Lawyer John Morgan: Florida's Pot Laws Would Be Very Strict
Published: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE | Florida's medical marijuana system would be far more restrictive and regulated than California's under a proposed state constitutional amendment, the sponsor of a drive to put the issue on next year's general election ballot said Thursday.
Speaking at a prominent Tallahassee political club, well-known Orlando trial lawyer and Democratic Party fundraiser John Morgan conceded that the amendment supporters will have to overcome the perception that the ballot initiative could lead to more widespread drug use.
He drew a distinction between his proposal and California's widespread program, saying Florida's is aimed at limited dispensing to medical doctors and linking the use to seriously ill Floridians who are battling cancer, ALS and other debilitating diseases.
"This would be what I would call the opposite of California," Morgan said. "This not a wink and a smile and psychologists prescribing marijuana. It's much more regulated and it's really for the terminally ill and chronically ill, not for somebody that's having a bad hair day."
Morgan addressed the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee as the amendment effort enters a key phase. His People United for Medical Marijuana campaign must gather roughly 1 million signatures from registered voters by Feb. 1 to be assured of obtaining the required number of about 700,000 valid signatures.
It must also obtain approval of the ballot language by the Florida Supreme Court.
Morgan, who is personally bankrolling the campaign, said he is confident the measure will make the November 2014 ballot.
"That's not going to be a problem," said Morgan, who leads the highly visible Morgan and Morgan law firm that has blanketed the state with television ads and billboards that tout the slogan: "For the people."
Morgan, one of the top fundraisers for President Barack Obama's campaigns, estimated it will cost some $3.5 million to collect enough valid signatures to place the constitutional amendment on the general election ballot.
He estimated it could take another $10 million to defend the issue from opponents and convince more than 60 percent of the voters to support it.
He said in addition to the plans for a paid campaign, the initiative is drawing strong grassroots support from Floridians.
"We are getting an unbelievable amount of volunteers who are really passionate about this," Morgan said. "How well we can coordinate them will be another story."
In his speech before the political club, Morgan stressed that his crusade for the legalization of medical marijuana was personal. He said his father, who suffered from cancer and emphysema, found relief from the illicit drug before he died.
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.
He also said his brother, who has been paralyzed since he was 18, was helped when he fought neck and head cancer.
The strongest supporters for the measure are those Floridians who faced debilitating diseases, including women who have survived breast cancer and the arduous chemical and radiation treatments that accompany it, Morgan said.
"They know it works. That's why they're collecting signatures for us," he said.
Morgan compared the use of medical marijuana with the now legally prescribed painkillers like Oxycontin, noting thousands of Floridians die each year from painkiller overdoses and many more are addicted to the drugs.
"Ever hear of anybody overdosing on marijuana?" Morgan asked.
Other critics see a political motive in Morgan's crusade. They suggest the ballot initiative is designed to draw more younger and liberal voters into the general election, helping Democratic candidates, including Morgan's law partner, former Gov. Charlie Crist, who may challenge Gov. Rick Scott next year.
But Morgan said to his surprise one of Obama's top strategists told him it was not likely that a medical marijuana initiative would be a "decisive" factor in next year's turnout.
Based on historical patterns, Florida's electorate next year will include more older voters, who may not favor the initiative.
But Morgan said the amendment may have special appeal for that demographic.
"They're going to be the ones who have the bone cancer. They're the ones who are going to have the emphysema. They're the ones who are going to be in the end game sooner rather than later," he said, noting he falls well into that category as a 57-year-old.
Morgan said his other motivation for advancing the amendment was the reluctance of the state Legislature to even hold a hearing on the issue, much less seriously consider the legislation.
He also argued that medical marijuana would inevitably come to Florida and delaying its use will only hurt those now suffering from the diseases.
"It's not so much a law but an act of compassion," Morgan said about his amendment.
If marijuana could be used to reduce suffering among pets, Floridians would willingly embrace it, he said.
"We would do it for every dog and cat we've got," Morgan said.
"But we won't do it for ourselves."
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