Medical weed: The 2014 Domino

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I am not proud of this, but I caught prominent Florida attorney John Morgan on the Bubba the Love Sponge show the other day.  Look, don’t judge me.  I was flipping through the channels and overheard Mr. Morgan’s amiable baritone slipping a rare word in edgewise against the bloviating Bubba.  I know most folks find his ubiquitous ads annoying.  Call me a whimsical naif: I remain charmed.  For the people.  Simply perfect.

Bubba had on Mr. Morgan to discuss an upcoming political avalanche that has garnered what I find to be surprisingly little coverage: an initiative to get medical marijuana as a constitutional amendment on the ballot.  

Let me be clear: I (like Bubba, if you must know) support medical marijuana.  I actually support the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.  Considering I spent five years working in the Office of National Drug Control Policy under two Drug Czars, I think that is indicative of an incredible philosophical and political change, which speaks well to my character.  In seriousness, my character would be in a lot better shape if I had never bothered to perpetuate the lies of our government myself.  Marijuana is not the gateway drug they told you it was.  And the clogging of our inordinately expensive prison system with low-level drug offenders and dime-bag goofballs remains a national disgrace. 

Characters more influential than me are changing on this issue all the time.  Most recently, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN — a fellow colleague from the Clinton days, in fact — did a full about-face on the issue.

Personally, I’m glad Mr. Morgan is backing medical marijuana, in Florida formally called United for Care.  I wasn’t in a position to transcribe an exact quote, but his message to the radio audience was that he would spend whatever it took and raise the rest.

Estimates on cost have been set at 3.5 million dollars.  

But what I couldn’t stop thinking about was the impact on 2014.  The United for Care people have put together a very nice effort to collect the necessary 683,149 signatures.  With personal stories and quick facts, they’re already one step ahead when it comes to campaign-style information at the ready.  Scientific data has shown that turnout for ballot measures invariably impacts candidate races.  Similar ballot measures have been quite successful in places as diverse as Massachusetts, Colorado, and Washington State.

Of course, Morgan’s bar is not low.  Today, he only has 100,000 of the nearly 700,000 signatures he needs.  And even if he does get it on the ballot for 2014, he’ll need 60 percent of the vote to get it passed.

Need I remind you that 2014 is when incumbent Republican Governor Rick Scott faces re-election.  The Florida gubernatorial race — and the endless river of cash that Governor Scott will inevitably invest in attempted re-election — will counter much of this work, to be sure.

As Marc Caputo at the Miami Herald noted, the 100,000 signatures were enough to get a review by the Florida Supreme Court to determine ballot language.  More important, a poll showed that seven in ten Floridians supported the measure, enough to pass.

There will be much work done on both sides of the issue between now and 2014.  How will this affect the race for governor?  How will this affect down-ballot races?  How will this affect your race if you’re running for State Representative, Mayor, or some other office?  Too soon to say.  But keep listening as the conversation expands.  Soon enough I expect we won’t have to tune in to drive-time shock jocks to hear about it.  

Benjamin J. Kirby published the Spencerian, a political blog covering national and local politics, for eight years. He spent twenty years serving in national and local government as well as the non-profit sector.  Currently he is the principal of Typeset Media Strategies, providing writing services, social media content, and communications strategy for non-profits, political leaders, and drivers of community conversations.