Orlando attorney John Morgan -- whose personal-injury firm employs former Gov. Charlie Crist -- said Thursday he's driving a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana out of passion, not to boost turnout for the Democratic candidate in next year's gubernatorial race.
He told the Capital Tiger Bay Club he learned about marijuana's therapeutic power when his father was dying of esophageal cancer 20 years ago.
"I know it works because I have seen it," Morgan said. "Are we going to do what's right, or are we going to get hung up on the word 'drug'?"
Although his father was "the most anti-drug guy in the world," Morgan said marijuana helped him tolerate chronic nausea. "He got to sit at the table and have a meal and a conversation," Morgan said.
Morgan said medical marijuana is natural, but painkillers such as Oxycontin are "poison" that ruin people's lives and kill them.
"There is no drug in America that cures the nausea from chemotherapy," he said. "They say there is, but there's not."
Morgan has committed to spending up to $3 million to get a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana on the November 2014 ballot. Passage would require support of 60 percent of the voters.
Crist, a former Republican, is widely expected to run for governor next year as a Democrat.
Before making his case to the club, Morgan told reporters he didn't think the ballot measure would affect a Crist run much at all.
"We don't know if there's going to be a big pushback or not," he said. "The cartels in Mexico may oppose it. But it's a huge revenue source for the state of Florida."
He also said Florida's regulation of medical marijuana ought to be "the opposite of whatever they're doing in California."
"This is not a wink and a smile and a psychologist prescribing marijuana," he said. "It's much more regulated. It's really for the terminally ill, the critically ill, the chronically ill. It's not for someone who's having a bad hair day."
University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus said the measure is a good way to get nontraditional voters to the polls in a midterm election.
"Anything with the word 'marijuana' in it grabs young people's attention," she said. "They're going to be very important, because the difference between a midterm election and a presidential election is turnout, and nontraditional voters -- their turnout usually plummets in a midterm election, like we'll have next year."
However, MacManus said, putting hot-button issues on the ballot as constitutional amendments can be very mobilizing.
"And that's why, historically in Florida, both parties have often turned to some of these kinds of issues to get nontraditional voters -- and we're spelling out here, young voters -- to the polls," she said.
Getting younger voters to the polls would help Democrats, according to MacManus, but Republicans also can use medical marijuana to motivate voters.
"Conservative voters are very wary of that kind of an issue," she said. "Some feel that Florida already has a big drug problem and this would contribute to it."
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant was among the attendees at Morgan's Tiger Bay speech, but said she didn't know if the constitutional amendment would make a difference
"It doesn't detract from my job, which is to get as many people to the polls as I have to, no matter what," she said.
State Republican Chairman Lenny Curry said he plans on turning out voters based on Gov. Rick Scott's success "on the issues that they care most about, which are jobs, schools and cost of living. Those issues are what overwhelmingly drive Floridians, and therefore will be the issues that we focus most of our attention on."