NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As the impact of the 2014 off year elections re-energizes an already hyper-growth industry continues the push for further reform forward (Nevada organizers have also now confirmed that recreational use will be on the ballot in two years), the near passage of medical marijuana in Florida created a situation worth analyzing on a number of important topics central to every state's cannabis reform push.
The key to understanding the political strategy in Florida my be found in Bob Morgan, the main financial backer of the Florida medical marijuana initiative this year (known as Amendment 2). MainStreet recently interviewed Morgan to obtain a front row seat perspective of the cannabis reform in the Sunshine State.
Morgan is a lawyer and heavy hitter for the Democrats in Florida and beyond when it comes to big time political fundraising. Earlier in the year, he publicly called out the Democratic Party, most specifically DNC Chair and fellow Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, over failing to take a more proactive stand on legalization at the time of DEA funding vote this summer.
The current situation in Florida, until Morgan and others reorganize for the next state push forward, is as he says, "like legalizing guns but not selling bullets."
The following are excerpts of his answers to questions posed by MainStreet about overarching themes of the campaign and the final result.
MainStreet: What does the "loss" of 58% of support of voters in Florida actually mean? Is this a true loss?
Morgan: "What it means number one is that the vast majority of Floridians wanted this to pass. Amendment 2 got more votes than any candidate that ran, and it did very well in the worst election cycle you could have. What it says for the long term on medical marijuana at least is that we are at a tipping point. It's not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. Politicians read tea leaves, and they blow as the polls blow -- and it's inevitable."
MainStreet: Does the conservative nature of Florida voters send a message to Democrats nationally? Is this already a bipartisan issue on a national level?
Morgan: "Libertarians are definitely for this. Libertarians are more often Republican leaning than Democratic leaning. The political hacks didn't see it coming. Sometimes avalanches happen when people are up on the ski slopes, and they do not see it because they can't hear it, they can't feel it. And all of a sudden it is here. I think right now what is happening is that the political calculators are starting to get a sense of that avalanche and saying 'This mountain is starting to move. We better get ahead of this curve.'"
MainStreet: What does this setback in Florida mean for medical users, nationally?
Morgan: "The more users you have, the more people will be vested and the louder you will hear calls for tax reform, tax fairness. But it's all in its infancy now. Ten years from now I think that medical marijuana will be part of every hospice in America."
MainStreet:A lot of federal politicians, including prominent Democrats, publicly called for more trials and research this year when pressed to take a stronger stand on reform. What are your thoughts on this?
Morgan: "The paradox here is that marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, so you can't have the trials. And here is the other thing: everyone says, 'We need FDA approval.' Right now you can't have FDA approval. What I've always said is go look at Israel, go look at what they are doing. It goes way beyond anything in this country. In America, we like to lock people up in jail. We like to be close minded, we like to be holier than thou and we like to say that we are fighting this Drug War. Well, the Drug War was lost many years ago."
MainStreet: How did the votes break out in Florida this time? Did you see evidence of a real generational shift caused by Millennials?
Morgan: "If you look at the votes, how this thing went down in an off year election, what stopped us was people 65 years and older. They vote. If you are 17, 18, 19, you have a lot more interesting things to go do. When you look at the vote totals here in Florida, 18-25 years olds were something like 78% for medical marijuana. It is a ten year window, and that window has everything to do with the generation who does not know the difference between LSD, marijuana and heroin being met with a newer generation of voters who feel differently. It would have won this year in Florida if we did not have to get 60% of the overall total vote."
MainStreet: It sounds like you are not leaving this fight until the battle is done. What are your immediate plans on this front?
Morgan: "My plan is to put it back up on the ballot, and I think this parallel path forces the legislature's hand. They would not even talk about it until I put it on the ballot the first time, and then they enacted Charlotte's Web. I think alot of Republicans this time went in and voted for it. I think a lot of Republican legislators went in and voted for it. And don't forget, the business community. There is a whole business community out there who wants this opportunity as an entrepreneurial business. There are lobbyists and law firms and powerbrokers that are salivating over this. That is a ball I am not going to have to move. It's going to be moved by the lobbyists themselves. I am talking about big Republican lobbyists."
--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet