TALLAHASSEE, FL — With Florida lawmakers unwilling to consider advancing any bills pertaining to medical marijuana or marijuana reform, instead overwhelmingly voting to pass an almost unenforceable law making the sale of virtually all pipes and paraphernalia a felony, medical marijuana advocates are looking to the 2014 ballot.
Senate Bill 1250, the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, was introduced to the Florida legislature in February and assigned to the Health Policy Committee, where it immediately stalled until it was officially killed May 3 by lawmakers, never receiving a hearing or serious consideration by lawmakers.
Now, with the help of prominent Orlando attorney John Morgan, activists are preparing a massive statewide signature campaign to place the proposal on the ballot, where recent polls have found over 70% of Florida voters, including 56% of Republicans, are in support of medical marijuana legalization.
Morgan, who routinely hosts national political figures at his Orlando-area home, including President Obama, has co-founded an organization called United for Care with the intent of placing the question before voters in 2014, when voters will also pick a governor, members of Congress and state legislators.
Morgan has also pledged upwards of $3 million of his personal finances to kick start the effort.
“I’m prepared to keep raising money and writing checks until I get the signatures to put it on the ballot,” Morgan said earlier this year.
Under Florida law, the campaign needs to collect signatures of almost 700,000 registered voters to get a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana on the ballot in November 2014.
Legal analysts say a successful campaign in the Sunshine State could cost upwards of $10 million.
Morgan, who put his money behind a successful 2004 constitutional amendment raising Florida’s minimum wage, is not deterred and said he thinks he can recruit an “army of angels” to help gather the necessary signatures for the ballot initiative.
“I think it could be unprecedented in Florida politics, when you have so many volunteers with a passion for compassion out there collecting signatures,” Morgan says. “This will cost me quite a bit of money in proportion to what I have, but if it happens, I see it as political philanthropy – that through politics, a whole lot of good could be done for a whole lot of people for a whole lot of time.”
“I believe there is going to be kind of an uprising of people who have needed it in the past or had a loved one who needed it who are going to say I don’t want this to happen to someone else.”
And that includes Morgan himself. Over a decade ago, when his father was dying from esophageal cancer and emphysema, one of his brothers would bring him marijuana to help.
“He would smoke it or eat it and his nerves were steadied, his pain went away, his nausea went away, he had an appetite,” Morgan says. “It wasn’t a wonderful way to die, tethered to a machine but at least he was not being tortured.”
Morgan says United for Care is currently in the process of writing the language for the proposed ballot initiative. If activists are successful in placing the initiative on the ballot, it would require a 60% approval from voters to pass.
Florida’s now-defeated 2013 legislative effort would have allowed patients with certain qualifying medical conditions, or their caregivers, to possess up to four ounces of marijuana and grow up to eight marijuana plants.
It would have also required the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities.
The bill was named in recognition of Cathy Jordan, president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, who uses marijuana in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Just hours after the bill was first introduced to the legislature in February, a task force from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office raided the Jordan’s home, claiming a tip that the couple had two marijuana plants growing in their back yard.
Deputies did not arrest Cathy or her husband Robert, but they confiscated their plants and referred the case to prosecutors, who refused to press charges against the couple. The Jordans have since sued the Sheriff’s office for protection from future raids.