Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida For Care, spoke out Monday afternoon over the well-publicized split with Orlando uber-attorney John Morgan over the failed medical marijuana implementation bill.
On Friday night, the Florida Legislature killed HB 1397, a bill to enact the medical marijuana amendment approved by 71 percent of voters in November. Morgan, who spearheaded and bankrolled much of Amendment 2 in both 2014 and 2016, puts blame for the bill’s failure squarely on Pollara’s shoulders.
“Ben Pollara fucked the patients,” Morgan told FloridaPolitics.com bluntly Saturday morning. “The person who strengthened the cartels (the seven existing licenses permitted to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana in Florida and opposed Florida for Care as the Legislature debated implementing Amendment 2) the most is Ben Pollara.”
In a lengthy, emotional email Monday Pollara explained some of the motives behind what happened, and why the bill ultimately died — taking some (qualified) responsibility.
Much of the friction behind the final approval of the bill came in part from disagreement over the number of allowable medical marijuana treatment centers under the law. Lawmakers could not agree on how to best balance the needs of patients with that of licensees — refer to by some as “cartels” — authorized by the state to produce and distribute medical pot.
“The initial bill out of the House was horrendous,” Pollara wrote. “Partially drafted by Mel Sembler and Drug-Free America, it was severely restrictive and not only banned smokable, edible, and vapable forms of marijuana, but it also added onerous restrictions on patients, such as a 90- day waiting period and recertification period.”
Pollara said the House then took a position that strengthened the position existing licensees, allowing them to open unlimited storefronts around the state. On the other hand, the Senate attempted to limit the number of retail facilities a single MMTC (Medical Marijuana Treatment Center) could operate, so that “a more diverse, freer market” could develop.
“I advocated strongly for the Senate position, believing — as I still do — that it would result in better access for patients,” Pollara said. Unfortunately, it set off a “very intense lobbying battle on both sides” leading to neither side coming to terms in the end.
“Morgan is livid over this and blames me entirely for the failure to pass legislation this session,” Pollara continued. “I accept that I deserve some of that blame … However, the choices we faced were ‘bad,’ ‘worse’ and ‘the worst.’”
What happened, Pollara wrote, was “the worst.” And either way, there would be litigation.
Pollara expressed deep sadness over both the failure of the bill, and Morgan’s take on what happened.
“I love and respect John, without whom we would have never passed Amendment 2,” he said. “We’ve had very heated arguments in private over policy and strategy in the past, but in the end, we recovered and kept our eyes on the goal.”
Though “devastated” by Morgan’s anger, Pollara said he thoroughly understands it, and if their relationship never heals, “it will not erase the many years of fighting together [for] an incredibly important cause.”
Despite that, Pollara vows to continue the fight for “those principles until the will of 71 percent of Floridians is finally realized in this state.”
Signed “with love and sorrow,” Pollara concludes his letter by apologizing to all those he let down.
“And I want to — from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of everyone at Florida for Care — thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do to advance this cause.”
Read it Pollara’s entire letter here: