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Florida's attorney general challenges medical marijuana initiative

Medical marijuana is shown in a jar at The Joint Cooperative in Seattle, Washington January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Cliff DesPeaux
Medical marijuana is shown in a jar at The Joint Cooperative in Seattle, Washington January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Cliff DesPeaux

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida's attorney general told the state's high court on Thursday that supporters of medical marijuana want to mislead voters into approving a proposal to legalize the use of pot for anyone who can convince a doctor they might benefit from it.

In a court filing, Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged a proposed ballot initiative seeking to put the issue of legalizing medical marijuana on a state ballot next year.

A petition drive called People United for Medical Marijuana, organized by Florida lawyer John Morgan, is trying to round up the nearly 700,000 voter signatures required by February 1.

The Florida Legislature earlier this year refused to take up a statutory change proposing to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana under controlled conditions.

Bondi is required by law to ask Florida's Supreme Court to review proposed ballot initiatives, called the medical marijuana initiative deceptive.

"The ballot title and summary suggest that the amendment would allow medical marijuana in narrow, defined, circumstances, and only for patients with 'debilitating diseases.' But if the amendment passed, Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations," Bondi wrote in a letter filed to the court.

"So long as a physician held the opinion that the drug use 'would likely outweigh' the risks, Florida would be powerless to stop it," she said.

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager of People United for Medical Marijuana, said Bondi is "out of touch" with the plight of desperately ill patients.

"Attorney General Bondi wants to deny Floridians the opportunity to even vote on this issue," Pollara said in a statement.

A poll commissioned by People United found support in Florida for medical marijuana at 70 percent. To win approval, constitutional amendments require 60 percent support from voters.

Organizers of the campaign so far have 94,541 valid signatures, according to paperwork filed with the court.

California was the first state to legalize pot for medical purposes, and nearly 20 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar statutes, although marijuana is classified as an illegal narcotic under federal law.

Florida's Supreme Court does not endorse or oppose constitutional amendments, but rules on two factors - whether they deal with a single subject and whether the written summaries appearing on the ballot are clear enough to let people know what they are voting on.

The proposed amendment states that its passage would not authorize recreational pot use or any violation of federal drug laws.

Bondi, a Republican, said that is deceptive because no state law or constitutional amendment could override any federal act.

"Because of how the amendment is presented, its true scope and effect remain hidden," Bondi wrote.

"And because Florida voters deserve the truth, this court has long rejected proposals that 'hide the ball' as to the amendment's true effect," she argued.

(Editing by Kevin Gray)

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