Prospects for the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida via constitutional amendment got a lot brighter this weekend as the Miami Herald released results of an internal Republican poll on the issue. According to the poll, 78 percent of voters in Florida’s Republican state Senate districts favored the initiative.
News of the enormous support for medical marijuana among Republicans has state GOP strategists and Florida-based anti-drug coalitions scrambling. Poll after poll has found more support for medical marijuana than the 60 percent vote it would require to be added to the Florida constitution, from the low 62 percent found by Public Policy Polling to the high 82 percent found by Quinnipiac University’s poll.
Fighting medical marijuana will be difficult for the St. Petersburg based anti-drug groups, the Drug Free America Foundation and Save Our Society from Drugs. The former group was founded by Mel & Betty Sembler originally as “Straight Inc”, a “boot camp” for young people with drug problems that was convicted of false imprisonment of one patient and paid court-awarded damages for assaulting and mistreating another. Betty Sembler is also on the board of Save Our Society from Drugs, but you’ll know them best by their Executive Director, Calvina Fay, who can be found spouting anti-medical marijuana lines like “smoking crack cocaine makes you feel good, too, but we don’t call it medicine.”
The difficulty, aside from supermajority poll numbers against them, will be trying to get any sort of TV commercials on the air. This year, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott is expected to spend $100 million on campaign ads and his opponent, former Republican governor now Democrat Charlie Crist will spend another $50 million. Plus, John Morgan, the Orlando attorney who spent $4 million of his own money getting the amendment to the ballot, is expected to divert some of his law firm’s $20 million in TV advertising to support the amendment. In that media buy environment, ad space will be expensive and hard to come by for the drug warriors.
Their one hope may be to paint Florida’s amendment, with its “other diseases and conditions when recommended by a physician,” as a gateway to California-style quasi-legalized marijuana. Florida polls show voters split with around 48% support for outright legalization. It will cost up to $4 million a week for anti-drug campaigners to get their message in front of statewide voters. Even then, one poll that asked voters about the specific language of the amendment still got 70 percent support.