John Morgan was at his Trumpiest earlier this month when he took to social media to savage his longtime aide-de-camp, Ben Pollara, over the failure of legislation implementing medical marijuana this Session.
Labeling him “Fredo,” (from the Godfather trilogy) and telling FloridaPolitics.com that Ben “f**ked the patients,” Morgan accused Pollara of putting the interests of wannabe medical marijuana businesses over the larger cause.
Pollara emphatically denied those charges, but admitted in an email to supporters that issues of patient access, “tended to align with businesses that wanted entry into the Florida market, and were kept from doing so …”
The ugly, public split between what POLITICO Florida called the “Batman and Robin of … Florida medical marijuana” has left many observers asking what the real story was behind the breakup. Some of the details that have been reported have led to further questions about what, exactly, Morgan’s interests and motivations were in this fight.
Morgan called Pollara a “sellout,” but was that actually a Trump-style red herring? Was it, in fact, John Morgan who had the financial conflict on implementation?
I don’t know.
When asked directly, John acknowledged a business plan to acquire an existing grower, but when FloridaPolitics.com asked for more details he demurred, with a cryptic, barely-denial denial.
The ownership structure of existing medical marijuana license holders is shrouded in secrecy — so public records won’t answer the question.
But here’s what we do know about John Morgan’s connections to Florida’s authorized marijuana distributors:
— Numerous session post-mortems had reported that the Morgan-Pollara rift began on the Tuesday night of the last week of session, when Morgan called Pollara on three-way with Jake Bergmann, CEO of Surterra, one of the seven license holders. Representing Surterra is Michael Corcoran, the Speaker’s brother, who Morgan has described as a friend. Their other lobbyist is Billy Rubin, someone who Morgan has known since college.
— The Morgan-Bergmann-Pollara call concerned the very issue that doomed medical marijuana this Session: retail caps. This issue divided medical marijuana interests into two camps: the “cartels,” i.e., existing licensees; and the “Have Not’s,” those that wanted access to the Florida market. Pollara had been viewed throughout the Session as the leader of the Have Not’s (with Sen. Jeff Brandes as their patron saint); Morgan’s position tended to line up squarely with the cartels. The positions also ended up dividing between the House (cartel position) and Senate (Have Not position). Before the call, Morgan had been noticeably absent throughout the Session, while Pollara had been a near constant presence in Tallahassee, testifying at every committee, including speaking for retail caps in Senate HHS Appropriations.
— After implementing legislation failed, and during his social media rampage against Pollara, Morgan and Speaker Corcoran had a veritable love fest on Twitter. They thanked each other, Corcoran threw shade at Pollara, and Morgan went after Negron.
— In April, from Anguilla, Morgan posted a photo on his Facebook page of medical marijuana products produced by Knox Medical, another of the seven licensed Florida marijuana growers. The post has subsequently been deleted.
— John hinted to FloridaPolitics.com — but stopped short of outright saying — that he was looking at potentially investing in or purchasing one of the current license holders. Other sources have heard that Morgan recently hosted an investor pitch at his office for that very same licensee. According to the sources, Morgan was very much present at the meeting, but it was less than clear what his involvement with the business was (if any).
Now all the above is highly circumstantial … but certainly suggestive.
Consider this final point:
John is a capitalist. His bread and butter might be the law business, but this guy owns an advertising firm, billboards, hotels, amusement parks and has all sorts of other entrepreneurial ventures. Think about the pitches that come across his desk daily.
Now, consider how many of those over the past few years must have been marijuana related.
The opportunity was certainly there, should Morgan have decided to take it. Only he can answer that, although he is under no obligation to do so publicly.
But John Morgan is not exactly a shrinking violet. He’s still very much contemplating a run for Governor. And he’s said if there’s a special session on medical marijuana, he’ll be coming to Tallahassee this time.
John’s put himself in a position where, sooner or later, he’s going to have to answer this question. Without doing so effectively, his credibility on medical marijuana could go up in smoke.