In 1905 the Spanish philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Is it possible that the lessons of 2014, just two years ago, will be forgotten by the organizers behind Florida’s 2016 medical cannabis ballot initiative?
A lot has been written about the heartbreaking loss of Florida Amendment 2 in 2014. Needing 60 percent of the vote to pass, the amendment lost with 57.4 percent. The measure pulled in 500,000 more votes than the governor did but it still lost because of Florida’s requirement for a “super majority” when it comes to ballot initiatives.
Now Florida Amendment 2 is back and there are some early, promising signs. The Bradenton Herald, which editorialized against Amendment 2 in 2014, has endorsed the latest incarnation of the medical cannabis initiative truthfully noting, “Lawmakers have been ignoring citizens who have been clamoring for the compassionate legalization of medical cannabis for at least a decade.”
According to one poll in the summer of 2014, more than 90 percent of Floridians favored medical cannabis. This had the net effect of lulling supporters into a stupor of inevitability. There was boastful talk and a “green rush” that was embarrassing in its scope. Everyone was ready to make a fortune on the backs of Florida’s seriously ill.
The opposition showed remarkable savvy that should not be discounted. Recruiting the Florida Sheriff’s Association to do the early heavy lifting in debates and public forums, the group was most effective in keeping their powder dry until the last minute when it then began to air a series of effective TV ads that the pro-Amendment forces, spearheaded by United for Care, could simply not match. The two sides — pro and con — curiously received about the same amount of funding, roughly $5 million. But United for Care, the pro side, spent most of their money early on, collecting signatures to get on the ballot. On the con side, billionaire Sheldon Adelson contributed his money in late summer, allowing the opposition to create a TV campaign that blanketed the airways in September and October. United for Care could not compensate.
But it was more than money that defeated Amendment 2 in 2014. Mounting the campaign in a non-presidential election year meant getting out the vote was imperative. Early on United for Care focused its efforts on getting out the young voters. They assumed, correctly, that young voters would support Amendment 2. But by focusing most of their major rallies on college campuses, United for Care gave the opposition plenty of fodder when they claimed that Amendment 2 was a “stalking horse” for legalization.
Indeed those who would be helped the most by medical cannabis, the patients and their families, were curiously absent from the campaign. United for Care seemed to do little to get their stories out front. Instead it allowed its primary backer, Orlando attorney John Morgan, to be the spokesperson for the campaign and, if there is one thing clear from the post-electoral analysis, it was the negative impact of John Morgan. The Miami Herald writer Fred Grimm noted, “Morgan, with his gregarious, unfiltered, outsized personality, proved a problematic spokesman for the cause. He made for a sloppy debater.” Add to that the video of a drunken Morgan rousing a bar-room crowd with profane language and you have every reason to wonder how many people stayed home from the polls because they couldn’t stomach giving Morgan a win.
But Morgan is back and so is Amendment 2. This time, he promises, will be different. Instead of focusing on the young, United in Care states it will focus on those over 60 since “they’re the one most likely to tap into the relief” offered by cannabis.
Hopefully they will also do some basic analysis of the vote last time.
Looking at Florida’s last experience with voting for medical cannabis the results are interesting and instructive. The initiative won big in the coastal counties with the center of the state — still rural and conservative — rejecting the measure. But several counties really standout, counties where just a few hundred voters — either way — could clearly swing the tide. Hopefully United in Care has done their homework and is targeting counties like Marion, when opposition forces won by just 339 votes. Or the panhandle counties of Dixie, Liberty, Gulf and Jackson, where votes just squeaked into the pro-medical cannabis column.
In short, the last election gave medical cannabis advocates in Florida a blueprint of where support is strong and where it is flagging. A road map for the coming months, if you will. Forget about the rallies in Miami, Tampa or Jacksonville. Focus instead on bombarding those counties that were so close in the last election. Shore up those that squeaked by and unleash the CannaMoms on those that voted against medical cannabis.
Even with the requisite 60 percent majority there is no reason Amendment 2 should fail this time around… unless we fail to remember the past.
Do you think medical marijuana will succeed in Florida this time around?