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Without Enough Signatures, Medical Marijuana Petition Headed for Failure

December 10, 2013 - 6:00pm

Support for medical marijuana may be high in the Sunshine State, but thats not going to solve People United For Medical Marijuanas big problem of getting over 680,000 petition signatures for a constitutional amendment by Feb. 1.

People United has figured it needs around 400,000 more petition signatures to get medical marijuana on the ballot next year, but the clock is ticking and time is running out for the medical marijuana initiative.

It's a big lift. We don't have a lot of give,'' Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, a campaign run by People United, said last week to Steven Nohlgren of the Tampa Bay Times.

High-profile trial lawyer John Morgan has been an avid crusader for the medical marijuana initiative, funneling lots of his own cash to try to get petition signatures from across the state.

Morgans taken to the radio, pleading with Floridians to join his Army of Angels to get medical marijuana on the ballot in 2014. The ads have been in play for months over Florida airwaves.

According to the Times, Morgan said Monday he may double the $1 million he has already spent, but People United still might fail to collect enough signatures in time.

'It's really out of my control,'' Morgan said. 'I'm ready to pay for the gasoline to go faster. The question is, can they go faster with the extra gasoline.''

Volunteers can collect some petitions, but paid workers are crucial to the majority of Florida amendment campaigns. Initially, the medical marijuana campaign held off payments, hoping that the Florida Supreme Court would quickly decide whether the ballot language meets constitutional muster.

But the Supreme Court didnt end up hearing oral arguments from the attorney general and People United until last week, and has until April 1 to rule on the amendment.

During that time, the campaign lost valuable momentum, according to Morgan.

'If I don't get it on the ballot and look back, I am going to blame myself for suspending it when I did, he said.

Florida law requires that 683,149 registered voters sign petitions to request a vote on the issue, but the campaign will probably need to submit more signatures -- around 900,000 to 950,000 -- because election officials cant verify names and birth dates of the voters. Some people may even sign more than one petition. Those are thrown out, too.

Although People United technically has until Feb. 1 to gather all the petitions, county elections officials can slow the process down, taking up to 30 days to verify a voters signature. That means that any petitions submitted after early January may not even count toward the total number.

United for Care said it had collected about 500,000 petitions as of last week, but the Florida Division of Elections listed less than half -- 140,933 -- as verified.

John Morgan is getting antsy over the possibility that the initiative wont pass. He took to Twitter on Tuesday, begging followers to sign the petition.

I need your help! Time is running out! RETWEET & share this with your friends! Sign the#MedicalMarijuana petition athttp://UnitedForCare.org/morgan, read the tweet.
The initiative has already been met with resistance from Florida lawmakers, who have expressed concerns over the ballot language. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford worried that the ballot initiative would lead to "marijuana shops on every street corner" and ultimately become abused in the Sunshine State.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen atAllison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter at@AllisonNielsen.

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