11/05/2014 06:13 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2015

Florida Medical Marijuana Opponents Prove Money Talks

For the first time ever, opponents were able to raise almost as much money as proponents raised, and they sent Florida's medical marijuana initiative down to defeat as a result. Early polls showed a whopping 88 percent of voters favored Amendment 2. Opponents drove that down to 48 percent in just a few months. Tuesday's vote of 57 percent for the amendment did not reach the 60 percent required to change the state's constitution.

Also for the first time, opponents could afford to produce and air TV commercials, and Florida voters got to hear different opinions from what has become proponents' mantra. For nearly a century, the tobacco industry insisted that tobacco is neither addictive nor harmful. Marijuana proponents one-upped tobacco by insisting marijuana is not only not addictive or harmful, but is medicine.

Medical marijuana ballot initiatives are all about money. Proponents have it; opponents don't. Supporters raised more than $2.5 million for California's Prop 215, the nation's first medical marijuana initiative passed in 1996. Opponents raised less than $35,000 -- a ratio of 71 to 1. That pattern continued until this year in Florida.

Voters were informed about Prop 215 by the ads proponents aired on TV and a paragraph on the ballot (few slog through initiative texts that can contain up to 80 or more pages). Opponents had no money to buy air time to offer other opinions. Imagine Congress with all 435 Representatives and 100 Senators belonging to just one party, and you can begin to understand how one-sided marijuana ballot initiatives have been.

Once California legalized marijuana for medical use, eight more states (Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Colorado, Nevada, and Montana) did so between 1996 and 2004, all via ballot initiatives. By this time, an emerging medical marijuana industry joined forces with proponents to lobby state legislatures to follow suit. Again, lack of funds to hire lobbyists to present other opinions shut out other views.

You might think the 23 states that have passed medical marijuana laws (and more recently recreational marijuana laws) did so in response to citizen demand. You would be wrong. In truth, two organizations, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project, their funders George Soros and the late Peter Lewis, a by-now burgeoning marijuana industry, and an estimated $200 million have been behind the drive to legalize marijuana for medical, and ultimately recreational, use.

These organizations, based in New York and Washington. D.C., proposed and financed full legalization ballot initiatives in Oregon and Alaska this year and won, devoting $7.6 million in Oregon vs. opponents' $169,000 and $1.13 million in Alaska vs opponents' $151,000. Their game plan? First, legalize marijuana for medical use, then recreational use, a strategy now in place in four states.

Americans are confused about medical marijuana. On the one hand, there are two FDA-approved, synthesized THC medicines that doctors have been able to prescribe since the 1980s. Doctors use Marinol and Cesamet to treat cancer chemotherapy-induced nausea and AIDS-wasting in patients who don't respond to standard medications. Cannabinoids extracted from marijuana and purified -- Sativex to treat MS and Epidiolex to treat intractable epileptic seizures -- are currently in FDA clinical trials. A synthetic cannabinoid for epilepsy is headed toward FDA. Doctors will be able to prescribe these drugs once FDA approves them.

But doctors cannot prescribe, and pharmacies cannot dispense, any of the marijuana strains, edibles, dabs, and waxes being sold in medical marijuana states because their makers have not sought FDA approval to market them.

People who buy them have no guarantee that any are pure, safe, or effective for the ever-expanding list of diseases and conditions that state laws -- but not medical societies -- say should be treated with medical marijuana.

That's the case Florida opponents, including the 20,000 doctors of the Florida Medical Society, presented to voters in TV ads this year.

And this time, voters took their doctors' advice.

Postscript: After just ten months of full legalization in Colorado, five cities there passed local amendments to ban the sale of recreational marijuana within their borders. The Republican challenger, Bob Beauprez, ran on a platform that included a call for the repeal of legalization. As citizens' anger mounts over outsiders sweeping in, getting what they want, and leaving behind a mess for taxpayers to clean up, we will see more of that.