By John Schroyer
Florida trial attorney John Morgan was the face and voice of the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in the state last year.
Though the measure fell just short of the 60% it needed at the ballot box to pass, Morgan and his supporters have promised to keep up the fight at the state Legislature and beyond. Morgan, who himself contributed millions of dollars to the 2014 effort, even pledged to pour more of his own personal fortune into a new ballot measure campaign in 2016, if that’s what’s needed.
Morgan spoke recently with Marijuana Business Daily about the Sunshine State’s MMJ campaign, the lack of support from big advocacy organizations and what the future might hold for cannabis in Florida.
You said after the election that you’d attempt to get the Legislature to pass another medical marijuana bill similar to Amendment 2, and if that failed, you’d try to pass another ballot measure in 2016. Is that still the plan?
That’s the plan, yes. I’ve had some conversations with some legislators that I would rather keep private. I think they recognize that if they don’t do something themselves, then in a presidential election, they may have all sorts of troubles.
Not only will it pass, but it could be very helpful to Democrats on the ballot. So hopefully, the message they should have received is that Florida wants it. It almost got 60% of the vote, and a lot of the people who didn’t vote for it still want it, they just don’t want it as a constitutional amendment where it can’t be tweaked.
I think there’s still a lot of Republicans who are trying to sort out the politics of all this. I think that their initial reaction was, ‘Hey, we’re supposed to be against it,’ but I think that these tea leaves they’re seeing are saying, maybe not. So I think they’re trying to figure it out themselves.
Is the GOP in Florida getting some pushback from the business community over the marijuana issue?
I think that the business community, law firms, lobbyist firms, are like Dobermans on a lunge line, hoping this is going to happen. They don’t want to be the ones to say it, because they just don’t want to be the ones that are for “drugs.”
But look, it’s a tax base, it’s a boon for real estate, it’s a boon for agriculture, it cuts down on crime, it’s a boon for law firms, it’s a boon for lobbyists. Economically, there’s zero downside to it.
What do you think the chances are that a bill similar to Amendment 2 gets passed by the Florida Legislature?
I think there’s a chance that some bill happens. What I worry about is that it’s something watered-down, like (Senate Bill 1030, which legalized CBD medications), where they go, ‘Look, okay, we did it,’ but not do anything. That’s the worry. And if that’s what they do, then we just keep going.
Some of the big cannabis organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project didn’t play as active a role in the Florida campaign as they have in other states. Do you have any idea why that is, and do you have a relationship with MPP?
I have a relationship with Ethan (Nadelmann, of the Drug Policy Alliance), and I think what happened is most people thought I didn’t have a chance. They just saw me down here in Florida tilting at windmills in the deep south, and I don’t think they saw it as a possibility. Plus, they had two other initiatives going that they thought they had a better chance on.
But with that said, now what’s happened is I think people see it, they believe it, they know it can happen. Everybody who helped us is back, and new players are in.
We learned a lot from our mistakes. Last time, I was walking through the forest in the dark, but the good news is I tied ribbons around the trees, and this time we’ll come through with a flashlight and maybe a dog or two up ahead, so I think I might have a better chance of getting from point A to point B a lot faster, quicker and more successful.
How active was the business community in general in the legalization effort?
The only help I felt was people who were going to come out and vote. I didn’t really feel help (from the business community).
They can contact us at unitedforcare.org or me at forthepeople.com (to help if there’s a 2016 campaign). It’s going to be a matter of money. But a lot of the mistakes we made last time are going to be a great advantage this time.
What everyone can do is not sit on their hands and just hope that John Morgan pulls it off. Everybody needs to get in the boat and grab an oar and row with me. If we do that, we’ll be good.
How do you think a campaign in 2016 will differ from this past year, with it being a presidential election?
Turnout. Turnout benefits us. The presidential election is the Macy’s Day Parade. That’s the one where everybody comes to watch.
I believe that for the first time you’re going to hear in presidential debates the issue of marijuana — the issue of medical marijuana, the decriminalization of marijuana, the legalization of marijuana.
You’ve never heard those questions in a presidential debate. I believe you will, and the reason is if a Republican who is very opposed to MMJ becomes president, they could come in and start erasing blackboards all over the country, if they started enforcing the federal law. So that in and of itself gives rise to presidential debate questions.
Do you think the implementation of SB 1030 – the state’s CBD law – will help grease the skids for an expansion of MMJ in Florida?
Yes, I do, because at the end of the day, follow the money. At the end of the day, money rules. He who has the gold makes the rules.
John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]