Medical Marijuana Foes Are Making Gains In Florida

Opponents of Florida's medical marijuana ballot measure, such as gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, are making big gains in state polls. (Photo courtesy of Commons)

Opponents of Florida’s medical marijuana ballot measure, such as gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, are making big gains in state polls. (Photo courtesy of Commons)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

A couple of months ago polls suggested Florida’s medical marijuana ballot measure was going to sail through to passage this year. However, after well-funded attacks on the measure, its passage is now less than a sure thing.

According to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll, “only 48 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Amendment 2…44 percent oppose it and 7 percent said they had not made up their minds,” The Tampa Bay Times reports this week.

Because all constitutional amendments in the state require 60 percent approval from voters, the measure is facing an uphill battle.

The Times reports:

My guess today is this is not going to pass,” said David Colburn, director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. “It may not mean that Floridians don’t support the use of medical marijuana,” he said, but apparently many voters dislike the amendment’s wording and embedding it into the state Constitution.

Amendment 2 would allow people with disabling conditions to possess pot if a doctor certifies that they need it.

The telephone survey of 781 registered Florida voters — all likely to vote in the November election — was conducted Oct. 7-12 for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and News 13 of Orlando by the University of Florida’s Bob Graham Center for Public Service and Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The poll, which included respondents using landlines and cellphones, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points. Results were weighted by age, party registration and media market, thus allowing the results to mirror the distribution in the Florida Voter File.

Just six weeks ago, the Times partner poll found a much different result, with 57 percent saying they would vote in favor and only 24 percent saying no. That poll gave the option of “Haven’t thought much about this,” which yielded a large group of undecided voters — about 17 percent.

With 44 percent of likely voters now polling against, opponents may block the amendment even if they do not attract a single remaining undecided voter.

Back in July of this year, a Quinnipiac University Poll found a whopping 88 percent approval for the ballot measure. According to a press release from the polling group back then, “Florida voters support legalized marijuana for medical use 88 – 10 percent, with support ranging from 83 – 14 percent among voters over 65 years old to 95 – 5 percent among voters 18 to 29 years old.”

Numbers like that are rare in politics, especially Florida politics. So, the ratings had nowhere to go but down. However, these latest poll results show a drastic fall in approval.

One of the primary reasons proponents of the measure are losing traction is that some big names are opposing it.

In the past few months, Florida’s Medical Association and the Florida Sheriff’s Association have been warning voters against backing the bill. Their biggest argument is that the amendment is written too broadly. These groups are concerned the measure in practice would open the door to widespread drug use in the state.

But, a little mentioned aspect of all this is that state lawmakers will likely convene and regulate it anyway. In short, the medical marijuana industry in Florida would likely be highly-regulated by a GOP-led Legislature before it even begins.

The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas pointed out not too long ago:

Here’s the little secret that neither side of the Amendment 2 debate over medical marijuana is talking about: The Florida Legislature controls its fate.

You don’t hear it from opposition groups, who warn that legalizing medical marijuana will endanger children, spawn pot shops on every street corner and become the state’s next pill mill fiasco. That will happen only if the conservative Florida Legislature decides not to impose strict rules on who obtains the marijuana, who distributes it and under what conditions.

You don’t hear it from proponents, as the United for Care campaign rolls into college campuses, riding on the hopes of medically needy Floridians, and wishful recreational pot smokers.

Access to medical cannabis for those groups wouldn’t be easy, either, if the Legislature put in place a tightly controlled cultivation and dispensing system similar to one it adopted earlier this year when it legalized low-THC, high CBD strains of cannabis.

And what’s to stop lawmakers from doing any of this and more?

“Nothing,” said Jon Mills, former Democratic House speaker and a constitutional lawyer who wrote the amendment on the ballot before voters on Nov.4. “The Legislature can do anything that is not inconsistent with the Constitution.”

The proposed constitutional amendment, he said, prevents the Legislature from creating a barrier to access for patients diagnosed with nine particular debilitating ailments, or others who meet the requirements of the law. But he noted that it does allow lawmakers to establish a protocol for determining what diseases are eligible for treatment and to put in place rules that keep the public safe.

Regardless, the message against the amendment has been strong and relentless—and as the Times points out, it’s also been more organized. Compared to the pro-marijuana campaign, the opposing campaign has been united, clear and highly-skilled at getting its message out.

Lastly, money is perhaps the biggest reason this marijuana amendment has taken such a dive in the polls.

As Fusion reported, even though “People United for Medical Marijuana, a grassroots campaign, has attracted more than $2.5 million in donations to date…the initiative is facing some significant opposition.”

The Drug Free Florida Committee has raised more than $3.1 million with the hopes of defeating the measure. If it passes, Florida would join 23 states and the District of Columbia in permitting pot for medical purposes.

According to Fusion, opponents include the likes of Las Vegas gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, who originally gave $2.5 million to the campaign against the ballot measure. He recently gave another $1.5 million.

Fusions also reports “the family trust of Carol Jenkins Barnett, the CEO of Florida-based Publix Super Markets” has given more than half a million dollars to defeat it, among many others.

On the other side, tthe amendment’s biggest supporter is Orlando attorney John Morgan. His law firm has given nearly a million dollars to help pass the amendment. Morgan was also instrumental in supporting the effort to get the measure on the ballot this year in the first place.

Even though Morgan’s campaign effort was a success– and the amendment made it through to the ballot with a lot of momentum and support, success at the polls is not so certain.