Just a short time ago, the prospects for medical marijuana in Florida were regarded by the state’s political cognoscenti as poor. Florida voters had elected a Tea Party governor, the state legislature was under the control of a conservative Republican supermajority, and the only concerted effort towards a ballot initiative was outgunned and underfunded. Just a few years later, a perfect storm of politics and demographics might bring medical marijuana to the Sunshine State.
There’s little question about the fact that John Morgan’s decision to publicly and prominently interject himself into the debate has been an enormous game changer. Morgan is one of the most prominent trial attorneys in the state, a guy whose face appears in ads on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, and seemingly on every television station in Central Florida. And he’s got some clout. One of the state’s ex-governors is part of his law firm. And when Barack Obama comes to Florida to do some fundraising, Morgan’s house is often one of his stops.
When local medical marijuana activists approached Morgan to get publicly involved, he didn’t hesitate. His family’s background with a debilitating disease gave him personal insight into the prospective benefits to patients. And, as an attorney, he understood the issue thoroughly. “As a personal injury attorney, I’ve seen people in pain who end up on Oxycodone,” he recently told the Orlando Sentinel. “And 16,000 people die from that every year. It’s highly addictive. Legalizing marijuana is a no-brainer.”
Beyond the visibility he gives the campaign, Morgan’s biggest contribution to Florida’s medical marijuana push is a revitalized petition drive to put it on the statewide ballot for 2014. Citizen-activist Kim Russell had spent years on a grassroots effort to gather signatures and raise awareness for medical marijuana in the state. When the state legislature increased the number of necessary signatures to 700,000, upgrading the petition efforts became important and Morgan stepped in. His stated intention is to raise somewhere between $2-$3 million to get the job done and no one is betting against him.
While Morgan’s entry into the fray is important, it’s not the only factor contributing to medical marijuana’s suddenly enhanced prospects in Florida. The Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act (SB 1250/HB 1139) is also working its way through Florida’s legislative process. Named after a popular, long-surviving ALS patient and medical marijuana activist, the bill is somewhat more liberal than the approach outlined in Morgan’s petition. "In our biill, you can grow eight plants if you are a patient," Cathy’s husband, Robert Jordan, told the Bradenton Herald. "In their bill, you would get your cannabis at a cannabis treatment center. You can't grow your own under their bill. We don't agree with that.”
The third significant factor coming into play is the increased interest in the topic among Florida’s formidable senior-citizen population. While the pure demographics of the situation would probably have brought seniors’ attention to the issue sooner or later, Bob Platshorn isn’t leaving anything to chance. He heads The Silver Tour, a not-for-profit that educates seniors on the benefits of medical marijuana. A former marijuana smuggler who served 29 years in federal lockup, these days Platshorn spends his time monitoring the legislative progress of medical marijuana efforts in the state and raising money to keep “Should Grandma Smoke Pot?” (his medical marijuana infomercial for seniors) on television.
Platshorn’s enthusiasm for his work is obvious and contagious. “Medical marijuana makes an enormous amount of sense for Florida,” he tells CelebStoner. “It's a valuable option for seniors who are fighting exactly the kinds of illnesses that medical marijuana helps with and Florida is home for lots of seniors.”
The political climate in Florida is still very conservative, but there's a growing body of evidence that the state is finally ready to take a serious look at medical marijuana and offer its ailing residents something more intoxicating than orange juice.