By Troy MacNeill | firstname.lastname@example.org
Activists are rushing to raise millions of dollars to persuade voters to approve a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in Florida.
Nearly 58 percent of voters approved the amendment in 2014, but that fell short of the required 60 percent.
United for Care, the organization backing the effort, went back to the streets, collecting 713,810 verified signatures by the Feb. 1 deadline to put the amendment on the ballot again.
This time around, the ballot initiative coincides with the presidential election. That should improve the amendment’s chances, said Ben Pollara, United for Care’s campaign manager.
“We feel good about the amendment getting 60 percent this year,” Pollara said. “This being a presidential year helps us. Two million more people vote in presidential years. In 2014, it was mostly older, white conservative voters looking at the proposed amendment. Voters in presidential years are younger and more diverse.”
Not everyone agrees.
“The marijuana initiative has no better chance of passing now than it did the last go-round,” said Dr. Will Miller, director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Flagler College.
Miller said the amendment will likely struggle to gain attention in the midst of election year politics.
“The initiative will need a 60 percent vote to clear and couldn’t do it in an off-year election when most of the media advertising centered on the issue,” he said. “Now, it’s on the ballot in a presidential year, in a state that will be close to 50-50 on the presidential decision.”
Miller, who has a master’s degree in political science, is an expert on polling and political campaigns. He has written books and articles about a range of topics, including the Tea Party’s impact on 2010 elections and the 2012 Republican nomination process.
Miller believes that unless there’s a major shift in political sentiment, the initiative will not pass. The media will likely be caught up in big-name candidates and the presidential races and will not pay as much attention to the medical marijuana initiative, he said.
Pollara disagrees. He said media attention in 2014 hurt the initiative more than it helped.
“Television ads attacked the amendment without fully reading it,” he said. “We were outspent by a huge margin by those opposing. The spent money to pay for negative ads. Despite all of that, we still got 58 percent votes.”
Attorney General Pam Bondi opposed the amendment in 2014. This year, her office has not taken a position for or against the amendment.
“The proposed constitutional amendment is in the hands of Florida voters,” said a statement released by her office. “We encourage each voter to read the full amendment carefully.”
Lawyer John Morgan is chairman of the initiative. He urged supporters to contribute money toward the campaign.
“Contribute here to help us mark the official beginning of this campaign – and play offense across every corner of the state,” Morgan said in a statement on his group’s website. “We have 10 months to raise the millions more we need to fight it out on the airwaves, online, and more to make sure that undecided voters make the right choice and get us to 60% in November.
“The fight is just beginning…We’re back. We’re going to win for the patients.”