Orlando Sentinel: John Morgan sues state over smoking ban in medical marijuana law

TALLAHASSEE — Orlando attorney John Morgan sued the state Thursday, saying a new law that bans smoking medical marijuana violates the constitutional amendment that he fought to get approved.

“Today is a day that should not have been necessary, other than the Florida Legislature decided not to do their job,” Morgan said.

A law signed by Gov. Rick Scott that took effect Saturday sets up rules surrounding the medical marijuana industry, which was legalized through a constitutional amendment that Morgan helped put on the ballot and was approved by voters last November.

Morgan contends that because the ballot amendment says that smoking medical marijuana in public could be banned, it should be assumed that smoking it in private would be legal.

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if smoking is not allowed in public, it must certainly be allowed in private,” Morgan said. “That’s the intent. That’s what we said before we started.”

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, the state agency overseeing the new rules, said they have not received the lawsuit yet but will review it.

The lawsuit, filed in Leon Circuit Court, seeks a declaration from the court that smoking medical marijuana is legal.

House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who sponsored the legislation and insisted on the smoking ban, defended lawmakers’ actions, saying he was certain courts would uphold the law.

Rodrigues said other states that permit smoking of medical marijuana made it clear in the proposals that went before their voters.

“If you look at those other states, their constitutional amendments declared that it could be smoked and that it could be self-grown. If that’s what John Morgan wanted for Florida, he should have declared it in the amendment,” Rodrigues said.

Morgan, though, said he believes lawmakers trying to clamp down against the will of the voters will instead spark a move toward fully legalized recreational use of marijuana, and he’s ready to lead the charge.

“If they [expletive] me off too much, I’ll address the smoking issue by having a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana,” he said. “If I lose in court, I’ll go through all the marijuana people I know — it won’t take a lot of money — and we will move to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Then they’ll really be sorry they pushed me.”

The medical marijuana amendment passed with 71 percent of the vote last November. It legalizes medical marijuana for patients with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or other debilitating medical conditions.

Morgan tried and failed to pass a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2014. In total, Morgan raised $14.3 million, including $6.8 million of his own money, to advocate for the amendment over the past four years.

The law passed by the Legislature has disappointed supporters of the amendment, who say it puts too many regulations on the new industry. The law limits the number of licenses to grow marijuana to 17, with each license holder allowed a maximum of 25 dispensaries.

Meanwhile, some local governments, including Winter Park and Maitland, have threatened to block dispensaries from setting up shop in their cities. Orlando may cap its dispensaries at two.

But it is the smoking ban that spurred Morgan to file suit. The law only allows for cannabis products to be vaped, sold as oils and as edibles.

In his suit, Morgan cites a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shows “marijuana smoking was shown to not impair lung function, based on the doses inhaled by the majority of users, as compared to non-smokers and tobacco smokers. In fact, marijuana smoking was shown to increase lung capacity.”

In any case, people with life-threatening diseases aren’t worried about the potential negative effects of smoking in the future, Morgan said.

“Do we give a rat’s ass if a person died from ALS smokes instead of vapes? I don’t,” Morgan said.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Washington, D.C., group that advocates for decreased use of marijuana, disputes this and pointed to statements from the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and other health groups expressing skepticism about the effectiveness of medical marijuana.

“Patients suffering from debilitating chronic illness deserve access to the very best modern medicine has to offer to alleviate their pain — not spurious solutions offered by modern day snake oil salesmen,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of SAM.

by Gray Rohrer

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