Florida Medical Cannabis Amendment Mired in Gubernatorial Politics

medical cannabis

The proposed Florida medical cannabis constitutional amendment, which goes on November’s ballot as Amendment 2, is becoming mired in gubernatorial politics. Up until recently, proponents of the measure received very little pushback from amendment opponents. Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Biondi have both been against the marijuana proposition from its early stages. Biondi filed a brief in opposition to the measure going on the November ballot when the Florida Supreme Court considered the matter. As polling indicates Floridians approve of the amendment in numbers exceeding the 60 percent threshold necessary for passing, Governor Scott and his supporters who oppose the measure are beginning more concerted efforts to make sure the polling approval does not translate into actual votes.

The primary financial backer of the ballot effort has thus far been personal injury attorney John Morgan, a well-known fundraiser for Democrats. He reportedly has contributed $4 million of his own funds to the effort. Ben Pollara, the manager of the pro-Amendment 2 organization United for Care, estimates that approximately $10 million in contributions will be necessary for Amendment 2 to pass. Opposition forces have been initially led by the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the Florida Medical Association. More organized opposition is also beginning to fire salvos at the amendment. The Drug Free Florida Committee and the sheriff led “Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot” are establishing campaigns to thwart the amendment effort. Significantly, Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy casino owner and Republican financial supporter, has contributed a reported $2.5 million to Drug Free Florida in order to assist Amendment 2 opposition. The large contribution by Adelson fuels speculation that the Florida medical cannabis amendment is now enmeshed in gubernatorial politics.

Adelson is a major supporter of a research center at Tel Aviv University, which engages in medical marijuana research activities of its own. Given his apparent support of medical marijuana research, the contribution to Drug Free Florida leads many to believe that the funding of Amendment 2 opposition solely relates to politics instead of actual opposition to the amendment. Adelson is seeking legislation by the State of Florida to allow casinos in South Florida. In order to secure approval, he needs the blessing of Scott and Florida’s Republican majority legislature. Although Scott disavows any knowledge as to the reasoning behind a Las Vegas based casino owner staking such a strong claim against a Florida constitutional amendment, those connecting the dots believe that Adelson is showing his Scott support bona fides through the large contribution.

Scott’s political calculus appears to be that votes in favor of Amendment 2 are more likely to coincide with votes for Scott’s presumed opponent Charlie Crist. Scott could have blunted the political impact of the ballot initiative by voicing qualified support, but he apparently held true to his principles and his base of supporters by consistently speaking out against the measure. He did signal he would sign the recently passed Charlotte’s Web legislation, which allows non-euphoric medical cannabis to be used by children with epilepsy and other major illnesses. He could conceivably note his support of limited compassionate use of the medical marijuana while letting others deliver stronger body blows to the amendment effort.

The financial backing of Sheldon Adelson for the Amendment 2 opposition appears to indicate significant behind the scenes maneuvering to thwart the amendment. Although known to be politically active, the large infusion of cash for amendment opposition by the casino owner provides evidence that the medical cannabis ballot proposition is becoming mired in gubernatorial politics. Proponents of the measure will need to use the summer to garner a larger war chest to achieve victory in November.

By William Costolo

Miami Herald
Bradenton Herald