Medical marijuana law may prove to be election high for Florida's Democrats

 

Florida

Politicians are used to courting a particular section of society come election time, but in a first for America, it may be the marijuana vote that decides the Florida governor’s race.

Democrats are pushing a statewide referendum on medical marijuana that supporters of the Republican Governor, Rick Scott, say threatens to tilt the race against him. Republicans have filed a legal challenge to keep it off the ballot.

Democrats and marijuana activists across the US are monitoring Florida’s quest to become the first state in the South to legalise some marijuana use, to see if the issue has a spillover effect that could offer a blueprint for the 2016 federal elections.

“It’s an issue that the Democrats can use to pump up the youth vote,” said Alex Patton, a Republican political consultant and pollster based in Gainesville, Florida. “The politics of it are dangerous for the GOP.”

In previous elections, Republicans benefited from social issues being on the ballot. During President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, 11 states voted on gay marriage bans. Karl Rove, Mr Bush’s top strategist, denied engineering the ballot drives but acknowledged the importance of social issues in fuelling Republican turnout.

The architect of Florida’s medical marijuana initiative, the Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, employs Charlie Crist, 57, the leading Democratic candidate for Florida governor, and serves as an adviser. No Democrat has won a governor’s race in Florida since 1994. Mr Crist held the office for four years, ending in 2011, as a Republican. He later switched parties.

Democrats and marijuana activists across the US are monitoring Florida’s quest to become the first state in the South to legalise some marijuana use Democrats and marijuana activists across the US are monitoring Florida’s quest to become the first state in the South to legalise some marijuana use Mr Morgan – who runs one of the country’s largest personal-injury law firms and has hosted fundraisers for President Barack Obama – said he had contributed more than $3m (£1.8m) to the marijuana effort so far. He said he was also planning to be a top fundraiser for Mr Crist.

Activists hoping to put the question of legalising medical marijuana before voters have collected about a million signatures, according to Ben Pollara, campaign manager for People United for Medical Marijuana and a Democratic strategist.

The group led by Mr Morgan, created to support the Florida initiative, needs to have about 683,000 signatures verified by election supervisors by 1 February to qualify. As of yesterday afternoon 414,075 signatures had been verified by the state. Mr Pollara said he was confident the group would meet the requirement.

Mr Morgan, 57, insists his roles in the governor’s race and the medical marijuana proposal are unrelated. He said he had not advised Mr Crist – a former state governor, attorney general, education commissioner and senator from  St Petersburg who also supports medical marijuana use – to campaign on the issue.

Mr Morgan likened his financial backing of the ballot initiative to philanthropic causes he had supported in the past. Both his father, who died of cancer, and his brother, a quadriplegic, used marijuana for pain management.

“I’ve seen it work. I know it works,” said Mr Morgan, who hired Mr Crist to work at his Morgan & Morgan law firm after the former Republican governor lost a 2010 US Senate race to Marco Rubio. In that contest Mr Crist ran as an independent.

Mr Morgan’s law firm could benefit from having Mr Crist in the governor’s office, with veto power over legislation unfavourable to trial lawyers. Republicans and business groups have moved to crack down on trial lawyers in recent years.

Republicans say Mr Morgan is trying to manipulate voter turnout in the November election to favour Mr Crist in a state with a history of close contests. Mr Obama carried Florida in 2012 by less than 1 per cent of the vote, and  Mr Scott, the incumbent governor, won in 2010 by 61,500 votes out of 5.3 million cast.

“It’s a pretty transparent ploy,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist who once worked for Mr Crist but now supports Mr Scott.

Mr Patton, the pollster,  called the marijuana initiative “extremely well calculated” and said it could be a “game changer” for the 2014 election, offsetting the advantage Florida Republicans typically have in years with no presidential race. Republicans in Florida and elsewhere have performed best in such years, as Democratic-leaning young voters and minorities have stayed home.

Democrats also see the marijuana initiative as a potential magnet for votes in November, according to Jeff Clemens, a Democrat state senator who has previously tried unsuccessfully to pass medical marijuana legislation.

“It’s clear Democrats are very supportive and Republicans are split down the middle on this, but independents are overwhelmingly in support of medical marijuana,” he said.

Read more:

Barack Obama says marijuana is ‘no more dangerous than alcohol’ and users should not be jailed

© Bloomberg

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy