Florida: Medical Marijuana Supporters Sense Impending Victory
By Steve Elliott
Medical marijuana advocates in Florida sense that 2014 will be the year they finally achieve their goal.
"Florida is ready to explode," said Jodi James, executive director of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, reports Mary Wozniak at the News-Press. "We firmly believe that Florida patients will have legal access to cannabis by November 2014."
State lawmakers may be preempted by the people after a medical marijuana bill died in committee in the 2013 legislative session. Sponsor Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) said last week he plans to bring the measure back for another try next year; he said he could also propose a constitutional amendment to legalize medicinal cannabis.
But if the drive to collect just over 683,000 voter signatures takes off, the matter could be put on the ballot for the voters to decide. The effort had suffered from a lack of resources until political fundraiser John Morgan, who heads up the Morgan and Morgan law firm, recently joined the cause.
Morgan promised to contribute funds from his own pocket, as well as to raise money from other donors to pay for the signature-gathering drive, estimated to cost more than $3 million. Backers believe Morgan's political and financial influence could lead them to victory.
"In Florida, John Morgan is the biggest friend this issue ever had," said Jack Tanner of Fort Myers, a member of the Lee Liberty Caucus. "John Morgan knows how to do things, and he has the money to back it up."
Morgan joined forces with, and is now chairman of, People United For Medical Marijuana (PUFMM), which was founded four years ago as a grassroots organization by Kim Russell of Orlando. Russell said that Ben Pollara, a lobbyist and fundraiser for President Obama's reelection campaign, brought her and Morgan together.
Morgan said marijuana helped ease his father's suffering as he lay dying of cancer, according to published reports. Pollara is now treasurer of PUFMM.
Sen. Clemens said if the issue goes to the ballot in Florida, it will pass.
"That, to me, is a done deal," Clemens said. "As far as I'm concerned, the question becomes whether the Legislature wants to be preemptive," or wait until the people approve it for themselves, he said.
Anthony Cincotti, 41, of Cape Coral, Fla., said he used medical marijuana safely and effectively after he was hurt on the job in 2008 as a corrections officer in Nevada. Cincotti said he had been on 14 medications, including antispasmodics, muscle relaxants, and oxycodone every four hours after he suffered a tear in his spinal cord, with some of the medications being taken to offset the side-effects of other medications, he said.
When a doctor suggested he try medical marijuana and authorized him to do so, Cincotti did online research into the pros and cons before trying it.
"If anything, it was a gateway away from the opiate medications for me," he said. "It dramatically increased my quality of life. Within a month, Cincotti was able to drop 10 of the 14 prescribed medications.
When he moved to south Florida, the relief he got from medical marijuana ended, Cincotti said. He now resorts to taking Tylenol and ibuprofen along with muscle relaxants, which doesn't work very well. He believes medical marijuana will be legalized in Florida soon.
"It's literally a matter of time," he said.
Support for medical legalization has grown to 70 percent in Florida, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by the Hamilton Campaigns group for PUFMM.
For the first time ever, Pew Research Center announced in April that its polls show a majority of Americans -- 52 percent -- support making marijuana legal, not just for medical purposes, but for all adults.
Eighteen states currently have workable medical marijuana laws, with 11 more (Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and New York) with currently pending legislation to legalize cannabis for medicinal purposes.