Now that they’re back on the ballot, Florida’s champions of medical marijuana expressed confidence Thursday that they have learned enough from their 2-point 2014 election defeat to win this November.
On Wednesday United For Care received news it had successfully gathered more than 693,000 valid signatures and topped thresholds in 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts. That means their proposed Florida Constitution amendment to legalize medical marijuana will be back on the ballot, in November.
The group’s chairman, Florida lawyer John Morgan, and campaign manager, Ben Pollara, predicted they will have more allies and fewer opponents in 2016 than they did in 2014. One reason the cited: all the activity surrounding the state’s limited (though troubled and still not implemented) medical marijuana law, which allows non-euphoric pot products for people with epilepsy and a handful of other disorders, has spread interest.
“When we started till now, no law firm had a marijuana practice area. Now every big law firm has a medical marijuana practice area. Not one lobbyist had a marijuana client. Now every lobbyist has a marijuana client,” Morgan said. “Law firms, lobbyists, legislators, they know it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and they just have to figure out how to do it.”
They still face likely competition from the same coalition of groups, led by Drug-Free America, and including sheriffs, doctors and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
But Morgan predicted a muted opposition from some of them, notably the Florida Sheriffs Association.
Morgan, who has donated about $7 million of his and his law firm’s money to the 2014 and ’16 efforts, said he would spend whatever it takes. He and Pollara cited several other factors that give him confidence.
- Pollara pledged that United For Care would be up earlier with campaign advertising on TV, radio and the Internet, and would have more.
- Morgan promised the campaign will switch from appealing to young people — whom he decried didn’t vote in 2014 — and more on adults and seniors who may know someone who might benefit from medical marijuana.
- United For Care tightened language in the amendment regarding the definition of “debilitating illnesses,” parental consent, background checks on caregivers and immunity from prosecution for doctors, areas that were depicted by opponents as “loopholes.” “We think we’ve taken away that argument,” Morgan said.
- Florida’s struggle to implement its limited medical marijuana law, which is more than 18 months old and still tied up in administrative and legal issues, could convince people a broader effort is needed. Pollara also predicted the problems being encountered with that law will be worked out by November.
“By the time we’re sitting here in January 2017, a lot of the growing pains will already happened,” he said.
The initiative will be called Amendment 2, the same moniker as the 2014 proposed Florida Constitutional amendment that got 58 percent approval from voters, falling just short of the 60 percent needed for approval.
“We’re going to keep the same number for the new amendment, so it will be ‘Yes on 2,’ which makes it easier and cheaper,” Morgan said. “I don’t have to throw away my old T-shirts.”