Florida Voters To Weigh In On Three Constitutional Amendments

Palm Beach County Legislative Affairs Director Todd Bonlarron updated voters on the statewide constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot at a community forum hosted by County Commissioner Jess Santamaria on Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Florida voters will weigh in on three topics: Amendment 1 on Water and Land Conservation, Amendment 2 on Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions and Amendment 3 on Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies.

Constitutional amendments need 60 percent voter approval to pass.

The first amendment, a citizen-led petition, is titled Water and Land Conservation. It dedicates money to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreational lands.

“Right now, the State of Florida owns about 2.4 million acres of land that it has acquired through various means,” Bonlarron said. “The proponents of this particular amendment felt like the state was undercutting the commitments made in the area of land buying and in water management.”

This amendment would require the state to continue to buy land and work in water management, along with guaranteed funding.

“This amendment is asking you, the voters, do you want to dedicate a revenue source of 33 percent, one-third, of net revenues of the existing excise tax on documents?” Bonlarron explained. “What’s an excise tax on documents? That’s basically when you make real estate transactions, and that’s used for a variety of sources.”

This dedicates 33 percent for the next 20 years. The estimated financial impact of the amendment is somewhere between $648 million and $1.268 billion, per year, by the end of the 20 years.

“The long-term estimates are that this could mean upward of $20 billion of state revenue over 20 years going toward these particular purposes,” he said.

With more than 120 groups supporting the amendment, many government leaders are opposed to the amendment because of the restrictions it places on other state revenues.

“The more that we restrict how they can spend money, the more difficult it is for them to set the priorities of what they think are their constituencies,” Bonlarron said. “This is just one more issue that is going to restrict how much can go into this.”

Acquiring additional money for affordable housing and transportation is another concern for those against the amendment, because if 33 percent is dedicated toward buying and maintaining land, that money won’t be able to be used for other purposes.

By specifying an amount, Bonlarron said, proponents are able to guarantee that the allocated money is used for land conversation purposes and cannot be redistributed by the legislature for other uses.

Currently, there are not specific amounts mandated toward conservation efforts.

A “yes” vote would create the dedicated funding source in the constitution for water and land conservation, and a “no” vote would not create a dedicated funding source.

The second amendment, also a citizen-led petition, is titled Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions.

“The use of medical marijuana in Florida is legal today. It’s legal today because the Florida Legislature passed a bill last year known as the Charlotte’s Web Law,” Bonlarron said. “Under the law that exists in Florida today, individuals who have cancer, epilepsy or suffer from severe joint pains can be prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor in a very specific format.”

Charlotte’s Web is a form of medical marijuana that does not induce many of the psychoactive effects associated with recreational marijuana.

The law, relatively new, is still being worked out, but it has been determined that there will be five growers, randomly selected, in five regions of the state, that will also serve as distributors, he said.

The amendment would allow for an expanded use of medical marijuana.

“According to this amendment, a licensed Florida physician has the ability, at their determination, to prescribe medical marijuana to individuals with debilitating diseases,” Bonlarron explained. “It gives pretty much carte blanche responsibility to physicians in Florida to make a determination, the same way they make determinations when they prescribe other drugs to people with different conditions, to make that determination of whether they believe that medical marijuana is an appropriate remedy for whatever disease an individual is suffering from.”

If the amendment passes, it would greatly expand the possible use of medical marijuana, allowing caregivers to assist with medical marijuana just as they assist with other medicines.

The Food & Drug Administration doesn’t recognize medical marijuana, Bonlarron said, but the Department of Health would be in charge of determining how it is regulated, who would distribute it, who would grow it and more.

Law enforcement agencies have expressed concerns about the safety issues with the amendment, Bonlarron said, while proponents believe that it has the potential to improve the quality of life of those suffering.

“The existing law is limited as to the kinds of diseases that it has the capacity to treat,” Bonlarron said, explaining that this amendment would expand the type of conditions for which physicians can prescribe medical marijuana.

This amendment varies greatly from the laws in Colorado and some other states, where marijuana is available recreationally, he said. “This will not allow for that in the State of Florida,” Bonlarron stressed.

Voting “yes” for this amendment means that the use of medical marijuana, with a doctor’s prescription, would be expanded, and a “no” vote would not expand the use of medical marijuana.

The third amendment, titled Prospective Appointment of Certain Judicial Vacancies, was placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature. It would change the way some judicial vacancies are made.

“A governor today is not able to prospectively fill a judicial vacancy if they know that one, a judge is going to reach the age of 70 before that final day, or two, if the judge was not retained in a merit retention and they know in November that they’re not going to be there in January,” Bonlarron said. “They haven’t been able to fill that spot until the day that they’ve vacated that office, which happens to be the same day that the governor is vacating their office if they were either termed out of office or lost an election or decided not to run again.”

Republicans support the change while Democrats oppose it, Bonlarron said, based on the mandatory retirement age of three current Florida Supreme Court justices.

A “yes” vote on this means that you’d like to let the governor make an appointment when he or she knows a judge is leaving the office, and a “no” vote keeps the system as it is, where a governor cannot make an appointment until the judge leaves office, which would mean that the next governor would make the appointment.