Medical marijuana will be back on the ballot this fall and it seems the opposition has gone up in smoke

Love is in the air

Remember that time in 2014 when medical marijuana got a half-million more votes than Gov. Rick Scott but was still defeated? No? Let's recap.

Two years ago, Florida's biggest political issue, aside from Scott beating Charlie Crist and his loyal Vornado Air Circulator fan for a second term, was Amendment 2, a measure that would have legalized medical marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions. United for Care and its chairman, Orlando attorney John Morgan, pulled in millions of dollars to fight for the initiative. Drug Free Florida, which counted on supporters like the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, hauled in its own share of cash, including a $5 million contribution from casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, to oppose medical marijuana.

The Florida Sheriffs Association and other anti-marijuana groups also launched the "Don't Let Florida Go to Pot" campaign (self-described as "a group of people and organizations that are educating Floridians on the dangers of marijuana"). Led by then-FSA president Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, the campaign claimed Amendment 2 would lead to "de facto legislation" of marijuana. This reporter remembers one Auburndale Chamber of Commerce meeting in Polk County at which Judd told the crowd that dangerous loopholes in the amendment would create pot shops around the state; let neighborhood drug dealers register as caregivers; allow children to procure marijuana, leading to edible marijuana treats being marketed to them; and mandate no liability for medical professionals and growers.

"Amendment 2 is a wolf in sheep's clothing," Judd told a silent room. "You are being scammed. ... They are taking advantage of your compassion."

Critics called Judd's methods "scare tactics." Those tactics may have inspired fear in some Floridians, because Amendment 2 failed. It received the support of the majority of voters, 58 percent, but failed to garner the 60 percent of votes it needed to become law.

Morgan vowed to bring medical marijuana back on the 2016 November ballot, and earlier this year, United for Care announced it had collected more than the required 683,149 signatures for Amendment 2 to go before Florida voters a second time.

But this time the opposition to medical marijuana has been quiet, almost nonexistent, says Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care. Tallahassee lawmakers had a change of heart regarding medical marijuana this session, and lawmakers in some cities, including Orlando, have proposed changes to legal citations regarding recreational marijuana.

"We've basically had the opportunity to do another draft and tightened it up a bit," he says. "We've changed some things based on perception and what our opponents and the Florida Supreme Court said."

Pollara says Amendment 2 now lists PTSD along with cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, HIV, AIDS, ALS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis under "debilitating medical conditions," as well as medical conditions "of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient," he says.

Amendment 2 also contains new language on parental consent for minors seeking medical marijuana. Pollara says it was "intellectually dishonest" when opponents claimed physicians would give minors marijuana without parental consent, but they decided to add a clause anyway that requires physicians to obtain written consent from a parent. Caregivers would have to qualify and register with the Florida Department of Health, and the amendment allows the department to limit the number of patients a caregiver can serve.

"When our amendment went to the Florida Supreme Court last time, they filed nearly 3,000 pages of legal briefs against it," Pollara says. "This time there's literally zero opposition. The Supreme Court put us unanimously on the ballot."