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Will medical marijuana impact Florida malpractice laws?

Florida could become the first Southern state to legalize "medical marijuana" if 60 percent of voters support a November ballot measure. The proposed measure, which has just received the approval of the Florida Supreme Court in a 4-to-3 ruling, would make the drug legal with a doctor's recommendation if purchased from a dispensary regulated by the state. This legalization would be accomplished via a state constitutional amendment. Polls have shown that most Floridians favor legalizing medical marijuana.

The proposed measure is already the subject of controversy. Governor Rick Scot has already declared his opposition to it, noting "the terrible effects of alcohol and drug abuse." Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi voiced her opposition to the proposed ballot language, which she called "confusing and deceptive." She and other opponents also noted that the measure was too complex and broad. She said that it would give "so much immunity to physicians that people could not sue for fraud or malpractice."

The majority of the state's high court, however, disagreed, noting that "citizen initiatives should enjoy broad leeway." Details around the sale of medical marijuana in Florida will be determined if the measure passes. There are certainly plenty of places for Florida lawmakers and leaders to look for guidance. Twenty states, as well as Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana.

As with so many issues, medical marijuana legalization seems to be divided along party lines in Florida. Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature have vocally opposed it. The house speaker called the measure a step toward the "Coloradofication of Florida, where the end game is a pot shop on every street corner." Leading Florida Democrats, including once-and-possibly-future Florida Governor Charlie Crist, have come out in support of it. Crist called it "an issue of compassion, trusting doctors, and trusting the people of Florida."

It remains to be seen whether the measure passes and, if it does, how it will be implemented, as well as its impact on medical malpractice laws. No doubt, medical malpractice attorneys would examine any legal ramifications for their clients if Florida voters decide to legalize marijuana next fall.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Medical marijuana to go to ballot, Florida Supreme Court rules" Stephen Nohlgren, Jan. 27, 2014

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