Medical marijuana slows petition drive until high court rules

A medical marijuana group says it has cleared its first major hurdle to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot: Collecting enough voter signatures to trigger Florida Supreme Court review of the initiative’s language.

Since July, People United for Medical Marijuana collected at least 110,000 signatures — in excess of the 68,314 needed to start the review, said the group’s treasurer and director, Ben Pollara.

Pollara said the group, nicknamed PUFMM, will temporarily suspend its paid petition-gathering drive until the court rules on the constitutionality of the proposal, which can’t be misleading or cover multiple subjects.

Why halt now?

"You got $150,000 a week to pay to collect signatures?" Pollara asked rhetorically.

He said PUFMM plans to ask the court for an expedited review so the group can restart its petition drive sooner. It needs to collect the total 683,149 verified voter signatures needed by Feb. 1 to get the measure on the 2014 November ballot.

A main argument to speed up the review process: The Florida Legislature made petition drives tougher, and therefore more expensive.

PUFMM could actually have as many as 140,000 signatures already by week’s end, at which point the outstanding petitions gathered by volunteers and the signature-gathering firm National Voter Outreach should be in.

To win a state constitutional amendment, it takes 60 percent voter approval — a threshold that polls indicate PUFMM could meet by 10 percentage points.

If approved, Florida would be the 21st state to decriminalize marijuana.

Medical marijuana activists, including PUFMM, recently celebrated the show "Weed" by CNN’s doctor, Sanjay Gupta, who reversed his position on medical-marijuana and said the drug could be good medicine for some people — despite the federal government’s claim it has no real medicinal value.

But St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation, already gearing up for a fight with PUFMM, blasted Gupta’s show.

“Many drug prevention, policy and treatment experts are confused by Gupta’s position. The big issue is really about what Dr. Gupta is not saying,” Calvina Fay, the foundation’s executive director said in a written statement. “He left it unclear whether he opposes the widely abused “medical” marijuana programs now legal in some states.”

Also, PUFMM was riven by an internal squabble when Republican-turned-Libertarian consultant Roger Stone broke with the group, saying it’s acting like a front for Democrat Charlie Crist should he wish to run for governor. Stone also faulted the proposed language for the amendment, saying it doesn't do enough to prevent the Legislature from ignoring the will of the people.

Pollara denied the charge.