While the Florida Supreme Court voted 4-3 to place a medical marijuana constitutional amendment on the November ballot, the political impact of this decision and future treatment of marijuana in Florida are anything but clear.
In recent times, the turnout in Florida in presidential years has favored the Democrats. Off-year turnout in Florida favors the Republicans. Will the medical marijuana amendment increase turnout among younger voters, African-Americans and Latinos?
It is instructive to note that Colorado Democrats took control of the lower House in an upset when full legalization of marijuana was on the ballot the same year as the House election. Respected pollsters like Republican Tony Fabrizio think the impact will be minimal while Democratic pollster David Beattie has written that there is a net advantage for Florida Democrats.
The constitutional amendment put forward by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan requires 60 percent of the vote for passage. Polls taken six months ago clocked support for the measure at 70 percent. More recent polls are even more favorable, as the standing of the Florida initiative has benefited from mass-media pot-legalization euphoria -- and even President Obama's recent pro-pot comments.
The lack of any significant Republican in the pro-pot campaign, coupled with former Gov. Charlie Crist's sudden support for the measure (after Crist, as a Republican, pushed and signed the harshest and most racist marijuana laws in the nation) gives away Morgan's game. Gov. Rick Scott's opposition comes with a useful coda -- "Let the people decide." I don't see Scott campaigning on the issue and think Crist will have a hard time making it a wedge issue to score off Scott.
As for passage, I wouldn't pop the champagne corks just yet. Early polling showed support for the medical marijuana amendment falls off when voters learn it can be prescribed for any condition. But will anyone emerge to make this argument in a statewide campaign? Social conservatives are long on networking but short on cash. The chances of passage at 60 percent increase if no monied party steps forward to oppose the medical marijuana push.
Medical marijuana drive Manager Ben Pollara says his campaign needs $10 million. Crist money man John Morgan fronted 87 percent of the petition drive and legal costs to date. Morgan spent the money only reluctantly, when no other significant pro-pot donor stepped forward. Morgan ran a huge risk by collecting and paying for 1 million signatures before the Supreme Court ruled on the language.
Now Morgan says he has done his part and the rest is up to "others." The national marijuana organizations don't have Florida in their budgets. While there is no doubt many small donations can be raised, it's doubtful this could fund a rigorous campaign.
If no significant anti-money surfaces and no significant pro-amendment money is found, 60 percent becomes a crap shoot. Could the amendment break 60 percent? Perhaps.
While Morgan tells us his only motivation is mercy for sick people, a darker motive is included in his constitutional amendment. The amendment is self-enacting.
Absent a move by the Legislature, the state Department of Health will set up a potentially lucrative system to dispense the medically prescribed marijuana. Well-positioned businessmen are reaping millions in profits in the states where marijuana is legally available.
The next governor will control the distribution scheme and John Morgan is betting that will be a grateful Charlie Crist, who will give him (or a client) a franchise, the profits of which would dwarf his personal-injury law firm.
Perhaps this is why Morgan was willing to risk almost $3 million in contributions and loans.
For the people, my ass.
Roger J. Stone Jr., with offices in Florida and Washington, D.C., is a political consultant and lobbyist who specializes in opposition research for the Republican National Committee. He endorsed former Gov. Gary Johnson's presidential campaign in the 2012 Republican primary. This column is exclusive to Sunshine State News.