Pubdate: Sat, 16 Aug 2014
Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)
Copyright: 2014 St. Petersburg Times
Author: Stephen Nohlgren
Page: A1


Lawyer John Morgan And A Casino Mogul Debate Via Email

Trial lawyer John Morgan - whose outsized persona is already etched
onto Florida's consciousness - said medical marijuana has boosted his
celebA-rity even higher.

At the Orlando airport last week, eight to 10 people stopped him
between the plane and his car to thank him for bankrollA-ing the
constitutional amendA-ment to legalize medical marA-ijuana, Morgan
said. 'Two or three wanted to have their picA-tures taken with me.'
However, none of that hoopla surprised Morgan as much as an email that
arrived three months ago from Nevada.

It came from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who had just donated $2.5
million to defeat Amendment 2 - instantly counA-terbalancing Morgan's
wealth in the fight over medical pot.

'I was stunned,'' Morgan said. 'He told me that I was all wrong.''
With his typical thick skin and glib patter, Morgan was delighted to
respond - setting off an ongoing email exchange that now has the two
titans on a first name basis, and a possible face-to-face meeting next
month in Las Vegas.

'I like him a lot. He's a selfA-made man,'' said Morgan, 58. 'He's is
one of the most generous men on the face of the earth.'' Adelson, 81,
did not respond to requests for comment on his marijuana stance or the
emails he and Morgan have exchanged.

But Adelson's background provides a glimpse into what may have
motivated one of the world's richest people to jump into the medical
marijuana fray.

In 2005, Adelson's 48-year-old son Mitchell died in Fort Myers.
Adelson's wife Miriam told Israel's Haaretz newspaper that her
stepson, a long-time heroin and cocaine addict, overdosed.

Miriam Adelson is an Israeli born physician who specializes in
addiction. She champions methadone as a treatment for opiate
dependence. Her husband belongs to an association that helps drug
victims, she told Haaretz , though talking about addiction 'is very
painful for him.'' Morgan has not brought up the son's overdose in the
emails, but imagines that Adelson 'has suffered the ultimate
suffering,'' he said. "I think all our prayers are, 'Please don't take
my children before me.' '' In Adelson's first email, he referred to
Morgan as an 'activist lawyer.' Morgan said he now signs all his
messages as 'AKA activist lawyer.' Morgan plans a Las Vegas business
trip soon, he said. Adelson invited him to drop by and 'if he is in
town, I am going to see him,' Morgan said.

The two men have exchanged four emails to date, and so far 'I haven't
convinced him. He hasn't convinced me,'' Morgan said.

Pro-cannabis blogs took Adelson to task for opposing Amendment 2
because an Israeli study partly funded by Adelson's foundation
indicated that anti inflammatory compounds in marijuana could
effectively treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

The researchers had treated mice with MS-like systems with THC and
CBD, the two most common chemicals in pot. According to Morgan,
Adelson questioned whether the same result would apply to humans. 'He
wrote me that he doesn't have mice and rats as pets,'' Morgan said.
'He has dogs and cats.'' Adelson's $2.5 million donation went to Drug
Free Florida Committee, a political action committee launched in March
by St. Petersburg resident Mel Sembler.

Sembler and his wife, Betty, are longtime antidrug advocates and, like
Adelson, major benefactors of Republican Party causes.

State records show that Drug Free Florida has collected 26 donations
through July. The second largest came from Publix CEO Carol Jenkins
Barnett, whose family trust gave $322,000. In a statement, she
criticized the amendment for being written 'much too broadly' and
warned that it would 'usher in an unprecedented era of legalized
marijuana.' Morgan's group, United for Care, had collected 5,735
separate donations. Though a few dozen five-figure donations came from
companies interested in the marijuana business, most came from
individuals sending in $5 to $100.

Morgan spent almost $4 million on the petition campaign to get
Amendment 2 on the Nov. 4 ballot, but has yet to put any of his own
money into passing it.

United for Care now has about $500,000 on hand, compared to $2.7
million for Drug Free Florida, but Morgan said he has $5 million in
commitments from major sources outside the state and is not worried
about being outspent.

Neither side has amassed the kind of cash that a full-fledged
statewide TV campaign requires. That costs about $3.9 million a week,
said David Beattie of Hamilton Campaigns, a Democrat leaning consultant.

Getting a pot message out may prove even more expensive if
gubernatorial candidates Rick Scott and Charlie Crist saturate airways
leading up the vote, Beattie said.

'When a lot of people are talking, you need to talk louder to get the
same effect.'' With the campaign heading into the home stretch, Morgan
said United for Care is focused on getting out the vote. The group has
constructed a database of 180,000 supporters and will be reminding
them to vote. A colorful bus has been ordered to tour the state,
urging people to sign up for absentee ballots.

Some of Morgan's law firm ads will soon mention the medical marijuana
fight as well, he said. He plans billboards in Central Florida and
regional television ads targeting specific voters in specific counties
- - though he declined to identify them.

'Nobody buys more advertising in the state of Florida than me,'' he
said. 'I know the groups I need to reinforce, and I know what I need
to tell them.'' Adelson bankrolled Newt Gingrich in the 2012
Republican presidential primaries, then gave tens of millions of
dollars to nominee Mitt Romney. He also gave nearly $1 million to
Florida Republican candidates and PACs during the 2010 and 2012
election cycles.

So far this year, Adelson has made only two forays into Florida
politics, according to the Division of Elections $2.5 million to fight
Amendment 2 and $6,000 to the Republican Party.

Representatives of Drug Free Florida did not respond to request for
comment about their campaign plans.

Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at  Times
researchers Caryn Baird and Natalie Watson contributed to this report.
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