Florida Loses Vote for Expanded Medical Marijuana Program

Florida Loses Vote for Expanded Medical Marijuana Program

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November 5, 2014

A few months ago, Florida’s push for a medical marijuana program (Amendment 2) looked like a sure thing. Tuesday, however, all of the hurdles to the passage of Amendment 2 took their toll, as residents of Florida voted 57.58% (with 3,357,537 votes) to 42.42% (with 2,473,608 votes) against the amendment, stopping the new medical marijuana program in its tracks. The vote fell just 2.42% shy of the 60% support needed to pass the Constitutional Amendment.

So what were the hurdles? First off, big money poured into the “No on 2” campaign, almost entirely funded by Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate (chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands). Adelson "is responsible for 85 percent of the $5.8 million raised by Drug Free Florida, the organization leading the charge against the measure," reported the Washington Post.

With overwhelming support for medical marijuana in the state (at one point reported at 90 percent), it seems most people did not expect such financial support for the opposition, especially from a non-resident.

People United for Medical Marijuana (aka United for Care), which support Amendment 2, actually raised more money than their opponents–$7.8 million–much of which was contributed by The Morgan Law Firm. (Attorney John Morgan of the firm is noted as one of the campaigns biggest supporters; he contributed $250,000 to the "Yes on 2" initiative. Interestingly, Morgan also is gubernatorial candidate Charlie Christ's boss, and Christ also supports medical marijuana.)

Still, some in Florida believe that the money pouring in to the "No on 2" campaign, the heavy advertising push, fear tactics and false information were just too much to overcome (and questioned whether or not the pro-MMJ campaign did enough to fight back). For example, a practicing lawyer in Florida commented in a pre-election poll by Cannabis Business Times: "I have contributed time and money to United for Care. Unfortunately, the money spent by 'no on 2' has been used on negative campaigning and has been effective to tap into fearmongering and taken momentum away from the movement to legalize medical cannabis. I feel like the pro legalization movement has been too busy counting its money from seminars and failed to counter effectively the ads of the 'no on 2' folks. While those voting yes are targeted daily with emails and phone calls, nothing is being done that I can tell to sway the undecided voters."

Others cited a failed bipartisan effort as the campaigns downfall. That, plus the fact that the program was trying to be pushed through as a Constitutional Amendment (requiring 60 percent of the vote)–which those behind Amendment 2 did so that the legislature could not easily overturn the law.

Florida Not a Complete Failure for MMJ

Despite the letdown of the vote–especially to those patients in Florida awaiting a more extensive medical marijuana referendum and industry advocates who were hoping to count Florida as the first Southern state to legalize a full medical marijuana program–Florida has made some headway on the medical marijuana front (another reason some believe anti-marijuana proponents gained support, using the “we already have a medical marijuana program” argument).

In June Gov. Rick Scott (Rep.)–who has been fighting his own 2014 election battle against Democrat Charlie Christ–had signed into law Senate Bill 1030 (aka Charlotte’s Web) that legalized the use of a noneuphoric strain of cannabis (with almost nonexistent levels of the THC “high-inducing” compound) to treat conditions including epilepsy, Lou Gehrig's disease and cancer.

Under Charlotte’s Web (named after Charlotte Figi, the now-famous child who suffers epileptic seizures from Dravet Syndrome and found relief using marijuana), qualifying patients could access vapor and oils, but not smokable or other forms of marijuana. Growers faced stringent regulations., too, with only existing Florida-based nurseries who had been in continuous operation for 30 years would be permitted to grow the Charlotte’s Web strain.

If Amendment 2 had passed, it would have allowed doctors to prescribe various forms of marijuana for a wider range of medical conditions–specifically, “debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.”

The amendment also called for the Department of Health “to register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers.”

As the country moves forward toward other marijuana initiatives–recreational and medicinal–Florida's future is not sealed. John Morgan, for one, has said he will probably give the effort another try. In many states, medical marijuana programs have not passed the first time around.

“Even in Florida, where efforts fell just short of the 60% support needed, we saw a strong majority vote to allow patients to have access to medical marijuana," said National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) executive director Aaron Smith.