Florida Recreational marijuana campaign might pose threat to MMJ legalization

By John Schroyer

The latest potential obstacle to medical cannabis legalization in Florida is coming from an unexpected source: marijuana advocates themselves.

A group is attempting to get a measure on the state’s ballot next year to legalize recreational marijuana, and one of its key executives is the deputy director of the Florida NORML chapter.

If the measure makes the ballot, it could derail MMJ legalization and cost Florida cannabis entrepreneurs a shot at an enormous new market. The fear is that neither measure would pass in such a scenario – effectively killing the state’s chances of legalizing medical cannabis anytime soon.

“If they put the recreational on the ballot, my guess is it might very well hurt medical marijuana,” said longtime political operative April Schiff, who owns Tampa-based Strategic Solutions of Florida. “If the forces on the conservative side are motivated to fight the recreational marijuana issue – and they will be – there will be so much messaging on how marijuana is bad for people, how it kills your brain cells and all these other scare tactics, and it will have a huge adverse effect on medical marijuana.”

That would dash the hopes of cannabis entrepreneurs who have been waiting eagerly for the 2016 election after the state nearly legalized MMJ in 2014. Many marijuana-related businesses launched in the months leading up to the election, anticipating that the measure would pass.

The group behind the recreational campaign is Sensible Florida, which is pushing a ballot initiative it calls “Regulate Florida.” The camp is currently waiting for the Florida Division of Elections to approve the measure’s formatting before it starts gathering signatures and approaching potential campaign donors.

“We have a good number of groups that have already committed to us to support the campaign,” said Michael Minardi, chair of Sensible Florida.

The big question now is whether the group has a realistic chance of getting the measure on the ballot and, if successful on that end, garnering enough support to get it passed.

Minardi declined to name any of the groups that have committed their support, and he didn’t address where the campaign will get the resources necessary to pay for a petition drive that will require organizers to gather likely well over 700,000 signatures. He said Sensible Florida will reveal the names of some supporters after the state signs off on the initiative’s format, likely on the same day the initiative language is made public.

Generating financial support could be a major obstacle for Sensible Florida, said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager at United for Care, which is behind the effort to legalize medical cannabis in Florida next year. Pollara said he even personally warned Minardi and Karen Goldstein, the vice chair of the Sensible Florida camp (and deputy director of Florida NORML), that they’ll need at least $4 or $5 million to pull off their initiative.

Even if they do raise the money, “it’s a Herculean task to get a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot,” Pollara said.

Goldstein also noted that there are at least two other initiatives already filed with the Division of Elections with the same aim: legalizing recreational.

But according to campaign finance documents for the two, which were founded in February and March respectively, neither have raised a single penny in contributions. Nor has Sensible Florida – which was founded in July – reported any fundraising.

United for Care has raised $1.1 million since December, mostly from Orlando attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the 2014 campaign as well. The only way Sensible Florida will likely have a solid chance, said Schiff, is if they find a similar benefactor.

Lobbyist Ron Watson, who has worked on MMJ reform issues at the state level, said he doubts that recreational marijuana legalization will wind up qualifying for the ballot.

But Watson hopes both medical and recreational legalization initiatives are put before voters next year, which he said would likely bring out pro-marijuana voters who otherwise may not cast a ballot. It also would prove that United for Care isn’t pushing for recreational legalization in disguise.

Still, he acknowledged that given the way political momentum works, it would probably be easier to pass recreational if medical is approved first.

Schiff added that she doesn’t think enough voters will be able to cut through all the political noise that will be generated in a presidential election year to choose either between MMJ or rec. Instead, it’ll likely come down to yes on both or no on both.

And the opposition will lump both initiatives together.

“Voters don’t pay enough attention to draw a distinct difference between the two, and it’ll create such a negative connotation for the marijuana issue overall that it will definitely have an impact,” Schiff said.

United for Care has been working on legalizing medical marijuana in Florida for years now. In 2014, it nearly got MMJ past the 60% threshold needed for ballot initiatives to become law. The effort was thrown off track in part by cannabis foe Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino mogul who pumped millions of dollars into advertisements and other efforts aimed at sinking the initiative.

United for Care – and John Morgan – swore to keep up the fight to legalize, and the group has been at it since the 2014 general election. Currently, the campaign has collected around 400,000 signatures of the 683,000 it needs to make the 2016 ballot, and the group is expecting to submit its petitions before Christmas.

There’s no competition currently between Sensible Florida and United for Care, however. In fact, leaders in both camps speak highly of each other.

But the political reality is that Sensible Florida could be a death knell for MMJ if it does go the distance.

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

12 comments on “Florida Recreational marijuana campaign might pose threat to MMJ legalization
  1. Jeff Brown on

    Cannabis is the most useful plant on the planet, Food, clothing, shelter, energy, medicine, insight, re-creation. Any law against it is a crime against humanity. Having said that it is my personal belief that patients must take priority.

    Reply
  2. Robert Platshorn on

    I’m CEO of The Silver Tour and a Director of NORML of Fl. Amendment 2 failed because Morgan refused to listen to the people who have years of successful activist experience in Florida and nationally. I had a campaign ready to counter the NO on 2 folks and their lies. It would have been easy and not very expensive. Morgan and Polara refused to accept that the senior vote in a bi-election is critical and refused to spend a penny on ads to counter the scare tactics that were obviously aimed at frightening seniors. Additionally, they didn’t want any association with me because I was a convicted pot smuggler. This despite the fact that the Silver Tour has done more for legalization in America by educating and insuring the senior vote in all fifty states and a dozen foreign countries.

    I will be part of the “Regulate” campaign. Full legalization will garner more enthusiasm than the new medical amendment. It will not hurt medical. People will be able to vote for both as insurance. Beginning on Sept. 7th Silver Tour will begin airing 1000 “Cannabis Facts” on national news/talk radio stations across the country. With enough donor support, this campaign will continue airing until 2016 elections. This will shut the door on the anti-marijuana lies, not only in Florida, but in every state with reform on the ballot and will pressure the federal government to end cannabis prohibition. Campaign details are here http://www.thesilvertour.org .

    Reply
    • jean De oro on

      Thank you for breaching that Gap that leaves people in limbo who do not Qualify as MMJ patients but enjoy the simple pleasures it can bring them. Never Surrender. There are many who see through the Smokescreens , no pun intended . Legalize n Decriminalize FLA 2016.

      Reply
  3. Glenn on

    I like what Ohio is doing. Combining personal use (new term for recreation) with medical use into one amendment. If the medical use approval is in the 80% range in Florida (as in Ohio) and Personal use approval is around 50% (as in Ohio), seems to me the medical popularity will pull the votes to pass. To me, THE KEY is making it one amendment and not separate choices.

    Reply
  4. Russ Belville on

    Once again, the people who want to make bank limiting marijuana legalization to medical use only are scaremongering about what would happen if we dared to attempt legalizing marijuana for all adults.

    In 2010, it was dispensary owners and medical (and illegal adult-use) growers who loudly opposed Prop 19 in California

    In 2012, it was dispensary owners and medical (and illegal adult-use) growers who loudly opposed Initiative 502 in Washington.

    In 2015, it is illegal adult-use growers who are loudly opposed to Issue 3 in Ohio.

    Now in 2016, it looks it will be the folks supporting United for Care who will spread the disinformation that a marijuana legalization measure will hurt their chances.

    The way in which two initiatives can harm one another is by splitting signatures, dividing resources, and confusing the electorate.

    But in this case, United for Care already has name recognition and plenty of funding for its cause. Sensible Florida isn’t going to affect that.

    Second, United for Care, like every medical initiative before it, insists that it has nothing to do with adult-use legalization. If so, then Sensible Florida is no competition at all, is it?

    Third, rather than harming United for Care’s chances, a legalization initiative enhances its chances by positioning it in the “Goldilocks zone” between the “too soft” CBD-only medical marijuana Florida already has and the “too hard” full adult-use legalization proposed by Sensible Florida. A voter could very well think “Legalization, no that’s a step too far, but I’ll support medical.” If anything, United for Care hurts Sensible Florida’s chances by providing a less-progressive option for ending adult marijuana prohibition, which is now a majority opinion nationwide.

    Reply
  5. Pam on

    Fighting over the label of medical v. recreational is what the opponents want. Respect the plant and don’t fight over the labels. Medical use of the plant will still be medical use no matter what the policy says. More people will have safe access to it’s medical value if it’s available in recreational labeled stores available equally to all over 21.
    Be diligent with the quality assurance lab testing requirements, that’s where the next logic step lies.
    Vote yes, the people behind the policy don’t matter as much as the legalization of the plant.

    Reply
  6. Joe on

    Let’s focus on getting the Medical Marijuana passed in Florida 1st ! The people that need the Medicine deserve that. Convincing people with accurate information will a challenge enough. It will take enough focus and communication of the facts to get people to be fully behind Medical Marijuana. Then after we have completed that Milestone and some track record and proof has been seen and realized by official, then the focus and shift to the other aspects. We all need to move the Ball in the Right Direction TOGETHER.

    Reply
  7. Lawrence Goodwin on

    Someone, please, wake me up from this nightmare!!!!! The federal government has succeeded for 78 years dividing Americans and conquering public opinion by spreading lies and fear about “marihuana.” The same exact tactic–divide and conquer–continues to be deployed here in New York as it is in Florida. Manufacturing, Medicine, Nutrition and, YES, Recreation–the fibers, pulp, seeds, leaves and flowers of cannabis plants can be the fuel of thousands of NEW businesses nationwide in all four of those economic sectors. Yet, advocates continue griping at each other about just two. Right after Labor Day, I would implore every person in America who demands real and lasting change in their state’s cannabis laws to call President Barack Obama every day of the week, imploring him to take action. Write letter after letter (the old-fashioned kind, with ink on paper) demanding the same of your federal lawmakers. The federal classification of “marihuana” is a giant fraud and, by now, it should be abundantly clear to everyone that it still causes so many problems, especially the vicious smothering of business opportunities and job creation, at the state level. This nightmare prohibition of growing cannabis will not end until the feds are forced by the People to change at last. Please, let’s stop the infighting and get this done.

    Reply
  8. Brett Roth on

    Hey Bob how are ya? The problem with getting the movement fire up, is the never ending fear of law enforcement. To be on a FDLE radar, is a never ending battle of cat and mouse. The ends to there means is a conviction. Does not matter if you are truly just a advocate, or full time dealer. Your still on there radar. In 1994, before California first propose to legalize Medical, it’s all the local, county, and federal, could do to controll themselfs from not busting every single encounter they had. Finally the Govenor spoke out to cease this “spying” action. Due to the popular demand to legalize. Enforcement in the south, still has the “Refer Maddness” mentality. Only in the last two weeks, has the Government acknowlaged that Cannibis, and it’s properties, are beneficial in killing/controlling cancer cells. Known, and patented, in 1973. CAN YOU SAY “IM NOT A CROOK!” This was Nixons doing, it was to make sure that the “”Big Pharma” got “There’s “! Then for the next 4+decades, every single conviction, of common possession, should have been thrown out, due to misclassification of Marijuana. Schedule 1 states ” A substance with NO medical Value” curing Cancer, easing pain, must not count!
    It’s our job to change this antiquated law, change classification on a Federal level, then there is no hidden agenda!

    Reply
  9. Spartacus on

    All use is medical use! The dinosaurs who’ve loved their chains for decades and continue to serve their masters supporting the military industrial/police/security/prison state will not be around much longer…

    Reply

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