A $10M fight in the Sunshine State: Q&A with John Morgan on Florida MMJ legalization

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John Morgan has been, by his own description, a “one-man band” for medical marijuana in Florida over the past four years, having bankrolled two separate campaigns to legalize MMJ in the state.

The first, in 2014, fell just short of the 60% threshold it needed at the ballot box to become law.

At least part of that was due to casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who put several million dollars of his own money into fighting MMJ legalization in Florida.

This time around, Morgan and his campaign, United for Care, are again facing the possibility of going up against some well-funded opposition: Longtime GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler recently pledged to raise $10 million to fight the MMJ initiative.

Marijuana Business Daily caught up with Morgan – the industry keynote at the spring Marijuana Business Conference & Expo in Orlando next month – to get his thoughts on the opposition, potential business opportunities in Florida if MMJ is fully legalized, and whether or not he’ll stay involved with cannabis advocacy after the election.

Here are excerpts of that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

How is United for Care going to beat a well-financed opposition campaign this time around?

One of the things you hope is that truth trumps money. The second thing is there are a lot of marijuana businesses, potential businesses out there, and they’re going to have to step up.

A lot of things have to happen, and I think they have. The people of Florida have seen the legislature not do their job. They’re much more educated about it.

We’ve tweaked the language and the loopholes they talked about. And one thing we’ve found is that if all the money in the world mattered, then Jeb Bush would be the (GOP presidential) nominee. And Donald Trump has done it with almost no money.

The job we have to do is educating seniors who don’t really understand that this is for them and their loved ones. They’re the ones who are going to need this, more than anybody, because they’re the ones who are going to have cancer and ALS and Parkinson’s and all that.

That’s the job I’ve got to do that I didn’t do well last time.

Why are you putting so much of your own money into MMJ legalization?

Because I believe in it. I believe this is more important than giving money to the Cattle Barons Ball.

I give millions of dollars away to charity. That’s well-documented. So my philanthropy is not limited to this. But just like when I spent a lot of my time and my money and my resources trying to get Barack Obama elected, to me, the payoff was huge, because we got Obamacare.

So to me, day one, 400,000 people benefit (if the MMJ  measure passes). Where am I ever going to get that bang for my philanthropic buck?

Do you have any kind of limit as to how much of your own money you’re prepared to spend?

Nah. It’s like when I go to happy hour: I don’t know how much I’m going to drink. It all just kind of happens because I’m having a good time.

What do you think about big national groups like the Marijuana Policy Project essentially sitting on the sidelines in Florida?

I can’t speak for them. I’m kind of arm-in-arm with them, and I’d welcome their money, but they have to realize that I’m one little trial lawyer in a real big country, and if they think I can do it all by myself, well, let ‘em think it. We’ll see if the truth trumps money.

Assuming the amendment is approved by voters, are you going to continue to be involved in medical marijuana advocacy or the industry in any way?

No. I’m thinking about having a constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. I’m more interested in that than trying to implement the (MMJ) law.

There are so many lobbyists. Every law firm in Florida, and I’m talking about Republican lobbyists, they’re lined up for this. So I don’t need to worry about it getting implemented, because money makes things happen.

What are the business opportunities and possible size of the market in Florida if the amendment passes this year?

Gigantic. The first thing about Florida is, we are the new California. We have no taxes. We have no earthquakes. We have no fires. And the weather, it never gets cold here. This is paradise found.

We’re also the foliage capital of the world. Plants and ferns, that’s what we grow. So there’s opportunity for grows, there’s opportunity for production, there’s opportunity for merchandising, there’s opportunity for retail, and as the Internet takes away millions of jobs and millions in tax dollars – because the Internet’s not taxed – this is the opportunity to kill a lot of birds with one stone.

And that’s what’s going to happen. Real estate values are going to go up, spaces are going to be rented, warehouses are going to be rented, people who have crops that are failing are going to be back in business.

How can those already in the industry help get this passed?

When they see the money (from the opposition roll in), they’re going to have to say, “Well, do we step up and play or do we not? Do we help John and help ourselves?” Because it’s not happening again by me.

What do you think the cannabis industry is currently doing well, and where could it improve?

I think what it’s doing well is that in every state that it’s occurred in, we’ve all seen that the world didn’t end. Crime didn’t increase. Deaths didn’t go on the rise. We’ve seen opiate deaths go down. Opiate addiction goes down.

Every time a new state adopts it, and you fly into that state, and it’s not on fire with crime, it just shows it works.

How long do you think it’s going to be before the federal government takes action on marijuana?

Ten years. It’s got to be a perfect storm. It’s got to be like, Hillary’s president, and they control the Senate and they control the House, like Obamacare, where they had 60 senators.

Guess who’s really pulling against (MMJ legalization): the pharmaceutical industry, who’s killing us and hooking us, and El Chapo. That’s who doesn’t want this to happen. That’s the crazy thing.

What do you think of the state legislature’s extremely limited MMJ program, which has been slow to roll out over the past couple years?

They’re just thwarting their own mandate. They want people to grow who’ve been growing for 30 years. You don’t know how to grow it, but you’re going to grow it.

You’ve got people that are having to move from Florida to go to Colorado and California to get the oil for their children who are severely damaged by epilepsy, but these (lawmakers) won’t even get off their hands to do that for these children. It’s so obscene.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizdaily.com