Political accusations, intrigue nag medical-marijuana group

Libertarian political consultant Roger Stone has had a falling out with a Florida medical-marijuana group and accused it Tuesday of acting like a front for Democrat Charlie Crist if he decides to run for governor next year.

“No Republicans or Democrats who aren’t supporting Charlie Crist need apply,” Stone wrote on his Stone Zone blog Tuesday, noting Crist works for the head of People United for Medical Marijuana.

PUFMM’s de facto manager, Ben Pollara, denied Stone’s claims as “untrue” and disputed his interpretation of a proposed constitutional amendment that allow the medical use of marijuana in Florida.

“Roger is a complicated character, as you know,” Pollara said, declining to discuss the falling-out with the libertarian consultant once known for being a GOP dirty-trickster.

Stone’s criticism comes at a tough time for PUFMM, which is struggling to collect more than 683,000 valid voter petitions in just a few months in order for the amendment to make the 2014 ballot.

With petition-gathering as a focus, Pollara said, the group has rebuffed paying consultants from all ends of the political spectrum, including Stone, because “we’re on a shoestring budget.”

But Stone, an early backer of the effort, wrote that he noticed a change in PUFMM after it was recently taken over by trial lawyer John Morgan, a major Democratic fundraiser who employs Crist in his legal office.

Since then, Stone wrote, it’s tough to get a phone call returned. He said a handful of top Florida Republicans who might have been interested in working for the PUFMM group were given the cold shoulder.

But one of those Republicans in question, Republican consultant Brian Hughes, said he was concerned that Stone was over-hyping his involvement.

He expressed some displeasure with Stone for dragging him into the fight publicly: “Any characterization by Roger Stone is influenced by Roger’s heightened sense of imagination and hubris.”

Hughes said he barely spoke with Stone about the effort, talked to no one affiliated with PUFMM and wasn’t “stiff-armed or brushed off by anyone. A few conversations with a person does not a client relationship make.”

Hughes said he wouldn’t work for the PUFMM group anyway because he believes that the proposed amendment is too broadly written for conservatives to stomach. The amendment does not clearly prohibit a physician from recommending marijuana to anyone who is not gravely ill or has a condition that’s not seriously debilitating.

“It’s a loser of an issue if it takes Florida down theroad of where these other states have gone. That language is why California got to where it did,” Hughes said. “This current effort exceeds what people are interested in doing. For its lack of vision and apparent political motivations, it’s the wrong thing at the wrong time.”

But Pollara insisted the amendment is tightly drafted and that the effort isn’t being done to help Democrats or Crist, who recently made favorable statements about the initiative. Pollara noted PUFMM hired a Republican firm, National Voter Outreach, to collect petition signatures.

Polls indicate Crist would be the toughest opponent for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, for whom Hughes has worked and whose pollster is longtime friends with Stone.

One early poll by PUFMM indicated medical marijuana could be a significant issue in the governor’s race and could help a candidate who embraces it. Scott is opposed.

Two PUFMM surveys from different pollsters and one by an independent group found that about seven in 10 Florida voters would likely back the type of medical-marijuana amendment proposed. It takes 60 percent voter approval to pass a Florida constitutional amendment.

“We’ve had 70 percent of Floridians in three different polls who said they support it,” Pollara said. “This is not a partisan issue, and both Democrats and Republicans have been quite cowardly with this issue.”

Pollara pointed out that a liberally funded constitutional amendment that aimed to stop partisan political gerrymandering passed in 2010 because the policy was right.

“When people go in the voting booth, they’re going to vote their candidate,” he said. “But they’re going to read our language and they’re going to vote for this because it’s good compassionate policy. It doesn’t matter if they have a D or R by their name.”

Stone said he, too, wants the policy and has the same goals to decriminalize marijuana for sick people.

But he faulted the proposed amendment because it doesn’t go far enough to explicitly allow people to grow marijuana privately. Without that provision, he said, Florida lawmakers will ignore the amendment if passed and people will struggle to get the help they need.

“Under the Morgan proposal if (when) Florida’s notoriously right wing Legislature refuses to authorize the opening of dispensaries, those who are sick or dying can … sue,” Stone wrote.

“This is truly a trial lawyer’s answer to a medical problem.”

Pollara disputed the concern: “I’m not sure Roger even read the amendment.”

Pollara pointed out that the amendment says that, if the state doesn’t act within nine months, physicians could recommend marijuana to a qualifying patient anyway. And qualifying patients, such as Bradenton-area activist Cathy Jordan, would be allowed to possess and use the drug under state law.

The amendment, however, doesn’t affect federal law, which still holds marijuana illegal. Nevertheless, 20 states have so far decriminalized marijuana, most often for medical use.