on medical marijuana in November, after a divided Florida Supreme Court ruled Monday that ballot language for a proposed constitutional amendment meets all legal requirements.
If at least 60 percent of voters agree, Florida could become the first Southern state to legalize use of marijuana for health reasons.
The ballot measure could also affect the governor's race, with Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposed to the measure and Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in favor.
The amendment, which would allow marijuana use with a doctor's recommendation and allow sale through state-regulated dispensaries, was proposed by United for Care, an advocacy group headed by Orlando attorney John Morgan, who employs Crist.
After a recent flurry of petition gathering, the group turned in enough valid signatures last week to force a vote. Court approval of the ballot was barely achieved with the 4-3 decision the final hurdle.
"I'm grateful that the court listened to our arguments," Morgan said. "Next we will begin the campaign stage. You are going to see people rise up who are the parents and siblings and spouses of really sick people who know this works and you are going to see a grass-roots movement like you have never seen before in Florida."
Scott said he would oppose the amendment.
"I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative," Scott said in a news release.
"But, having seen the terrible effects of alcohol and drug abuse first hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path," Scott said.
Attorney General Pam Bondi and other opponents have argued that the amendment's ballot summary is confusing and deceptive.
The summary describes limited use only for diseases, they argued, but in fact virtually any condition approved by a doctor would qualify.
Chief Justice Ricky Polston made the same point in a dissent, writing that even someone with a sore back or test anxiety could qualify.
But the majority disagreed. The ballot summary gives voters "fair notice as to the chief purpose and scope of the proposed amendment, which is to allow a restricted use of marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions."
Bondi also argued that the ballot language violated Florida's single subject rule, because it made broad legislative policy determinations, established a complex regulatory system and provided so much immunity to physicians that people could not sue for fraud or malpractice.
If it passes, the Legislature would work out details such as how much marijuana someone could possess and how growers would be regulated.
The court majority rejected the idea that the amendment was too complex.
The court emphasized that citizen initiatives should enjoy broad leeway, and only language that is "clearly and conclusively defective" should be thrown out.