Politics Behind Push To Legalize MMJ in Florida
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Politics Behind Push To Legalize MMJ in Florida
Posted by CN Staff on July 02, 2013 at 04:58:49 PT
By Matt Dixon
Source: Florida Times-Union
Tallahassee -- From the beginning, the legislative push to legalize medical marijuana came with a deep-seated sense of impending doom. “Slim to none,” were the chances state Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, gave a bill she filed this year to legalize medical marijuana.Her comments came during an April 1 news conference with more than a month left in the legislative session. Her bill, and one filed by state Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, did not receive a committee hearing this session. Though supporters hit a legislative brick wall, legalization supporters did maintain a sense of optimism. And for good reason.
Two days before the Capitol news conference, John Morgan, one of the state’s most prominent attorneys, stroked a $100,000 check to People United for Medical Marijuana, a political committee gearing up to push a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana. Morgan, who is a top Democratic donor, is also the committee’s chairman.He got involved because two decades ago his father used marijuana to help his battle with cancer.“He was against illegal drugs, but my brother Tim said ‘You might want to try this,’ ” Morgan said. “He had an appetite and his anxiety went down.”The effort to legalize medical marijuana has been around for a few years, but has lacked the momentum that Morgan brings to the effort.“That was a real coup for us,” said Ben Pollara, who is managing United for Care, the group that’s acting as the face of the legalization push. “He has a massive public presence in the state and a lot of respect.Morgan, who founded the Morgan & Morgan law firm, also serves as chairman for United for Care.His check, along with a $50,000 donation from Barbara Stiefel, a Democratic rainmaker from Coral Gables, represent 78 percent of the $192,098 People United for Medical Marijuana has raised since its creation in 2009. The cash gave the group a quick credibility boost.With the anticipation of logistical hurdles and well-financed opposition, the money has so far been used to hire a team of political operatives well versed in the art of Florida political combat.“It’s not the first time this effort has been made in Florida, but this time there is some substantial money and political muscle behind it,” Pollara said.He is a lobbyist and served on President Barack Obama’s 2012 national finance committee and was Florida finance director for Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid.If United for Care is the polished face of the campaign, United for Medical Marijuana and another political committee, Saving Florida’s Future, chaired by Pollara, are raising money for the initiative. So far the groups have spent $100,606 to hire a group of political professionals to help brand, message, and poll the legalization issue.“That is the thing about it, voters really perceived it is personal issue and between a doctor and a patient,” said Dave Beattie, a Democratic pollster whose firm, Hamilton Campaigns, was paid nearly $25,000 by Saving Florida’s Future in mid-March to poll the issue.Beattie, who does much of the polling for the Florida Democratic Party, came back with numbers that show 70 percent of residents support a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. His firm, located in Fernandina Beach, is not currently involved with the effort, but did front-end polling to determine if the legalization effort would have support.“If you ask a question in the right way, you can get the answer you want,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free American Foundation and Save Our Society from Drugs, two St. Petersbug-based nonprofits.“That’s what’s called a push poll, and we are not convinced this poll was not a push poll,” she added.Morgan dismissed any ideas that the medical marijuana legalization is partisan, or aimed at exciting Democratic voters who otherwise might not go to the polls. Using ballot initiatives to drive voter turnout is a common political strategy. “I’ve had people suggest that to me, but they are giving me too much credit for being smarter than I am,” he said.Also on board is Impact Politics, a Weston-based firm headed by veteran consultant Brian Franklin. The firm has so far been paid $4,025 to serve as the initiative’s new media consultant. Its client list includes U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., the Florida Democratic Party, and the Florida Education Association, the state’s top teachers union.Franklin declined comment for this story.The effort is going to face opposition from both Fay-run non-profits. Drug Free American Foundation is set up as a so-called 501(c)(3) and is set up as an education organization, while Save Our Society from drugs has 501(c)(4) status, which means it can lobby.“It has the ability to do unlimited lobbying, and we will do everything in our power to stop this ballot initiative from going forward,” Fay said.Both groups were founded by Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg developer and a large Republican donor. Sembler is well known in political circles. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed him Ambassador to Australia, and President George H. Bush tapped him to be ambassador to Italy in 2001.Saving our Society from Drugs, a nonprofit he founded, gave $284,871 to Smart Colorado, a group in that state opposing Amendment 44, a legalization ballot initiative in that state. It was 40 percent of all contributions received by the group.The group has been involved in lobbying against other legalization pushes across the country.“What we are seeing in other states ... is that we have created a big marijuana industry similar to the big tobacco industry,” Fay said. “It’s a whole entire industry popping up.”Fay said that if United for Care gets enough signatures to get on the ballot, her group will likely challenge the measure in court. Medical marijuana legalization in Florida, she said, will have a similar impact as the explosion of pill mills in the state.“The same type of unscrupulous doctors will open up pot shops and people will flood in from other states,” Fay said.‘Sugar Daddies’In order to even get on the ballot, supporters must collect 683,149 verified signatures, or 8 percent of votes cast in the 2012 presidential election, by Feb. 1, 2014. There have already been setbacks.United for Care is not currently in the field collecting signatures. The group originally had 31,000 verified signatures and another roughly 70,000 not yet sent to local election officials, but had to scrap its original ballot language and start over.“It was not strong enough in terms of controls. … We are currently redrafting,” Pollara said.Morgan said they had a final meeting on the language Friday and filed with the secretary of state this week. People can begin signing the petition Tuesday.Because around 25 percent of signatures are usually not verified due to inaccurate information, the group is trying to collect many more than needed.“We think we will have to gather about 1 million,” Pollara said.To help with outreach, in March People United for Medical Marijuana hired National Voter Outreach, a Nevada-based company that specializes in organizing signature drives.In Florida, the group was extensively involved the failed Amendment 4, better known as the “Hometown Democracy” amendment. It would have required voter approval to any local comprehensive plan. The company was hired by Floridians for Smarter Growth, a group that opposed the amendment.Rick Arnold, the company’s CEO, did not return calls seeking comment. So far, his firm has been paid $20,000 for work on the legalization push.Even if the company helps get the language on the ballot, a constitutional amendment requires 60 percent voter approval, which is a high-hurdle. The 2012 ballot included 11 constitutional amendments, eight of which did not get the needed votes.With Florida’s 19 million people and 10 media markets, United for Care also faces challenges other legalization efforts did not: Huge costs. Unlike a candidate campaign, ballot initiatives need more than a simple majority of the vote, which also adds to the cost.“Ballot initiatives can’t just rely on heavy ad buys in swing markets, they need to persuade the base, the middle and the moderates,” said Kevin Cate, a Democratic political consultant not involved with the legalization initiative.Since 2004, 12 states have tried to legalize marijuana by ballot initiatives. As part of those campaigns, 33 groups spent a total of $8.4 million, according to The National Institute of Money in State Politics. Pollara estimates that it will take up to $3 million to get the measure on the ballot and between $5 and $10 million to sway 60 percent of Florida voters to support the measure.Fay says her group hopes to raise $5 million.“We have not been able to match their money,” she said of campaigns in other states. “The other side has sugar daddies ... who have taken up this cause.”“Short money doesn’t move votes in Florida,” Cate said. “Campaigns need multimillions in TV ads to even be on the radar of most viewers.”Though pushing to make medical marijuana legal in Florida is not new, for the first time there is political muscle behind the initiative. A group of Democratic political consultants is working to get the issue on the 2014 ballot.Source: Florida Times-Union (FL)Author: Matt DixonPublished: July 2, 2013Copyright: 2013 The Florida Times-UnionContact: jaxstaff jacksonville.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives 
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Comment #13 posted by afterburner on July 10, 2013 at 22:59:42 PT
As They Said during Vietnam War, 'Pray for Peace'
Marc Emery, 'Prince Of Pot,' Prison Transfer Approved By U.S.: Wife. 
CP | By Keven Drews, The Canadian Press  Posted: 07/10/2013 8:44 pm EDT | Updated: 07/10/2013 10:24 pm EDT
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Comment #12 posted by Hope on July 10, 2013 at 21:49:00 PT
In case...
I don't know. I guess I'd best apologize now, in case she throws a conniption fit about my expressing my opinion about some of those past actions that I took very hard. I knew they were wrong. Kidnapping? Terrorizing? Locking children up in strange homes away from their own families? Locking them in with keyed deadbolts, without the keys? That took my breath away when I learned they were doing that to children. That was scary and wrong. That's how it looked to me. So sad. So freaking sad and crazy. Anyway, she threatened to sue anyone that mentions Straight and child abuse and any possible association she had with that venture, which still exists, I think, under new names, as necessary. Apparently.I must stress here that I never actually saw her hand up to her armpit in his deep pockets. I'm just postulating.She is one scary, intimidating woman. It takes all I can muster to stand up to her and her bullying ways. 
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Comment #11 posted by Hope on July 10, 2013 at 21:31:47 PT
Those people...
Those people that invented, coined the term, "Tough love", made a perversion of love.So ungodly, I believe.
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Comment #10 posted by Hope on July 10, 2013 at 20:44:55 PT
Calvina was referring to wealthy contributors to our cause. It's an insult. A term used for degrading someone, a woman usually... who seems to receive financial support from a wealthy "Sugar Daddy", supposedly in return for sexual favors. How dare she make such a comment when she and her little organizations have had their sweaty little hands in Mel Sembler's nasty pockets up to their frigging armpits for decades? That's what I mean. How dare she, of all people, even mention, "Sugar Daddies"?
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Comment #9 posted by rchandar on July 10, 2013 at 15:20:15 PT:
Sugar Daddies
I'm not exactly clear as to what your comment means. I think Florida's possession law is way out of date and disproportionately attacks minorities, sugar or otherwise. There are pockets of Southern culture in our neck of the woods, but clearly a decrim bill would help a lot of families.rchandar
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Comment #8 posted by Hope on July 09, 2013 at 16:41:02 PT
"Sugar Daddy"?
Really, Calvina? You have a lot of nerve talking about "Sugar Daddies". 
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Comment #7 posted by rchandar on July 09, 2013 at 14:34:58 PT:
No--It is my opinion, and may not be worth that much. It won't stand the test of reason.It makes no sense, though. How are you going to justify an MMJ law while the simple possession law is 1/1000? That isn't fair and we should know that. Getting the law for possession changed to a decrim law is a first step, and we should be spending our money and activism there.Otherwise a lot of us'll say that South Florida-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach-should become another state. We're hardly Southern anymore.-rchandar
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Comment #6 posted by afterburner on July 04, 2013 at 06:58:50 PT
U.S. Law -- check this out
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Comment #5 posted by museman on July 03, 2013 at 10:11:46 PT
the "politics" behind Everything
Is Money. Profit. Greed. Control. And ensuring that the classes in charge stay in position. There is nothing in politics anywhere that is for the benefit of the people. Saying that politics actually do anything for anyone other than the politicians and their wealthy friends, is kinda like saying that doctors 'cure' people, when any truly informed person knows that they are just big legal drug dealers and haven't 'cured' anything because they can't perpetuate their lifestyles if people don't keep coming back for 'treatment' (drugs).And their favorite palm-scratcher Big Pharma, likes it that way.LEGALIZE FREEDOM
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Comment #4 posted by Paul Pot on July 02, 2013 at 20:57:36 PT:
26 States.
Medical marijuana has proven that marijuana is both safe and beneficial and it has pushed reform to the point where 2 states have legalized. 
When 26 states, that's 50% plus one, have medical marijuana it will be impossible to stop reform from turning into a tsunami that will sweep the nation and the world.
When a majority of the people and a majority of the states disagree with the federal government the fed will have no choice to reform its laws. 
Support medical marijuana. 
Countdown to 26 states.
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Comment #3 posted by mexweed on July 02, 2013 at 17:25:03 PT:
Re.: the Big Marijuana Industry
"What we are seeing in other states ... is that we have created a big marijuana industry similar to the big tobacco industry.”The demand for $igarettes was "created" by a trillion bucks worth of corporate advertising over the years. Who is the "we" that speaker thinks created the marijuana industry-- how many bucks of paid advertising, etc.? 
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Comment #2 posted by observer on July 02, 2013 at 12:49:23 PT
Touching Concern for Democracy
re: "'It has the ability to do unlimited lobbying, and we will do everything in our power to stop this ballot initiative from going forward,' Fay said."Prohibitionist concern for the consent of the governed and other self-rule concepts of democracy is touching.It is not just that she's against medical marijuana - she doesn't even want you to be able to vote on it, to decide for yourself. Because prohibitionists and their ilk know better.They've decided for you.For ever. For eternity. Prohibitionists have spoken. You must obey or suffer.And you're a very bad person for disagreeing with the decisions of prohibitionists, too.
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Comment #1 posted by Sam Adams on July 02, 2013 at 08:01:16 PT
the other side of the coin
here is Pharma in action - Florida is the national clearinghouse for Pharma's Oxycontin machine, of course aided and abetted by the Florida state govt. and various officials:
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