FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2009 file photo, a worker at the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic prepares packets of marijuana buds for sale in San Francisco. Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in California would sharply drive down prices for the drug, causing more people to use pot while possibly undercutting the tax windfall that supporters have touted, according to a study published Wednesday, July 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, file) FX101
Could Florida be where the momentum stops for medical marijuana?
Sep 12, 2014
Florida's medical marijuana amendment should pass.
Most polls say so. Momentum across the nation says so. The gut-wrenching visuals of patients in pain say so.
And yet I have doubts.
For as many successes as medical marijuana has enjoyed on state ballots since 1996, it is facing some unique circumstances in Florida.
Convincing a majority of voters, as you probably know, is not good enough here. Passing a constitutional amendment in Florida requires approval on at least 60 percent of the ballots. And how likely is that?
Well, medical marijuana didn't get 60 percent in California in 1996. Or Colorado in 2000. Or a lot of other more progressive states that have left the question up to voters.
The numbers can be interpreted in different ways because ballot questions have differed and some states have had multiple measures, but generally speaking, medical marijuana has been above 60 percent in only five of 13 states.
Adding to that ominous cloud is geography. Most of medical marijuana's success has been in the far West or the Northeast. The only Southern state to put it on a ballot was Arkansas in 2012, and it didn't crack 50 percent.
Ben Pollara, campaign manager for pro-medical marijuana group United for Care, knows the numbers better than most and suggests this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Ballot results have been trending higher in recent years, with Michigan and Massachusetts topping 60 percent. Florida in 2014 could conceivably be more progressive than California in '96.
"I've never thought this was a foregone conclusion in Florida, especially with the 60 percent threshold," Pollara said. "But I do believe the voters of Florida have consistently shown us that they support this issue, and I think attitudes in both Florida and around America have been shifting in that direction for a number of years."
Of that, there is no doubt. More than 20 states have approved medical marijuana either legislatively or through a ballot measure since '96.
And the polls in Florida have been mostly positive, almost to the point of a rout. Three Quinnipiac polls in the past 10 months have all registered above 80 percent approval. Several others have been in the 60s and 70s.
Yet a recent Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/University of Florida poll was less optimistic. That poll put support at 56.7 percent, with a much higher rate of undecided voters (17 percent) than in previous polls.
And that's where supporters have a problem, says Adam Goodman, president and CEO of political communications firm the Victory Group.
Goodman, who is not involved in the measure, says opponents will target undecided voters, framing the amendment as too far-reaching and a ruse to bring pill mill-style pot shops to Florida.
The antiamendment campaign will also include law enforcement leaders and doctors sounding ominous (and perhaps dubious) warnings.
"This is a place where you can redirect the dialogue and conversation through a media campaign," Goodman said. "And the players involved in the opposition are fully committed, both ideologically and financially."
It's generally accepted that the odds of medical marijuana's approval increase with higher voter turnout. That means the decision to put it on this year's ballot might also have an adverse affect.
Presidential elections draw 70 to 75 percent of registered voters. Gubernatorial ballots drop to near 50 percent.
For all these reasons, Pollara's optimism is forever shaded by a dose of reality.
"My mood today is the same it has always been: stressed," Pollara said. "I wake up in a cold sweat at 5 a.m., worrying about something else.
"You can look at a Quinnipiac poll at 88 percent and say it's a sure thing, or the Tampa Bay Times poll at 57 percent and say we're losing momentum. I have the same position either way, and that is we have to work our butts off to make sure we win."
Source: Tampa Bay Times