If we can expand personal freedom without creating a new public harm, we should do it. If we can empower the sick with an affordable, relatively safe option for treating pain, lost appetite or other chronic symptoms, we should do that too.
And if it's right to expand personal freedom and health options for the hurting, then we must decriminalize the doctors, family members and suppliers who help them.
This is our case for legalizing and regulating the use of medical marijuana in Florida. If you agree, vote "yes" on Amendment 2.
To be clear, FLORIDA TODAY does not support legalizing pot for recreational use, as Colorado and Washington state have done. Amendment 2 doesn't do that.
Still, we've heard some imaginative criticisms of it, including alleged loopholes that would allow doctors to prescribe pot for hangnails or let drug dealers deliver cannabis to schoolchildren.
Concerned, we scoured the full language and history of the proposed amendment and — like the Florida Supreme Court — found it to be straightforward and carefully written. We also reviewed large-scale studies from the 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana. That research shows warnings about crime, addiction and youth drug use are overblown and contrary to experience in places like California.
If Amendment 2 passes with 60 percent of votes:
• People with "debilitating medical conditions," such as cancer, Parkinson's disease or Crohn's disease, could receive certification notes from licensed physicians that, in turn, qualify them for state ID cards required to buy marijuana. Doctors must examine those patients in person.
• Doctors could certify patients for "other conditions." But only with "a written document ... stating that in the physician's professional opinion, the patient suffers from a debilitating medical condition, that the potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks for the patient." The state can discipline doctors who break the law.
• Dispensaries or "medical marijuana treatment centers" could open in our cities and towns. As Cocoa Beach has done, local officials may already adopt codes restricting where those businesses open and how they look.
• "Personal caregivers" could help administer marijuana to up to five qualified patients. A caregiver must be 21, meet standards to be set by the Florida Department of Health and carry an ID card.
We see no likely public harm from passage.
In fact, a study just published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that overdose deaths from prescription painkillers were 25 percent lower over 10 years in states that passed medical-marijuana laws.
A University of Texas-Dallas study of 16 years of FBI crime data found no increase in violence or property crime in states that allow medical marijuana.
In Los Angeles, where dispensaries surged from a handful to nearly 600 from 2005 to 2010, rates of teen marijuana use actually dropped, according to research by Montana State and the University of Colorado-Denver.
Go ahead and vote "yes" on Amendment 2. It would expand freedom and empower the hurting with little potential downside.