Orlando attorney John Morgan, 58, has given $4.7 million and is leading the charge to pass Amendment 2.
These guys are the money men behind medical marijuana
Sep 24, 2014
Spurred by deeply personal connections to drug use, two wealthy men have emerged as the biggest players in the debate over medical marijuana in Florida.
For John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney who has spent $4.7 million on the pro-pot campaign, the motivation comes from a younger brother who has been paralyzed for decades. Illegal marijuana eases his pain when prescription drugs can’t, Morgan said.
“If he took the pills they prescribed, he would just be in a trance,” Morgan said. “He’s able to take one or two hits, and instantaneously the pain goes away.”
For Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas billionaire who gave $2.5 million to anti-pot efforts, inspiration comes from the death of a son by drug overdose. Adelson couldn’t be reached for comment.
If voters approve Amendment 2, an initiative to allow patients with cancer and other ailments to use cannabis with the permission of a doctor, Florida would join California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan and New York on the growing list of states to legalize medical marijuana. But there’s a catch: Unlike other states, where convincing half of voters to say yes to pot proved an easy task, Florida requires ballot initiatives to win 60 percent of the vote.
Political analysts expect both sides to flood Florida airwaves with ads in the weeks before the Nov. 4 election.
“In the end, it’s really going to come down to the advertising,” said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida. “It’s going to be expensive.”
Enter the two money men, a Democratic lawyer on one side, a Republican casino operator on the other.
Morgan, 58, has been the biggest financial backer on either side of Florida’s medical marijuana push. His passion, he said, is motivated by the suffering of his brother Tim, who broke his neck 37 years ago while working as a teen lifeguard at Walt Disney World.
Tim Morgan remains in constant pain, and Morgan said it’s unfair that his brother must break the law to ease his suffering.
“I’ll tell you what — it’s worth the risk of jail,” Morgan said.
Morgan, a longtime financial supporter of Democratic candidates, began writing checks to the People United for Medical Marijuana committee in early 2013, according to state campaign finance records. He said he expected other wealthy backers to follow his lead.
“I thought when I got the ball rolling, I’d get halfway down the road and turn around, and there’d be other people ready to push the ball,” Morgan said. “When I turned around, no one was there.”
If Morgan is feeling light in the wallet, he won’t admit it.
“I didn’t start with a budget, so I guess I won’t end with a budget,” Morgan said.
Morgan faces a formidable financial foe in Adelson, 81, the largest shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Adelson’s stake in that company was worth $27 billion as of last week.
Unlike the outspoken Morgan, Adelson hasn’t commented publicly on the reason he wrote a $2.5 million check to the Drug Free Florida Committee in May. But Adelson’s son Mitchell died at age 48 in Fort Myers in 2005, reportedly of a drug overdose.
Morgan said he exchanged several emails with Adelson this year, and the lawyer doesn’t expect to persuade the casino magnate to change his mind.
“When something like that happens, all reasoning and all rationality is out the window,” Morgan said. “He has suffered the ultimate.”
While Adelson stays behind the scenes, Morgan relishes his role as pro-medical pot spokesman. Last month, he debated Polk County’s sheriff at an event hosted by the Lakeland Ledger, then later spoke at a get-out-the-vote rally attended by a young, rowdy crowd.
A video of the event — which shows Morgan dropping f-bombs while holding a cocktail in one hand and a microphone in the other — became an Internet hit.
Political analysts speculate that Morgan’s largess might be spurred by his support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, who joined Morgan’s firm after he left the Governor’s Mansion. Medical marijuana will drive young, liberal voters to the polls, the theory goes, and they might punch Crist’s name as an afterthought.
But pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research in Jacksonville said medical marijuana is no sure way to bring out young voters.
“The people most interested in medical marijuana are older people,” Coker said. “Medical marijuana and legal marijuana are two different issues to young voters.”
Morgan, for his part, denied that he’s bankrolling the medical marijuana campaign as a way to boost Crist.
“I like Charlie Crist,” Morgan said, “but I don’t like him $4 million worth.”
Source: Palm Beach Post