High hopes: Is marijuana measure a step on Morgan’s path to Governor’s Mansion?

John Morgan
John Morgan

Could Florida’s marijuana man — Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan — have a future as governor?

His supporters think so.

Ben Pollara, who guided the United for Care effort that has legalized full-blown medical marijuana in Florida, is starting an online petition calling for Morgan to enter the 2018 governor’s race.

“We wouldn’t have passed Amendment 2 without John Morgan’s courage and leadership. Every single one of you knows that to be a fact,” Pollara writes in a “Dear Friend” email to supporters.

“Now we need John’s courage and leadership in Tallahassee, where both of those qualities are sorely lacking,” he added.

Pollara said he doesn’t care which party label Morgan would run under, although he has been a proficient Democratic fund-raiser.

Morgan spent $5 million of his own and his law firm’s money on a medical marijuana effort which narrowly failed in 2014, only to come back this year, dial back his spending, and have the measure approved by 6.5 million Floridians, or 71 percent.

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.

Now open — a marijuana dispensary not far from Florida’s Capitol

Dallas Nagy, Florida's first medical marijuana patient, picking up his product.
Dallas Nagy, Florida’s first medical marijuana patient, picking up his product.

A new Florida attraction — the first medical marijuana dispensary –– opened Tuesday on a stretch of road five miles from the state Capitol.

Trulieve is the first of Florida’s six marijuana licensees to be fully approved to process and dispense state-approved non-euphoric marijuana oil statewide.

The oil is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which gives marijuana its psychoactive quality — but high in cannabadiol, or CBD, which research shows eases convulsions, inflammation, anxiety and nausea.

“This has been a long road,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, who opened the doors of the company’s carefully designed dispensary to media and supporters.

Florida’s first medical marijuana patient, Dallas Nagy, 56, of Pasco County, who suffers from severe seizures, also was on hand to pick up a supply of his medication. Trulieve offers a range of products in capsule, liquid or inhaler form.

A menu of marijuana products is available at Tallahassee's Trulieve
A menu of marijuana products is available at Tallahassee’s Trulieve

The products are manufactured in a laboratory that is part of the company’s indoor grow house at a plant nursery in nearby Quincy.

“It’s like walking into NASA,” said Dr. Ken Brummel-Smith, a Tallahassee gerontologist serving as medical director for Trulieve.

For patients and their families, Tuesday’s open house at Trulieve was a day they sometimes feared would never come.

The company only was cleared last week by the state’s Health Department to produce and distribute products to patients — a year-and-a-half past the state’s original Jan. 1, 2015 start date for making the strain of medical marijuana available to patients.

“The will of the people really does change the world,” said Moriah Barnhart of Tampa, whose 5-year-old daughter suffers from brain cancer, and plans to use Trulieve’s products to help her child.

Barnhart is a member of Cannamoms, a group formed to advocate for marijuana as a medical treatment for severely ill youngsters.

Rivers and Trulieve’s chief operating officer, Jason Pernell, plan to open dispensaries in Tampa and Clearwater in the next 60 days. It’s unclear when a store will open in Palm Beach County or other locations in South Florida, although Trulieve can deliver statewide.

Introducing low-THC marijuana to Floridians was plagued by delays involving creating new state regulations, which then led to lengthy legal challenges involving those seeking licenses. Health officials are still dealing with an attempt by one rejected licensee to gain entry into the potentially lucrative new Florida industry.

The 2014 law was expanded this year to allow the dispensing organizations to also grow full-strength marijuana for patients who are terminally ill. Trulieve said that more potent strain will be available for shipping next month.

Patients seeking medical marijuana must get a recommendation from a doctor who has been certified by the state for having taken an approved continuing medical education course on the treatment.

Once a patient’s name is entered into a directory — also newly established by the Health Department — Trulieve will be authorized to ship the product.

So far, though, only a handful of Florida doctors are authorized to recommend marijuana. There are also only a few patients, since they must be under the care of that authorized doctor for 90 days before being able to fill a marijuana order.




Marijuana opponents condemn latest Florida effort as “still a scam”

The campaign to fight the latest effort to legalize medical marijuana in Florida released an internet spot Monday condemning it as “still a scam to legalize pot.”

A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Vote No on 2 effort targets the United for Care push as not much different from what narrowly failed to win voter approval two years ago.

The almost-three minute web ad takes viewers through California’s medical marijuana world, suggesting Florida could have a similar landscape of street corner pot shops and users who are more typically dope enthusiasts than the severely ill and dying.

Drug Free America Foundation fought the 2014 medical marijuana effort in Florida, backed by $5.5 million from Las Vegas casino titan Sheldon Adelson. Campaign finance records show the new anti-marijuana effort still hasn’t drawn Adelson cash — with $37,000 cash-on-hand.

A report released last week by the National Institute on Money in State Politics showed that Adelson’s funding was the largest made by any individual to any of the 189 ballot measures proposed in 42 states in the 2013-14 election cycle.

Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan is back leading the latest campaign. His Morgan & Morgan law firm gave $3.8 million to United for Care in 2014, records show.

Florida Supreme Court gives green light to medical marijuana on next year’s ballot

A proposed constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana has been approved for next year's ballot by the Florida Supreme Court
A proposed constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana has been approved for next year’s ballot by the Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court approved a medical marijuana measure Thursday for next year’s presidential ballot, giving voters their second chance in two years to consider the move.

Justices ruled the proposal meets the state’s “single subject rule” for citizen-backed constitutional amendments. The ballot title and summary for the measure also were ruled compliant with the constitution by the court.

Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan is spearheading the latest drive, just as he did a 2014 measure which narrowly missed gaining the required 60 percent voter-approval.

The latest proposal makes some changes to the 2014 ballot language and tightens descriptions about what medical conditions would make a patient eligible for using medical marijuana.

Ben Pollara, director of the United For Care campaign, called the ruling a “huge victory for hundreds of thousands of sick and suffering Floridians who could benefit from the passage of such a law.

“While we still must collect the required number of petitions before officially being placed on the 2016 ballot, we are confident that we will and that Florida voters will approve this amendment in the general election,” he added. “In 2014, four of seven Supreme Court justices approved our ballot language and 58% of Floridians voted “yes”; this time, all seven justices approved our language and we feel strongly that well over the required 60% of Floridians will vote “yes” for a comprehensive and compassionate medical marijuana law.”

According to the state’s Division of Elections, the campaign has collected more than 400,000 verified signatures toward the neeeded 683,149 signatures to get on the ballot. Morgan has said the campaign has far more signatures already being reviewed by county elections officials.

A state law allowing non-euphoric marijuana oil to be used by cancer patients and those suffering from severe seizures was approved last year.

But the state’s Health Department has struggled to get the effort up and running. The latest potential hurdle has emerged with a host of challenges filed by nurseries which failed to be selected by the department to grow, process and distribute the product.