John Morgan, a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama and the boss of former Gov. Charlie Crist, is taking the reins of a Florida medical marijuana initiative, promising to pump major money and political muscle into the popular issue.
Morgan, a top Florida trial lawyer based in Orlando, said he’s ready to tap a network of donors and his personal bank account to get the measure in front of voters in 2014 as a proposed constitutional amendment.
“I can get the money. I have the money. I will be joined by people with money who will help,” said Morgan. “I’ve been very fortunate in life, and I can make it happen.”
It could cost as much as $3.5 million to fund paid-petition gatherers to collect the valid signatures of 683,149 Florida voters needed to get a measure on the ballot. An ad and absentee-ballot campaign could cost up to $10 million more.
Constitutional amendments need to be approved in Florida with 60 percent of the vote.
Morgan said he hasn’t spoken about the issue with Crist or Obama, with whom he had dinner Monday. And, he said, he doesn’t care whether they support it or not.
Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat, is considering a run for governor. He wouldn’t return calls for comment.
Morgan, however, has spoken to former Florida House Speaker and past University of Florida law school dean Jon Mills, a state constitutional expert who will help write the amendment ballot summary to help ensure it passes muster at the Florida Supreme Court.
Morgan, head of the Morgan & Morgan firm, said he’s going to lead the initiative for personal reasons: His father had struggled with cancer and emphysema, and only marijuana helped him.
“He was tethered to machines and on all these drugs that he had no appetite,” Morgan said. “One of my brothers was able to get marijuana for him so he could eat and be happy.”
Though Morgan’s a top Democrat, the medical marijuana initiative has backing from Republicans and independents as well, according to a poll completed last month by the group that Morgan is scheduled to lead, People United for Medical Marijuana, called PUFMM.
The survey showed that 73 percent of Florida voters would approve of the proposal allowing doctors to recommend marijuana for medicinal use. Support cuts across party, demographic and regional lines.
To date, 18 states plus the District of Columbia have medical-marijuana laws, including Republican-leaning states like Arizona. Most of the laws have been approved by voters, not politicians. Even recreational marijuana use got approval of voters in Colorado and Washington last November.
“Florida is a top four state,” Morgan said. “This is a domino that could fall in Florida and really have a big effect around the country.”
Critics hope that doesn’t happen.
Bill Bunkley, a prominent Florida evangelical radio personality, recently spoke out against the effort.
Without mentioning Crist’s name, Bunkley noted that the issue could help a Democratic candidate for governor. And, he said, medical marijuana laws can lead to a type of legalization, which a majority of Floridians still oppose when asked if they want pot legalized outright.
“Just say ‘No’ still applies here in Florida,” Bunkley wrote last month.