Medical Marijuana Proposal Falls Short
Little more than three months ago, Floridians appeared poised to overwhelmingly pass a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana.
But Tuesday, after a barrage of negative ads by opponents, the idea came crashing down.
As of 11 p.m., 57.5 percent of voters backed the proposed amendment --- known as Amendment 2 --- that would have allowed patients to receive the substance. But constitutional amendments require approval from 60 percent of voters to pass.
"This amendment, had it been ingrained in the constitution, would have been very bad for Florida," said Sarah Bascom, a spokeswoman for "Vote No on 2," a group that fought legalization. "There are no do-overs in the constitution, so the only way to rectify this amendment and to fix this issue was to vote no."
The pot proposal was one of three constitutional amendments on the ballot Tuesday. Voters easily passed an amendment that will lead to increased funding for land conservation and other environmental projects. They rejected a third amendment that involved the appointment of Supreme Court justices and appeals-court judges.
The medical-marijuana initiative was spearheaded by Orlando attorney John Morgan, who is known throughout the state for his ubiquitous Morgan and Morgan law-firm television ads and billboards.
In July, a Quinnipiac University poll indicated that 88 percent of Floridians --- across all age groups --- approved of medical marijuana. But support for the proposed amendment later dropped as it was hit with millions of dollars in television ads and opposition from sheriffs, Republican leaders and business groups.
Opponents said the amendment included loopholes that would lead to a wide-open pot industry that would go far beyond helping patients who suffer from debilitating illnesses. The anti-Amendment 2 effort got crucial help from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who contributed $5.5 million to the Drug Free Florida political committee, which ran ads blasting the proposal.
"Too broad. Too many risks. Vote no on Amendment 2," said an ad released last week.
But United for Care, a group that led the amendment campaign, said the attacks were aimed at scaring voters and were untrue.
"Amendment 2 will pass this November because Floridians are far more intelligent than the 'No on 2' campaign believes," Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, said last week. "Voters will choose compassion over fear-mongering."
While the medical-marijuana initiative was highly controversial, the land-conservation amendment drew grumbling from Republican legislative leaders and some business groups but appeared to have no organized opposition. It received about 75 percent of the vote Tuesday.
The proposal, which was Amendment 1 on the ballot, will require the state to dedicate a portion of real-estate tax revenue over the next 20 years for environmental preservation. The proposal will generate billions of dollars from the already-existing tax, with the money going to buy or restore areas crucial to Florida's water supply, such as the land around springs, and natural systems that have been despoiled, such as the Everglades.
"Clearly the people of Florida care about their environment,'' said Allison DeFoor, who chaired the effort to pass the amendment. "We believed that when we started this effort, and we bet everything we had on it. It appears our hope was warranted."
Supporters argued the measure is necessary because lawmakers in recent years dramatically reduced funding for the Florida Forever conservation program. Republican legislative leaders, however, argued against the amendment because it would force lawmakers to set aside a pot of money every year for conservation and give them less flexibility in how to spend tax dollars.
The third amendment on the ballot was placed there by Republican lawmakers and involved a complicated question about the appointment of future Supreme Court justices and appeals-court judges. It received only about 48 percent support.
The proposal was spurred by the possibility that three Supreme Court justices --- Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince --- will have to step down in early 2019 because of a mandatory retirement age. They could leave the court at the same time a new governor takes office, depending on the outcome of the 2018 gubernatorial election.
The amendment would allow an outgoing governor --- rather than the incoming governor --- to appoint the replacements. Supporters said the proposal was needed to avoid a potential constitutional crisis that could emerge if there is a dispute about who holds the appointment power.
But Democrats and other critics argued that the proposal was a power grab by Republican supporters of Gov. Rick Scott, who, if re-elected Tuesday, would leave office in early 2019. In such a scenario, Scott --- and not his successor --- would be able to fill the Supreme Court openings.