Pubdate: Fri, 18 Apr 2014
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Anthony Man
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Referendum Supporters Mobilize With Election Six Months Away

One of the hottest political campaigns of 2014 will kick into high 
gear this weekend as proponents of legalizing medical marijuana 
mobilize for a day of political organizing.

 From locations in Fort Lauderdale, West Delray and 11 other 
communities, they'll be conducting phone banks, hoping to start 
converting casual supporters into committed voters.

"We're trying to get our volunteers mobilized and get the word out to 
as many people as we possibly can," said John Makris, a Boca Raton 
CPA who is a volunteer organizer for United for Care: People United 
for Medical Marijuana.

He's heartened by what he's seen so far. "I've been out campaigning 
and speaking to different groups and I rarely come across anybody 
that's opposed to it."

Even though Election Day is more than six months away, Ben Pollara, a 
veteran of Florida political campaigns and manger for the 
pro-marijuana referendum group, said there are good reasons to start 
encouraging yes votes now.

President Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns showed that 
identifying supporters early, keeping in touch with them and 
encouraging early or absentee votes is a winning strategy. Volunteers 
on Saturday will start contacting the 800,000 people who signed 
petitions to get the referendum on the ballot, guided by a computer 
program that helps them gauge support and encourage people to request 
absentee ballots.

After Labor Day, it may be impossible for any candidate or issue to 
compete for attention amid the onslaught of television time that will 
be bought by the candidates for governor.

Pollara's group, which received the bulk of its money from Democratic 
governor candidate Charlie Crist's law partner, conducted the 
petition drive that got the issue on the ballot. He said the 
organization has 15 staffers and consultants on the payroll.

The opposition isn't as well organized.

"[Supporters] do have a lot of money and they do have a lot of 
mobilizing, and quite frankly I think that's putting us at a bit of a 
disadvantage," Margaret Sotham, South Florida grassroots director for 
the group Save Our Society from Drugs. "Are we going to match dollar 
for dollar and foot soldier for foot soldier with the other side? I 
can't answer that."

Opponents are beginning to organize through anti-drug organizations, 
some churches, and the Florida Sheriffs Association. Sotham said a 
key audience for the opposition is parents, who will get warnings 
about dangers of kids smoking marijuana, and social media will be a key tool.

Jeff Kadel, of Delray Beach, executive director of the Palm Beach 
County Substance Awareness Coalition, said a political action 
committee is being formed to oppose the referendum. "The more we can 
educate people about what this amendment would mean in real life the 
more support we're going to garner," he said.

Even though polls show 70-plus percent support for the medical 
marijuana referendum, Sotham said "We're not giving up" - and 
proponents aren't declaring victory.

The referendum requires 60 percent of the vote to pass. To block it, 
"we only have to get it down to 59.9," said Scott Spages, a Davie 
Republican who's active in conservative Christian causes and helped 
run campaigns for candidates and referendums.

Each side is pitching a radically different message.

To Makris, it's all about the medicinal benefits. "There are people 
that really need it," he said."There are so many prescription drugs 
and so forth that people sue that really are so dangerous and cause 
so many side effects that if they can do something that's less 
harmful and less addictive than that's a good option."

To Kadel, it's all about the dangers of marijuana. "Basically what 
this amendment is doing is legalizing pot. Really it's a facade to 
say it's medical marijuana."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom