Ben Pollara: Medical marijuana implementation for the 29, 48 … or 71 percent?

marijuana florida 2 (Large)
Ben Pollara

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues claims to have polled Floridians on whether they want marijuana legalized.

They do not.

Undisclosed interests hired a political consultant, who then hired Donald Trump‘s pollster to ask the same question.

They got the same answer: 48 percent oppose legalization, while 46 percent support it.

I have two questions that don’t necessitate public opinion research to answer:

– Who cares?

– Why are we even talking about this?

Medical marijuana has now twice been before Florida voters. In 2014, it garnered a substantial majority of 58 percent, albeit not enough to pass.

Two years later, 71 percent of Floridians voted “yes,” placing Article X, Section 29, “Use of marijuana for debilitating medical conditions,” in our state’s constitution.

In both campaigns, opponents argued that medical marijuana was merely a ruse – “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” was a favorite metaphor – for recreational marijuana.

That cynical argument – that voters tricked into something they didn’t want – ultimately lost, and badly. Voters were smarter than opponents gave them credit for, and In November overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana.

So why is the Majority Leader still parroting the talking points of Mel and Betty Sembler? Why is his implementing legislation seemingly written for the less than 29 percent who voted “no,” rather than the super-majority who put this law into our Constitution?

Florida for Care, which I lead, has been for almost three years educating and advocating Floridians your Wednesday thread for reasonable, responsible medical marijuana legislation in Tallahassee. That is and has always been our only scope.

As such, it is extraordinarily frustrating, and more than a little insulting, to even be engaging in these conversations about legalization. But I’m just an advocate. It is exponentially more hair-pullingly vexing for sick and suffering patients, who have been waiting desperately for medical marijuana, to see their concerns cast aside for a debate that is neither here nor there.

Legislators talk from both sides of their mouth when they claim in one breath not to be able to adjudicate voters’ intent when implementing medical marijuana, and in the next cite polling data on legalization to interpret that same purpose.

Here’s what I believe the voters’ intent was in passing Amendment 2: they wanted to legalize medical marijuana in Florida like had been done in two dozen states prior, and unlike the existing, overly restrictive, low-THC cannabis statute that had been on the books for nearly two years before the election.

It doesn’t take a psychic or a statewide poll to determine that the 71 percent vote was a vote for a broader medical marijuana law, or that it was a message that the existing laws were simply not good enough.

All the Senate proposals have built upon existing law (except for Jeff Brandes‘ “repeal and replace” bill, which starts anew), in an attempt to fulfill that voter mandate and respect the Constitution. Rodrigues’ House bill restricts medical marijuana even further than the existing statute.

It is both a truism and cliche in politics that, “the only poll that matters is Election Day.”

We had an election on medical marijuana. Two, actually.

The “only poll that matters” came down firmly for medical marijuana.

Almost every week since December, I’ve left my wife and two young children in Miami so I could be in Tallahassee, advocating for the implementation of this law.

I only wish the House actually wanted to talk about it, instead of debating an issue that has neither a popular, nor constitutional, imperative.


Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care. He managed the 2014 and 2016 campaigns for Amendment 2 and was one of the primary authors of both amendments.

Ben Pollara

Ben Pollara is a Democratic political consultant and a partner at Converge GPS, a Miami-based public affairs firm. He serves as a senior strategist to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and ran the successful campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.


  • Mary-Kate Westwood

    March 22, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    A couple of points to add to this excellent op-ed by Mr. Pollara:

    “Undisclosed interests hired a political consultant, who then hired Donald Trump‘s pollster to ask the same question.”

    The “interests” are essentially: one very conservative would-be spokesman for the prohibition (anti-cannabis) faction in Florida: Brian Hughes, a man who has previously worked (accepted payment from) the slot machine/gaming industry and now calls himself “Smart Medicine for Florida”. Who, moreover, has a friend or two in the press.

    “Donald Trump’s pollster” refers to Anthony ‘Tony’ Fabrizio (whom Trump still owes several hundred large, by the way).

    Fabrizio’s poll sample was only 800 people. As any good pollster will tell you, with a restricted sample like that, you can get the results to say whatever you want them to say. In this case, the sample offered that in terms of legalization, 48% of respondents were pro and 46% were anti.

    But! We had a much bigger and more “poll sample”–9,112,285 Floridians–last November: it was called the 2016 Election.

    71.3% of them voted YES on Amendment 2, for a full medical cannabis program in Florida, one that sought to accommodate a much larger number of patients and ailments with an expanded range of medical cannabis products, obviously necessitating more licensed growers, extractors, and retailers in Florida in the years ahead.

    Finally, Mr. Fabrizio’s tightly-controlled sample size and skewed results are a transparent attempt to depict that fewer Floridians want expanded access to medical cannabis than the 6,496,157 Floridians (71.3%) who in fact DO, and who voted in support of Amendment 2.

    It’s worth noting, however, that said skewed results would likely be viewed as favorable–not only by Smart Medicine For Florida (and whoever is paying Mr. Hughes) but also by Fabrizio’s son A.J., who holds a financial interest in one of the seven currently licensed Florida dispensaries that control the entire state’s medical cannabis cartel.

  • Bill Monroe

    March 23, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Very well said Mary-Kate. It appears that Surterra Wellness benefits from this scenario. I wonder what Tallahassee law makers, and businessmen are invested in Jake Bergman’s hedge fund?

  • Margaret Sears

    March 29, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    Who do we contact in our state government to let them know we want the 90 day waiting period completely removed??? It is just ridiculous to make patients wait like this! It helps me and I really don’t want to have to wait 90 days! Thank you.dedW

Comments are closed.


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