By Steve Miller
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The Florida Supreme Court last week heard arguments regarding the state’s pending medical marijuana ballot initiative, focusing on the wording of the measure.
With 82 percent of Florida poll respondents in favor of marijuana-as-medicine, it appears Florida could become the 21st state with medical outlets selling pot, and the first Southern state to get on board. First, though, the court would need to give its approval for the measure to end up on the November 2014 ballot.
In addition, the group behind the movement, People United For Medical Marijuana, will have to come up with 700,000 signatures to get it on the ballot. It claims to already have 500,000.
Marijuana foes often call medicinal pot the “nose under the tent,” in which medical use opens the door to wider acceptance and eventual decriminalization.
This is what almost happened in California, where voters approved medical marijuana in 1996. In 2010, Proposition 19 came along, which would have allowed for legal possession of up to a little more than an ounce of pot for personal use.
The measure was defeated 54-46 percent. But donations for the pro-pot group pushing Prop 19 came in from all over, according to this database created by the Los Angeles Times. Florida was the sixth-highest collective donor to that mission, with individuals giving $54,368.
The big dog donor was the late Peter Lewis, billionaire chairman of Progressive Insurance and avowed supporter of legalization of pot. Lewis, who died Nov. 23, kicked in $50,000 to the California measure, accounting for 92 percent of the Florida support.
The rest of the donations were in increments of $50 here and $100 there, and they came from folks of diverse occupations, including a Boston Market delivery driver, retirees, an engineer at Honeywell, computer programmers, a community college professor and lawyers.
But where’s the love from California for the People United For Medical Marijuana in Florida? So far, records show two donations from California this year, for a total of $28.
This year, People United has taken in $876,302 in campaign donations, according to records. It’s biggest individual supporter has been lawyer John Morgan of Morgan & Morgan in Orlando, who has given $250,000. His firm is ground zero for a lot of the organizing for this medicinal effort. Second place in the individual donor sweepstakes goes to philanthropist and retired pharmaceutical executive Barbara Stiefel, who has dropped $150,000 into the kitty.