Millions of Dollars Heating Up Florida Medical Marijuana Campaign
The fight to pass a constitutional amendment to legalize the use of medical marijuana in Florida heated up this week with the injection of millions of dollars to the anti-medical marijuana side.
Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Las Vegas casino tycoon who donates lavishly to Republican causes, wrote out a $2.5 million check to the Drug Free Florida Committee opposing Question 2, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment on November’s ballot. Without Mr. Adelson’s money, the anti-medical marijuana campaign backed by the Drug Free America Foundation had just $200,000 in funding, mostly from founder Mel Sembler, the longtime Republican fundraiser and founder of Straight Inc., a torturous teen drug rehab program that ran from 1976-1993.
Straight Inc. is described by its survivors as “a facility that used coercive thought reform (aka mind control, brainwashing), public humiliation, sleep & food deprivation, extremely harsh confrontational tactics, kidnapping, isolation and emotional, mental, psychological, verbal and physical abuse to forcibly break us down…” Indeed, Straight Inc. was convicted of false imprisonment in one lawsuit ordering $220,000 in damages to one man, and in another lawsuit ordered to pay $721,000 in damages to a Florida woman who claimed Straight Inc. staff assaulted her and denied her health care.
Mr. Adelson’s money is doubled by Orlando personal injury attorney John Morgan, who has bankrolled most of the $5 million raised by People United for Medical Marijuana, the group supporting Question 2. The constitutional amendment needs 60% of the vote to pass under Florida law. Most recent polls show support among registered voters tracing in the high 80% range, with Quinnipiac pegging support at 88% among all voters and 93% among Democrats.
While Mr. Morgan denies it, the gubernatorial politics in Florida are playing a large role in the funding of the medical marijuana campaign. Mr. Morgan is the employer and backer of Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who lost his office to current Republican governor Rick Scott. Mr. Crist has since changed parties to Democrat and is running against Gov. Scott to reclaim the governor’s office. Gov. Scott is a longtime opponent of medical marijuana; Mr. Crist is a high-profile supporter of medical marijuana.
Mr. Adelson, the Republican mega-funder whose largess attracted most GOP hopefuls for president to lobby him for support back in March, clearly would prefer Rick Scott stays in office. Political observers in Florida have intimated that Mr. Morgan’s support of medical marijuana is a ploy designed to attract younger, more progressive voters to the polls who will likely support Mr. Crist. Mr. Morgan vehemently denies such Machiavellian politics, explaining that his support for the issue comes from his personal experiences watching family and friends battling cancer and other ailments. No one has yet divined Mr. Adelson’s reasoning for opposing medical marijuana aside from the assumption it would help Gov. Scott’s Republican gubernatorial campaign by dampening voter enthusiasm for the issue.
Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature has become the ninth state to approve a bill legalizing the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil under strict conditions. These so-called “CBD-only” medical marijuana bills have been signed into law in eight states, providing politicians there some relief from the charges of indifference and cruelty toward children suffering from intractable epilepsy. In Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Corbett has long opposed attempts to legalize medical marijuana, his support of a CBD-Only bill garnered him headlines reading “Gov. Corbett changes his mind on medical marijuana.” Gov. Scott has indicated he will sign Florida’s CBD-Only bill, perhaps in hopes it will mitigate some of the compassion voters may feel for passing more comprehensive whole-plant medical marijuana in November.