My father died four months ago. His death of bone cancer was particularly horrific and painful. While Oxycontin would destroy what little quality of life he had left, we found that medicinal use of marijuana helped restore his appetite and ease his pain. I think of him everyday.
I have watched as 20 states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I was encouraged when Florida Sen. Jeff Clemens and State Rep. Katie Edwards sponsored thoughtful legislation in the Florida legislature to allow physicians to prescribe medical marijuana. I was equally disappointed when the leadership in the Florida legislature refused to even schedule a hearing on the legislation, never mind allowing a vote.
As a political consultant who has run six Florida constitutional amendment campaigns (five victories, one defeat) I reached the conclusion that they only way medicinal marijuana would become a reality in Florida was by putting the question on the ballot in the form of a constitutional amendment and getting the daunting but possible 60 percent from voters that passage requires.
I decided to support the proposal of People United for Medical Marijuana (PUFMM) a truly grassroots effort which had collected an amazing 30,000 of the required 65,000 signatures necessary to submit the constitutional amendment language to the secretary of state. I also knew it would require one million additional signatures to actually place the proposal on the 2014 ballot.
Initially I was pleased when Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan came forward to take leadership of the PUFMM campaign because I know it will cost at least $3.5 million just to get the measure on the ballot. An ad and absentee ballot campaign could cost up to $10 million more. "I can get the money. I have the money. I will be joined by people with money who will help," Morgan told the Miami Herald. "I've been very fortunate in life, and I can make it happen."
I also recognize that to achieve 60 percent the campaign would have to be truly bipartisan -- Republicans, Democrats and Independents working together could help bring relief to millions who were in pain or suffering like my own father. I wrote optimistically about our prospects in The Huffington Post.
Today my optimism has evaporated.
Morgan insisted that the PUFFM proposal be rewritten -- and that 30,000 signatures that had been painstakingly collected be discarded. Morgan insisted that University of Florida law school professor Jon Mills, a former state House speaker, be paid to redraft proposal and in doing so has produced a fatally flawed substitute that ignores the reality of Florida politics.
In other states that have legalized medical marijuana if the legislature refuses to implement a distribution system and open dispensaries people who are sick or dying can grow a limited number of plants for their own use. Under the Morgan proposal if (when) Florida's notoriously right wing legislature refuses to open and authorize the required dispensaries those who are sick or dying can... sue. This is truly a trial lawyer's answer to a medical problem. How many will suffer and die in the five to seven years it would take for this question to wend it's way thru the courts?
As re-written the Morgan proposal would not, for example, benefit Florida activist Cathy Jordan, who uses the drug to mitigate the symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease. The state legislation was named for Jordan. If the legislature refused to establish a system for distribution in the wake of a constitutional amendment legalizing the medical use of marijuana, Jordan would have no legal access to the plants that make her condition live able.
The Bradenton Herald reported that just hours after Jordan announced her support for the legislation, a team of ski-mask-clad deputies from the Manatee County Sheriff's Department staged a guns-drawn raid on the home of Cathy Jordan and her husband Robert, According to Robert Jordan, the sheriff's office seized the mature plants his wife uses to treat her illness. Jordan serves as the volunteer president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network.
Morgan told the Orlando Sentinel he would spend a "whole lot of money" while he told the Herald Tribune he would spend "whatever it takes". So far, however Morgan has contributed only $150,000 of the $3 million he claimed he would pony up.
Just as concerning is the Morgan led campaign's total lack of bi-partisanship. Actually it's worse than that! Sadly Morgan's true motive seems to be not the passage of medicinal marijuana but its use as a wedge issue to turn out younger votes and minority voters to benefit the comeback bid of former Republican Governor Charlie Crist who is attempting to reinvent himself as a Democrat (and who works for Morgan's law-firm).
Morgan fired respected Democrat pollster David Beatty who had produced initially promising polling that showed that 60 percent approval of medicinal marijuana from the PUFMM effort. Beatty's sin? He isn't supporting Crist and is actually talking to another prospective Democratic candidate, former Florida CFO Alex Sink.
Crist himself signaled the play when, despite his lifelong opposition to drug law reform, he suddenly endorsed medicinal marijuana in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times' Adam Smith. Crist did seem to have a hard time articulating exactly why he supports the initiative and didn't mention his life-long support for harsher penalties for marijuana possession.
Ironically Jordan and her husband's home was raided under the Florida Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act , a law signed in 2009 by... Governor Charlie Crist. Under the Eradication Act Crist supported and signed, just holding an ounce of weed is considered a felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Charlie has some '"splainin" to do.
When a respected former Republican State Senator expressed an interest in supporting the PUFFM effort no one would return her phone call. When the wife of a well-liked Republican State Party official made her interest known she too was given the brush-off. When one of the top Republican public relations consultants let it be known that he was interested in helping out, it was made clear; no Republicans or Democrats who aren't supporting Charlie Crist need apply. Indeed virtually all calls from volunteers to PUFFM go unanswered.
When Morgan scheduled a speech before Tampa's prestigious Tiger Bay Club last week to "promote medical marijuana", instead of side-stepping partisan political questions Morgan's speech morphed into a diatribe against Florida Republicans and cheerleading for Crist.
Florida is a true "purple" state where it will require the votes of Republicans, Democrats and Independents to get the 60 percent needed to pass a constitutional amendment that would allow doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana for their patients who need it. The hyper-partisan Mr. Morgan is the wrong man to lead such an effort.