Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: The odds just swung in favor of medical pot in Florida

California and 22 other states have legalized medical use of marijuana, and four states have legalized recreational use.
California and 22 other states have legalized medical use of marijuana, and four states have legalized recreational use. Miami

Betting against the medicinal marijuana referendum in 2016 would have been a long shot anyway. But Florida’s do-nothing Legislature might have made passage close to a sure thing.

Just last week, the Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll found that 87 percent of Florida voters support legalizing medical pot. That’s 40 points higher than Gov. Rick Scott’s approval rating.

Polls found similar support prior to the 2014 election, but when the results were tallied, only 57.6 percent had voted for the amendment — less than the 60 percent required for passage.

A $5.8 million advertising crusade by Drug Free Florida dissuaded just enough of the state’s voters to defeat the referendum. But 85 percent of that money came from one very rich man, who happens to live 2,000 miles away.

Las Vegas Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson’s rather pricey intrusion into the Florida pot campaign seemed slightly peculiar. He hadn’t been much interested back in 1998, when voters in his home state of Nevada considered (and approved) a similar medical marijuana referendum.

Nor did his name pop up during campaigns in 22 other states where voters or legislators approved medical pot.

The billionaire has also funded research at Tel Aviv University into the use of chemical compounds extracted from marijuana in treating multiple sclerosis. Not the same thing as medicinal pot, but still.

Perhaps Adelson was motivated by something other than a personal antipathy to pot. “We try not to ascribe motives,” said Ben Pollara, director of United For Care, the outfit running the petition drive and referendum campaign for medical marijuana. “And I don’t presume to get into someone’s head, but you know, it was certainly curious that Adelson had no interest when the issue was approved in those other 23 states.”

But he had a special interest in Florida. For a half-dozen years, Adelson’s company, the Las Vegas Sands Corp., has been trying to get legislative approval for a high-end Vegas-style destination casino in South Florida — perhaps in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

The Sands hired lobbyists, doled out general campaign contributions, coddled up to key legislators. And Sheldon Adelson just happened to contribute $5 million toward beating down medical marijuana, something sure to please the anti-pot conservatives who control the Legislature.

Except this institution can barely agree on a budget, much less cobble together a coherent gambling policy. Legislators couldn’t even pass a popular bill to de-couple greyhound dog racing from so-called racinos. The political leadership couldn’t negotiate an extension to the Seminole gambling compact. It became apparent that though legislative leaders were happy to take Sheldon Adelson’s money, none of them had the courage to push through comprehensive gaming legislation.

So last month, the Sands called it quits in Florida. “There are so many challenges on the legislative front, and the state has challenges passing budgets,” Las Vegas Sands vice president Andy Abboud told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “It’s not going to happen. There’s no need to continue the pitch.”

Perhaps Adelson’s motivation to get involved in a certain other local issue has also gone to pot.