Voters snuff out medicinal marijuana initiative, falls 2.5 percentage short of passage

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An attempt to allow doctors to use marijuana to treat patients with debilitating diseases went up in smoke Tuesday.  As recent as late September it appeared that voters would give Amendment 2 the 60-percent approval needed for passage. It failed by 2 and half percentage points – receiving 57.54 percentage of the vote.

As recent as July polls indicated more than 88 percent of voters supported the measure. In early October support was measured at 67 percent, well above the threshold needed for adoption.

However, the last weekend of the campaign with surveys showing support dropping below that threshold supporters like Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise, were asking, “What the hell happened.”

Apparently supporters of the measure were not ready for an intense opposition guided by a coalition fronted by a political lobbyist and funded by a Las Vegas casino owner. Vote No on 2 began its campaign by arguing that the Amendment was poorly written and had loopholes wide enough that its passage would be “de factor legalization of marijuana” and ended the campaign proclaiming it was “bringing the truth” about the amendment to Florida voters.

“I’ve talked to people that support the concept of marijuana as medicine but they were very much against this Amendment because of the wording in the Amendment, because of the loopholes in it and because of a lot of unanswered questions in it,” said Calvina Fay, of Drug Free America, not affiliated with the Drug Free Florida Committee that raised money for the Vote No on 2 campaign.

The Florida Sheriff’s Association argument against the proposal was an expression of no confidence in the Legislature’s ability to regulate a medicinal marijuana industry. Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger noted that the rule making process is difficult and invites lawsuits.

Regulations for the Charlotte’s Web law approved in the spring are tied up in court.

The Florida Medical Association missed a legislatively mandated deadline for a medicinal marijuana education course for physicians to be able to order Charlotte’s Web cannabis oil for patients to warn voters that Amendment 2 would “allow healthcare providers with absolutely no training” to order medical marijuana.

Many of the statements and conclusions the opposition put forth were dismissed by law enforcement, business advocates and medical professionals not part of the opposition and the editorial boards of state newspapers including Florida Today, Miami Herald, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel  and Tallahassee Democrat.

The pro forces focused on the Amendment wording, noted it was approved by the Florida Supreme Court and argued the Amendment was designed to bring relief to more than 400,000 Floridians suffering from debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s ALS and seizures.

Until the end, Vote No on 2 charged that helping people was not the measure’s intent.

“The truth is that Amendment 2’s loopholes made it nothing more than de facto legalization of marijuana,” said Sarah Bascom, Vote No on 2 spokeswoman.

 “We want to recognize our many volunteers, including the doctors, attorneys, parents, law enforcement and members of the drug treatment community, who lent their time to help educate Floridians on the perils of Amendment 2 – without them, the defeat of this dangerous Amendment would not have been possible,” said Bascom.

Vote No on 2’s Drug Free Florida Committee reported 96 individual contributions totaling $6.3 million. More than 85 percent of the money came from Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson.

United for Care’s People United for Medicinal Marijuana committee was bankrolled by attorney John Morgan whose law firm pitched in more than $3.7 million of the $7.8 million raised. PUMM reported 9,512 individual contributions totaling $7.812, 024, with 91 percent of the money coming from Florida addresses.

The Washington Post explored the financing behind the two campaigns here.

Ballotpedia has polling and campaign finance data here.

A form of medical cannabis is legal in Florida. Lawmakers approved a Charlotte’s Web law in the spring which makes available low THC high CBD cannabis oil for seizure patients. Medicinal marijuana advocates question whether the CBD ratio approved will provide relief to seizure and other patients authorized to possess the cannabis extract.

Regulations for Charlotte’s Web licenses are currently the subject of a law suit. An administrative judge has until Nov. 15 to either uphold proposed regulations or direct the Department of Health to rewrite them.