Pam Bondi's Claim That Florida's Medical Marijuana Amendment Too Lenient Is 'Mostly True'

Dec 19, 2013

USE ONLY AS DIRECTED: Florida's attorney general says Florida's proposed medical marijuana amendment is too lenient, and PolitiFact says she's mostly right.
Credit thagrdnr on flickr

The organization trying to legalize medical marijuana in Florida is baffled and annoyed by a PolitiFact conclusion that their proposal would create one of the least regulated environments for medical marijuana in the country.

PolitiFact was testing a claim by Attorney General Pam Bondi in her state Supreme Court argument to prevent the proposed medical marijuana amendment from reaching the ballot. Based on the freedom doctors would have to recommend marijuana, the open-ended list of medical conditions that would qualify and some other factors,  Bondi argued the law would make Florida "one of the most lenient medical marijuana states."

PolitiFact, the fact-checking website run by the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald, rated that claim "Mostly True."

Mostly True is a respectable rating, just one notch below the absolute "True." According to the website, Mostly True means "the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information."

Ben Pollara is the campaign manager for the medical-marijuana group United for Care, which is gathering petition signatures to put medical marijuana on the ballot. He was astonished by the PolitiFact ruling -- and not pleased.

"Their conclusion is more or less a mixed bag but they put that their rating is Mostly True," Pollara said, insisting that PolitiFact listed as many strict features as lenient ones as it compared Bondi's claim with the actual amendment proposal.

PolitiFact outlined some provisions that outdo most other states in being tough on pot:

The Florida law would not, for instance, protect patients growing their own plants, which 15 states permit to some degree. Michigan and Montana, for example, don’t specify there have to be medical marijuana dispensaries, according to pro-legislation Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Dan Riffle, so cultivation at home is a common method for patients to maintain a supply of the drug. Arizona lets you grow marijuana plants if you live more than 25 miles from a dispensary.

Instead, the Florida amendment outlines that the state department of health or some other designated agency must regulate a dispensary network, a requirement by 14 states. (States are limited to regulating the distribution network instead of operating it, lest the states open themselves up to a violation of federal law.)

Furthermore, the proposal does not contain wording on possession limits, which also vary by state. "Most allow 2 to 2.5 ounces, but some are as low as one ounce, and some are as high as 24 ounces," Riffle said. "The Florida initiative leaves that up to the Department of Health to determine, and they'll probably say 1 to 2 ounces if this passes."

Riffle added the amendment also does not carry any protections for housing or employment discrimination against patients or caregivers. One example he gives is how in Arizona, a licensed patient cannot be fired from a job for failing a drug test. The Florida law makes no mention of such instances.

Bottom line: Florida would be somewhere in the middle of the medical marijuana pack, easy on some points, middling on some, tough on the rest.

Not one of the most lenient.

Then again, wouldn’t a proposed amendment seen as lenient actually be more attractive to people who want to ease marijuana restrictions? Not necessarily, Pollara says. He thinks his supporters would rather see a well regulated and disciplined system providing comfort to the afflicted, not a thin veil over de facto legalization.

"There is broad support for medical marijuana in the state of Florida but there is not broad support for legalization of marijuana," Pollara said.

Twenty states now allow medical marijuana under a variety of regulatory schemes. California and Massachusetts are considered to have the most lenient laws but, as even PolitiFact agrees, much of Florida's proposed regulation is as strict as in any other state.