Medical marijuana opponents look to snuff out support for November ballot measure

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speak against Amendment 2
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speak against Amendment 2

With polls showing Floridians on course to approve a medical marijuana ballot measure in November, opposition stepped up their arguments Friday against the proposal.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell and state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, cited what they called problems with Amendment 2 that should cause voters to reconsider their support.

Latvala also bottom-lined his opposition.

“I don’t want this to come to Florida,” said Latvala, who has put $100,000 of his own re-election campaign money toward buying an anti-Amendment 2 TV ad in the Tampa Bay market.

Bell is among five former Supreme Court justices fighting the measure, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 2. He warned the amendment has “flaws,” which included questions about whether local governments could impose strict zoning regulations on marijuana distribution centers, or if the Legislature could ban such items as pot candy.

The measure needs to win approval from at least 60 percent of Florida voters on Nov. 9, with polls showing support now topping 70 percent. A similar measure narrowly two years ago narrowly missed reaching the 60 percent standard.

Latvala said there was still time to reverse public opinion. Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson recently weighed in with a $1 million contribution to the opposition campaign, but its finances still don’t look potent enough to mount a major statewide TV campaign.

Supporters are led by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who spent millions on the effort a couple years ago. This time, most of People United for Medical Marijuana has spent most of its money on petition signature-gathering to qualify for the ballot.

Casino titan’s cash that helped sink Florida’s marijuana law topped spending in the nation

Casino titan Sheldon Adelson fought Florida's medical marijuana measure
Casino titan Sheldon Adelson fought Florida’s medical marijuana measure

While Orlando lawyer John Morgan may be identified with Florida’s effort to legalize medical marijuana, the biggest figure in the campaign apparently is an opponent — Las Vegas casino titan Sheldon Adelson.

A review of 189 ballot measures across 42 states in the 2013-14 cycle shows the $5.5 million Adelson contributed to fighting Florida’s marijuana proposal was the single largest individual donation made by anyone to any campaign.

Adelson’s cash represented the bulk of the $6.4 million raised by opponents.

By contrast, the Morgan & Morgan law firm gave $3.8 million in support of the United for Care campaign, well down the list of non-individual donors, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which tracks state political spending.

The 2014 marijuana measure raised $8.1 million but fell just short of the 60 percent voter support needed to win approval. Morgan is back again this year, helping finance a revised proposal slated to appear on the November ballot as Amendment 2.

Adelson’s role in Florida this time around isn’t clear. But Adelson, who helped finance Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign, recently endorsed presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — and is seen as a potential force this campaign season in turning the candidate against expanding marijuana laws across the country.

Opponents look to put up another roadblock to casinos in Florida

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Gambling opponents are launching a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at making it tougher for casinos to open in Florida.

Voters in Charge has been formed to push for a ballot measure next year that would require any bid to legalize casino gambling in Florida be placed on a ballot for voters to decide.

“People will agree or disagree about casino gambling,’’ said John Sowinski, Chairman of Voters In Charge. “But regardless of your position, given the stakes involved and the money that the gambling industry puts into campaigns and lobbying, the people of Florida should have the final say on whether or not to legalize casino-style gambling.”

Sowinski for several years has led an Orlando-based organization called No Casinos, which is usually allied with Central Florida theme parks and the Florida Chamber of Commerce in opposing gambling efforts.

Although legal experts have long argued that voters must approve a constitutional change to allow casinos, opponents fear recent court rulings may have clouded that standard, giving strength to the idea that state lawmakers could clear the way for casinos.

Sowinski said Voters in Charge is beginning to collect petition signatures and anticipates having the required required 68,314 valid petitions to trigger a review by the Florida Supreme Court, by early 2016. Almost 700,000 signatures, and ballot-language approval by justices, are needed to secure a spot.

Sowinski said support for the amendment has been polling at 70 percent approval. At least 60 percent of voters would have to approve the measure for it to become law.

The campaign launch comes a day after the Seminole Tribe sued the state even as negotiations continue over a 2010 gambling compact up for renewal this year. Without a new deal, by the end of this month, a legal cloud could hang over whether the Tribe can continue offering banked card games at five of seven casinos, including one in Hollywood.

Meanwhile, Sheldon Adelson, who controls the Las Vegas Sands Corp., has apparently abandoned efforts to get a casino resort approved by lawmakers for Miami. Adelson, a top Republican donor heavily courted by the party’s presidential field, is now exploring the possibility of the Atlanta area as a casino resort location.

Voters rejected statewide casino-approval measures three times between 1978 and 1994, but approved a limited slots proposal for Miami-Dade and Broward County pari-mutuel facilities in 2004.

A recent poll by the University of South Florida-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey shows opposition to casinos softening, however, with two-thirds of Floridians supporting expansion and only 20 percent outright opposed. As recently as the 2012 election cycle, a Quinnipiac University poll put support for gambling at 48 percent and opposition at a more muscular 43 percent.

In the new poll, South Florida residents are slightly more likely than the state average (37% to 34%) to support Nevada-­style casinos. Opposition to any casino gambling at all increases with age, and is highest among couples (23%), those without internet access (32%) and residents of North Florida (32%), the survey found.

The telephone poll of 1,251 Floridians was conducted in late July and early August. It has a margin-of-error of plus-or-minus 2.77 percent.

 

 

Seminoles sue state as gambling deadline looms

Seminole Tribe sues state as deadline looms.
Seminole Tribe sues state as deadline looms.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida sued the state Monday in what appears a defensive move ahead of a looming legal deadline that could shut down table games at five of its seven facilities, including Hollywood’s Hard Rock Casino.

In 2010, the state and Seminole Tribe entered into a 20-year compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The agreement gave the tribe exclusive rights to operate banked card games but unless the agreement was renewed, the Seminoles would have to discontinue the banked games.

An Oct. 29 deadline now looms, although the state hasn’t indicated it is eager to force any kind of shutdown.

The tribe has said it plans to continue the games. But Chief James Billie also sounded an optimistic note Monday, saying that negotiations with the state over a new deal are looking good.

In a statement, attributed to Billie, he said, there was “significant progress in the Tribe’s negotiations with the Governor and leaders of the Florida Legislature relative to finalizing a new Compact agreement, and the Tribe remains hopeful that a positive outcome will result.”

But the tribe pointed out, it “has no option but to file in order to protect its interests and those of the 3,100 employees and their families whose jobs are in jeopardy.”

In exchange for five years of exclusivity, the Seminoles pledged to pay Florida a minimum of $1 billion over the same time period, an amount the tribe has exceeded.

The tribe has said it would continue to send its payments to the state even if it continues games past the Oct. 29 deadline.