Young stoners, as it turned out, didn’t turn out.
Support for a marijuana initiative that Florida Democrats had hoped might rouse younger voters from their collective fugue came nowhere near the 88 percent backing that a Quinnipiac University poll reported in July.
Still, it must give Florida’s anti-marijuana Republicans pause, as they contemplate an election in which medicinal pot received a half-million more votes than Rick Scott.
Scott won with a 48.2 percent plurality. Marijuana lost with 57.6 of the electorate marking “yes.”
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“Losing” has a peculiar definition in Florida, where a constitutional initiative requires a 60-percent threshold. It makes triumphant post-election statements issued by “Vote No on 2” seem a bit overblown, like celebratory whoops from the winner of a 100-yard dash who had been given a 40-yard head start.
Meanwhile, in states where simple majorities decide voter initiatives, 54.2 percent of the voters in Oregon and 52.1 percent in Alaska approved outright legalization of recreational pot. Legalization passed in Washington, D.C., with 69.4 percent of the votes. In the U.S. Territory of Guam, a medicinal marijuana measure passed with 56 percent of the vote.
Washington and Colorado have already legalized recreational pot while 23 states have approved medicinal marijuana. But in Florida, the rules are different.
Still, Amendment 2 came close. It might have passed — except those famously somnolent young voters stayed home.
Well, not just young voters. Less than 50 percent of Florida’s registered voters (just 40.7 percent in Miami-Dade, 43.5 percent in Broward) bothered with the mid-term elections (compared to a 72 percent turnout in the 2012 general election). Voters in that crucial pro-pot, under-30 category cast less than 13 percent of the ballots. Oldsters, 60-and-up, who probably believed scary ads comparing medicinal pot to Oxycontin, crushed the kids.
Plus, a couple of odd personalities warped the politics around Amendment 2. By Election Day, it was almost as if the vote had become a referendum on John Morgan, the Orlando lawyer who put up $5 million of his own money to pass Amendment 2. Opponents charged that Morgan, a close friend and advisor to gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, was only trying to whip up the turnout among Democrats, particularly young Democrats.
Morgan, with his gregarious, unfiltered, outsized personality, proved a problematic spokesman for the cause. He made for a sloppy debater. And there was that infamous gone-viral video of the bombastic Morgan, drunk and cursing medical pot opponents, playing to a raucous crowd packed in for ladies night at the Boots and Buckles Saloon in Polk County in late August. “If you do nothing else on this Election Day. I want you to get your mother f****** a*ses up out of bed,” he said.
No doubt, Morgan’s antics got voters out of bed on Election Day, but not those likely to vote yes on his amendment.
The opposition was financed by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who gave $5 million to the “Vote No” campaign. Adelson demonstrated no similar interest in the pot initiatives in Oregon, Alaska or D.C. The difference, of course, is that Adelson is fighting hard to influence Florida legislators mulling over proposals to establish a limited number of destination casinos in Florida. So an election concerned with the sins of marijuana was influenced by an out-of-state billionaire wanting to franchise the sins of gambling.
Medical pot advocates promise they’ll put another measure on the ballot in 2016, a presidential election year when young voters are expected to come out of their civic coma. Initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana will likely be on the 2016 ballot in California, Massachusetts, Nevada, Mississippi, Maine, Wyoming and Arizona, creating a kind of synergy around the anti-prohibition movement, almost like a national referendum.
Florida’s conservative politicians must be worried about the prospect, an election in which even the stoners, slightly bleary-eyed, rise up off their sofas.