Florida to vote on medical marijuana legalization in November

In Regulatory, Top Stories by Dave Gordon

With nearly half of the US already legalizing medical marijuana – 20 states and the District of Columbia – one more state may be added to the list.

Floridians will have the opportunity to vote on the issue this November, thanks to supporters of a successful petition campaign and a recent court decision.

The petition received a whopping 1.1 million signatures on the Florida petition to support medical marijuana. The petition demonstrates at least one in eighteen Floridians actively want medical marijuana legalized, and surpassed the number of signatures needed for a spot on Florida’s election ballot.

Last week, the state’s Supreme Court voted 4-3 to allow the medical marijuana initiative to go on the November ballot, saying it met all legal requirements.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for the “United in Care” petition, says in an e-newsletter how the growing acceptance of medical marijuana in Florida “is an enormous achievement.”

In 2010, he notes, 58 per cent of Floridians were supportive, in contrast to “70 per cent today, from what we can see.”

ben Pollara, supporter of legalizing medical marijuana in Florida

Ben Pollara, supporter of legalizing medical marijuana in Florida

A recent Quinnipiac poll found 82 per cent of Floridians in favor of medical marijuana legalization.

Despite the popular backing, however, Pollara laments the lack of cooperation from politicians.

“People are overwhelmingly in support of this issue. But the (Florida) legislature denied any efforts to do this in any means, house or senate, to anyone who filed a motion for medical marijuana. Neither received a hearing or a vote of either house,” said Pollara.

It’s well known that Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, opposes the initiative, as do the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Sheriff’s Association.

Pollara says: “Elected officials have largely had their head in the sand on this issue. Charlie Crist (Governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011), who is the most prominent politician on this, has said positive statements in that regard. But elected officials should stand up and make their positions known.”

The entire endeavor has required “thousands of volunteers,” according to Pollara. In addition, reports claim that John Morgan of the Morgan & Morgan personal injury law firm has anted up about $2 million of his own money to bankroll the campaign.

The petition, ultimately, is a means to an end: acquiring the requisite signatures means Florida voters can decide in a referendum this November whether to allow marijuana use for medical reasons.

At least 60 per cent of voters need to back the amendment for it to pass.

“I support medical marijuana because I find no reason not to,” explains Johnny Atar, 24, a professional musician from Boca Raton.

“Research has shown time and again that marijuana should not be classed as a harmful drug. It has been shown impossible to overdose on marijuana, in contrast to simple over the counter drugs.”

He says he doesn’t see “why all citizens should be barred from using it either recreationally or for its proven health benefits.”

That’s where Florida supporters of medical marijuana come in. Pollara says he’ll be leading a continued drive to inform the public about the value of medical cannabis so the referendum yields positive results. “The only defenses against misinformation and fear-mongering are education and facts,” he adds.

“We must help voters understand exactly why we’re supportive of medical marijuana: To give those in pain a safe alternative from toxic narcotics such as Oxycontin and other opiates.”

Pollara explains that marijuana “has been shown to be effective” for those suffering from epilepsy, nausea and “other conditions.”

The goal, he concludes, is “to give doctors the right to choose what they believe is in the best interest of their patients, without a threat of criminal charges.”


gordonDave Gordon is a freelance writer in Toronto. His work can be found in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Toronto Star, National Post and others.