Medical Marijuana Proponents Ramping Up For 2016 Ballot
By Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida // June 20, 2015
John Morgan writes $150,000 check
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA — Last week, Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan wrote a $150,000 check to jump-start an effort to get a medical-marijuana initiative back on the ballot in 2016.
This week, United for Care — the political group behind the proposal — started hiring petition gatherers to ensure the group doesn’t get caught playing catch-up again.
Garnering more than 58 percent of the vote last November, a medical-marijuana initiative fell just short of the 60 percent approval required for constitutional changes.
Morgan, who spent at least $5 million of his own and his law firm’s money on the effort last year, and his backers are determined to give voters another stab at a revised version. Supporters hope heavier voter turnout for the presidential election will push the pot initiative about the 60 percent threshold.
United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara said he thinks the group will need about $3 million to cover the costs of professional petition-gatherers and legal fees to get the initiative on the ballot. Pollara said he plans to have the paid workers fanned out statewide by July 1.
Pollara needs to turn in 683,149 valid petition signatures to the Department of State by Feb. 1 to get on the ballot. First, the group has to submit 10 percent of those petitions to the Florida Supreme Court to trigger a review of the revamped initiative, now entitled “Use of Medical Marijuana for Debilitating Conditions.”
United for Care spent more than $4.5 million last year on legal fees, including the Supreme Court vetting of the proposal.
Pollara anticipates a smaller legal tab for the 2016 initiative, as the court already approved last year’s measure and the new version has been tweaked to accommodate concerns of the justices and opponents.
But Pollara estimates his organization will have to spend up to another $7 million on advertising.
Last year, an opposition group called the “Drug Free Florida Committee” collected more than $6 million — including $5.5 million from Las Vegas casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson — to fight the measure.
“We don’t need to out-communicate the opposition. We don’t even need to match the opposition. But we do need to get out our message,” Pollara said Thursday.
Morgan, who’s also former Gov. Charlie Crist’s boss, pledged “to do whatever it takes to put medical marijuana back to the people of Florida” in a video distributed last week.
Supporters can’t rely on the Legislature to legalize marijuana for sick patients, Morgan said.
“Listen. They ignored us last time. But they won’t be able to ignore us next time,” he said.