TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) — Organizers of a
Florida campaign for medical use of marijuana say they expect to submit
enough voter signatures this week to get the issue on ballots in time
for the November election, adding further momentum to a national
campaign to reform laws banning the drug.
The campaign hopes to obtain as many as 1.1 million signatures
before a February 1 deadline, said Ben Pollara, campaign manager of
People United for Medical Marijuana.
State law provides that campaign organizers have to get 683,149
voter signatures validated by the counties, and almost one in three
are rejected to failing to meet requirements, such as residency and
The petition drive is being bankrolled by wealthy Orlando trial
lawyer John Morgan who has committed $3 million to the campaign,
enabling organizers to hire professional canvassers to collect
If the petition is approved by 60 per cent of voters in November,
Florida would become the first southern U.S. state to approve
marijuana for medical use, joining some 20 other states, mostly in
the west and the northeast.
Polls show the petition has a good chance of success. Attitudes
toward marijuana use have shifted sharply in the United States.
Colorado this month became the first state to regulate and sell
marijuana for recreational use, with Washington set to follow suit
later this year.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected on Wednesday to announce
plans to allow limited use of medical marijuana for seriously ill
Florida state officials are fighting the ballot initiative,
challenging it before the state Supreme Court. The justices heard
arguments December 5 on whether the ballot language complies with
Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state's Republican
political leadership contend that the ballot language improperly
implies that the state can trump federal restrictions on marijuana.
They also have argued that allowing marijuana use for medical
"conditions" might allow doctors to prescribe it for anxiety, stress
or other non-critical ailments.
The language of the amendment permits prescriptions for
"debilitating conditions" in the judgment of a licensed physician,
for sufferers of ailments such as HIV /AIDS, cancer, war veterans
suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTSD), and children with an
extreme form of epilepsy.
The state's Republican-dominated legislature has declined for
several years to consider medical marijuana legislation. However, a
sentencing-reform package set for a workshop Thursday in a House
criminal-justice subcommittee includes a plan to allow strictly
prescribed use of a specialized strain of marijuana, known as
"Charlotte's Web" that is high in cannabidiol, which has shown
effectiveness in controlling seizures, while low in the THC
ingredient that gets pot users high.
Sponsors of the reform bill have invited parents, Colorado growers
and other professionals to discuss Charlotte's Web at the
subcommittee meeting. The strain is named for Charlotte Figi, a
Colorado girl whose parents got growers to let them extract oils
from the cannabidiol strain for her seizures.
Florida's petition drive seems likely to become a major issue in the
November gubernatorial election. Morgan is a major backer and law
partner of former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who became a
Democrat and is running against the state's Republican Governor,
If Florida's marijuana petition succeeds, advocates say it would
provide a major boost to national efforts to make marijuana laws
"It will be a breakthrough in the south, a breakthrough in one of
the most populous states in the country and a breakthrough in a
bellweather state in American politics," said Ethan Nadelmann,
director of the New York-based Drug Alliance Project, which promotes
marijuana legalization and is backed by billionaire investor and
philanthropist George Soros.
(Additional reporting and writing by David Adams;
editing by David