The petition campaign would put a constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot, when voters will also pick a governor, members of Congress and state legislators.
Medical marijuana will energize young, Democratic-leaning voters who might otherwise stay home, says Miami consultant David Custin. Conservatives may oppose medical marijuana, he says, but those voters tend to turn out anyway.
“The college campuses will go berserk. This will be a watershed for young voter turnout in Florida,’’ says Custin, who has no party affiliation. “Whichever Democrat is on a statewide ballot will get a 3 to 5 point bump.’’
In Florida, constitutional amendments must pass by at least 60 percent, a tough bar. But polling suggests that medical marijuana has a chance.
Earlier this year, Hamilton Campaigns, a Democrat-leaning pollster, sampled 600 voters and found that 61 percent supported medical marijuana. Only 37 percent opposed. Support rose to 70 percent when ballot language listed specific qualifying diseases like cancer.
The poll was financed by Ben Pollara, a Miami Beach consultant who last year ran a super PAC to support Sen. Bill Nelson’s re-election. When money was left over, Pollara paid for the marijuana poll.
Pollara, 28, says previous efforts to interest people in a medical marijuana amendment never gained traction. The poll numbers persuaded him to charge ahead anyway.
“It’s the right thing to do, and I hope the State of Florida is ready for it,’’ Pollara says. “I also thought it would be a fun project to do in this election cycle.’’
In March, Pollara picked up a key ally in Morgan, a mass advertising guru who says he will pour $1 million into the campaign if necessary. Last year, Morgan and his wife, Ultima, donated $2 million to an Orlando food bank. “This year we are doing marijuana,’’ he says.
Morgan, 57, who enjoys Jack Daniels, says his lips have never touched pot. He avoided it during his youth, he says, for fear of disappointing his father.
His brother, a quadriplegic who oversees Morgan’s call center, has long used pot to control leg spasms, Morgan says. Their father, also a Floridian, turned to marijuana 20 years ago while dying of esophageal cancer. It eased his pain, stimulated appetite and “basically gave him real peace,’’ Morgan says.
Critics have noted that the ballot initiative might benefit one of Morgan’s friends and attorneys, Charlie Crist, if Crist runs for governor. Morgan denies that he’s doing this to get Crist into the governor’s mansion.
“When I decided to do this,’’ Morgan says, “I had a feeling Charlie was going to be offered a Cabinet position’’ with Obama.
For their campaign vehicle, Pollara and Morgan took over People United for Medical Marijuana, a grassroots group out of Orlando that had instituted a ballot initiative three years ago. People United had a mailing list and faithful volunteers but had raised only about $30,000 and collected only 31,000 petition signatures — way short of the 683,149 they need by Feb. 1 to force a referendum.
Pollara and Morgan quickly ponied up almost $200,000, retained a Nevada firm that specializes in signature gathering and rebranded the campaign “United for Care.”