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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Challenges to medical marijuana law reveal a stacked deck

You would have to be under the influence of a controlled substance to miss the hypocrisy.

State lawmakers who routinely subject the voters of Florida to arcane constitutional amendment proposals that serve their ideological purposes are now up in arms that a 2014 ballot initiative proposed by a citizens group might possibly be misleading.

Recently, legislative leaders joined Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in challenging the ballot language proposed by the group behind legalizing medical marijuana in Florida.

We’ll leave questions about legalizing medical marijuana for another day, and instead focus on a process that stacks the deck in favor of lawmakers when it comes to changing the state’s constitution. It’s an inequity that should be rectified by lawmakers. But don’t count on it.

Remember the 2012 general election, when lawmakers larded the ballot with 11 proposed constitutional amendments? One of them, having to do with property taxes, asked voters to approve four separate tax changes under a single vote. Another was titled “Religious Freedom” but was more about using tax dollars to fund religious charities and charter schools than about religious freedoms.

Those same lawmakers are now asking the Supreme Court to throw the medical marijuana proposal off the ballot because they think the ballot title and summary are misleading and obscure the “true purpose” of the initiative. They also claim it violates rules restricting ballot initiatives to one subject by asking voters to approve several distinct subjects in a single vote.

The veracity of those claims will be judged by the state’s Supreme Court next month. What is indisputable is the absurdity of lawmakers requiring citizen initiatives to meet a higher standard than their own amendment proposals.

By law, the initiatives put forward by citizens must be limited to a single subject, must be limited in their wording, must be clear in purpose, and must pass a Supreme Court review before being allowed on the ballot.

The constraints aren’t nearly as strict for proposed constitutional amendments put forth by lawmakers, as voters are so painfully aware during each general election cycle. They can dump multiple questions into a single proposal and often escape judicial review unless challenged by someone with the means to mount a challenge.

The state’s Supreme Court has upheld that double standard relating to the automatic judicial review of citizen initiatives, deciding the review is necessary because citizen initiatives do not undergo a formal process of public debate that amendments proposed by lawmakers undergo during legislative sessions in Tallahassee.

But that shouldn’t mean constitutional amendments proposed by lawmakers can get a free pass. All things considered, both the single-subject rule and an automatic judicial review would keep flawed legislative proposals from reaching the ballot, and save voters a lot of head-scratching at the polls.

It would also result in a stronger constitution.

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