Florida’s Pot Legalization Forces Open 2-Front Offensive: Legislature and 2016 Ballot
FlaglerLive | November 29, 2014
Legalization of medical marijuana in Florida went up in smoke earlier this month, but proponents of Amendment 2 haven’t given up.
“We are going to pass a medical marijuana law in Florida by the end of 2016,” pledged Ben Pollara, head of the committee that tried to get voters to approve the proposed constitutional amendment Nov. 4.
The medical marijuana initiative was heavily bankrolled by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who spent more than $2 million of his own money to get the item onto the November ballot. But Morgan and the United for Care group backing the amendment were outspent in the run-up to the November election by a political committee funded in large part by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson spent $5.5 million to help fund a media blitz aimed at defeating the measure, also opposed by Florida sheriffs and police chiefs.
In an e-mail to supporters Tuesday evening, United for Care — tied to a political committee officially known as “People United for Medical Marijuana,” or “PUFFM” — Pollara wrote that he and his group aren’t backing down from the fight to make medical marijuana legal.
“Let’s be clear: the ONLY reason medical marijuana didn’t pass in November is because one of the richest men in the world funded over $5 million dollars worth of false and misleading advertising on TV, radio and the Internet, and we simply did not have enough resources to counter the lies with facts in enough time. Despite being outspent on advertising 3 to 1, we still wound up with one of the highest percentages of support for medical marijuana ever seen in the country,” Pollara wrote.
Pollara noted that Amendment 2 received 58 percent of the vote, just shy of the 60 percent approval required for constitutional amendments to pass in Florida.
“This total — half a million more than Gov. Rick Scott and almost 900k more than voted ‘no’ — is clear proof that the people of Florida want a medical marijuana law,” he wrote.
Pollara said his group will pursue a two-pronged approach to make medical pot legit, either by getting lawmakers to approve it or by putting another constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016.
Even Pollara wrote that he is “skeptical” that the Legislature will expand on a measure approved earlier this year that legalized cannabis low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, for patients with severe muscle spasms or cancer. The pot purportedly doesn’t get users high but is believed to alleviate life-threatening seizures in children with rare forms of epilepsy.
The GOP-dominated Legislature approved the measure, signed into law by Scott, in part to thwart Amendment 2, which Scott and Republican legislative leaders opposed.
That leaves the constitutional route, a possibility that gives the GOP in Florida the willies because putting a pro-pot item on the presidential ballot in 2016 could draw out younger, more left-leaning voters.
That’s just the avenue that Pollara and his allies are planning, however.
The 2016 presidential election will increase voter turnout, “and arguably, a stronger and more engaged electorate than were interested in the governor’s race,” Pollara wrote.
“We believe this broader swath of the public will be way more likely to pass medical marijuana, despite what we expect will be a new round of well-funded lies coming out of the other side,” he wrote.
AN OPERATIVE BY ANY OTHER NAME …
Among the dozens of pages of redistricting testimony from political consultant Pat Bainter unsealed by the Supreme Court this week, there were plenty of inside details about how Bainter and his allies tried to influence the process of redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts after the 2010 Census.
There are also a few incidents of Bainter parsing words and airing complaints during his examination by David King, an attorney for voting-rights organizations, including the League of Women Voters, who sued to overturn a congressional map approved by lawmakers. For example, Bainter took exception to the use of the term “political operatives.”
“Mr. King, I don’t know, with all due respect, what a political operative is,” Bainter said. “That’s a new term for me.”
When King ticked off the names of a few political — um, people — Bainter answered that he had “never referred to those folks as a political operative.”
“We’ll call — would you be comfortable if I called them political consultants?” King asked.
“I think that would be more accurate and respectful … yes,” Bainter replied.
King did slip up once more and use “operatives” during his questioning of Bainter, but the attorney was quick to correct himself.
In his testimony, Bainter also recounted how he thought that the “Fair Districts” amendments, the anti-gerrymandering standards approved by voters in 2010, had trampled on his ability to be involved in the redistricting process in the ways that every other citizen was involved. The Fair Districts amendments are the heart of the challenges to the congressional map and a separate case involving the Senate districts.
“Once again, the amendments themselves created a — a second class of citizen, including myself,” Bainter testified. “They basically made it impossible for someone like me, that was interested in the process, to — to participate in that process without fear of some retribution, such as this.”
At another point, Bainter said: “It’s very obvious that, if I had submitted a map under my name, that — that I would be damned if I did and damned if I didn’t, because we would be sitting here today, and you would be claiming that I was trying to influence that process. So, no, I didn’t feel as though I had that same level of opportunity.”
Bainter didn’t submit a map under his own name, and was condemned anyway.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Congrats Sen @anitere_flores to becoming #dade delegation chair, that’s more powerful than most state’s governors.”—Former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis).
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida