Florida voters just say no to medical marijuana

AT A LOSS: Amendment 2 proponents, from left, Zoe Amerigan, Dave Diedrich and Ron Lockhart await the results at an election watch party on Tuesday at Gramps in Miami.
AT A LOSS: Amendment 2 proponents, from left, Zoe Amerigan, Dave Diedrich and Ron Lockhart await the results at an election watch party on Tuesday at Gramps in Miami. Miami Herald Staff

Medical marijuana may be spreading across the nation, but it will not gain a Southern beachhead in Florida this year.

Though Amendment 2 once appeared to enjoy huge support and did win a majority of votes Tuesday, it failed to clear 60 percent as required for constitutional amendments.

“We are very happy that our quality of life here in Florida is going to be preserved,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of St. Petersburg’s Drug Free America Foundation. “We are not going to be seeing pot shops everywhere. We are not going to see opportunities for marijuana to be promoted for our children. We are happy the voters in our state took time to actually read the amendment and vote smart.”

Medical marijuana supporters vowed next to take the fight to legalize medical marijuana to the Florida Legislature.

“They can ignore polls, they can ignore activists and they can ignore bills filed by minority legislators but they cannot ignore the majority vote by Floridians,” said Ben Pollara, director of the advocacy group United for Care. “And if they do, we will see them again in 2016.”

But Amendment 1, which sets up a 20-year funding stream for conservation projects, breezed to victory at the polls.

Under that measure, one-third of the documentary stamp taxes on property transactions will go to a trust fund expected to generate nearly $700 million a year for conservation and recreational lands. It could help restore the Everglades, buy new holdings or preserve Florida’s springs.

Like medical marijuana, the land conservation measure was placed on the ballot by petition. A third proposed amendment, placed on the ballot by the Legislature and dealing with replacing Supreme Court justices, was soundly defeated.

Though Amendment 2 appeared popular early on, as the campaign continued the fact that it would be enshrined in the state Constitution was exactly what worried many opponents.

The ballot language listed several specific qualifying diseases, like cancer and multiple sclerosis, but also would have allowed doctors to recommend marijuana use for patients who had other “debilitating” conditions.

Critics said such broad language that could foster “pot mills” and abuse by users wanting to get high and entrepreneurs seeking profits.

The amendment, just two pages long, would have relied on the Florida Department of Health to fill in thousands of details and rules. If any of those rules had conflicted with Amendment 2’s ballot language, critics warned, courts might be forced to throw out important safeguards.

Orlando attorney John Morgan spent $4 million to get Amendment 2 on the 2014 ballot, mostly to pay people to gather last-minute petition signatures. He has said that if the measure polls in the high 50s, he would try again in 2016.

St. Petersburg was the epicenter for watching Amendment 2’s fate on Tuesday night as supporters surrounded by TV cameras gathered at Fresco’s, a popular waterfront restaurant. A short walk away, strategists with United for Care, the group behind the amendment, were holed up in the Vinoy Renaissance Resort watching returns. By 9 p.m. the mood was somber.

Fay, also based in St. Petersburg, said she “cannot speculate on what might be proposed” by medical marijuana supporters before the Legislature. But she noted that cannabis-based medicines are in clinical trials and might lessen the push for medical marijuana.

Almost half the country has adopted a medical marijuana system. But none of those states faced Florida’s 60 percent threshold for altering its constitution.

Though many states adopted full-fledged medical marijuana systems through legislation, the Florida Legislature repeatedly rebuffed any such attempts. This year — under pressure from parents of epileptic children — the Legislature did approve one strain of non-euphoric pot called Charlotte’s Web.

But non-euphoric pot cannot match more powerful varieties when it comes to treating pain or other debilitating conditions, advocates say.

Critics said Amendment 2 was a ploy by Morgan to boost the youth vote and help install his employee, Charlie Crist, into the governor’s mansion. They also noted that publicity over Amendment 2 earned Morgan’s law firm millions of dollars in new business.

Opponents acquired a well-heeled angel of their own when Nevada billionaire Sheldon Adelson spent $5.5 million in anti-pot advertising. Morgan maintained a personal email correspondence with Adelson, trying to keep the casino mogul on friendly terms.

Early polls showed support in the 70 percent range — at least for the concept of medical pot.

In the end, though, how voters viewed Amendment 2 specifics eroded much of that support.

A Vote No On 2 coalition of sheriffs, doctors and former state Supreme Court justices made a persuasive case that Florida’s Constitution is a poor vehicle for sweeping social change.

Tampa Bay Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at nohlgren@tampabay.com.

Reaction to Medical Marijuana Amendment Vote

Voters narrowly rejected the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida on Tuesday after a surge of ads saying the ballot initiative was riddled with holes. The campaign for medical marijuana was among the most expensive ballot measures in the country, with millions spent on both sides of the debate.


“Floridians defeated Amendment 2 because they had the benefit of both sides of the story — and the truth is that Amendment 2’s loopholes made it nothing more than de facto legalization of marijuana.”

(Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for Vote No on 2)


“While it’s disappointing that patients in Florida won’t be able to find legal relief with marijuana just yet, tonight’s result does show that a clear majority of voters in the sunshine state support a new direction. We didn’t get the 60% needed to pass medical marijuana as a constitutional amendment, but patients and their supporters will keep pushing until the law reflects what most voters want. The campaign this year faced several key challenges, including that it took place during a midterm election in which turnout dynamics don’t favor marijuana reform. Next time medical marijuana is on the ballot, organizers should put patients and medical professionals at the forefront of the campaign rather than relying on a well-meaning but much less sympathetic political donor as the chief spokesperson.”

(Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell)