Pubdate: Sun, 02 Nov 2014
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Author: Michael Pollick


While polls this summer indicated widespread support for medical 
marijuana in Florida, the latest surveys appear to show backing for 
Amendment 2 slipping amid a drumbeat of recent advertisements from 
opposition groups.

Even United for Care, which has been leading a charge for medical 
marijuana here and once basked in polls that showed nine in 10 
Floridians supported the constitutional amendment, has taken on a 
renewed urgency in the days leading up to the election Tuesday .

"We are behind on our fundraising goal," Ben Pollara, United for 
Care's campaign manager, wrote last week. "I literally need to raise 
a couple of thousand more in the next couple of hours, or we're not 
going to have everything in place."

Opponents, meanwhile, contend they have succeeded in convincing 
voters that allowing medical marijuana would result in a host of 
unintended - and potentially dangerous - consequences and public 
health problems.

"We believe the message has gotten through to the electorate that 
this amendment is not about helping the truly sick," said Sarah 
Bascom, spokeswoman for Drug Free Florida and Vote No on 2. "It was 
always intended to be a full-blown legalization of marijuana."

If 60 percent of Sunshine State voters approve it, Florida would 
become the 24th state in the nation to allow medical marijuana.

Florida would be significant, too, in that it could serve as a 
potential linchpin for national legislation on the issue.

Advocates and state estimates say at least 400,000 patients who 
suffer from a variety of debilitating medical conditions could 
benefit if marijuana is classified as a medicine.

Mary Hoch, a 52-year-old Sarasota businesswoman diagnosed with 
multiple sclerosis three years ago, is among them. While she does not 
currently use marijuana to treat her MS, which can cause muscle 
stiffness, pain, mobility issues and difficulty swallowing, she would 
like to have the option.

"How would you like to walk around all day and feel like thousands of 
little pins are sticking in your arms and legs?" Hoch said, adding 
that her research showed she could halve her prescription medications 
by using marijuana as a treatment.

Both supporters and opponents agree that Vote No on 2-sponsored ads 
that have targeted what the group describes as "loopholes" in the 
amendment have shaved support for the measure in recent weeks.

In one, Vote No on 2 contends the amendment would allow children 
greater access to marijuana. In another, it says illegal drug dealers 
would legitimately be allowed to sell pot without fear of prosecution.

The key question in the waning days of the campaign is how much 
support - if any - has been eroded, and how much impact the ads have had.

Like the governor's race pitting Gov. Rick Scott against Charlie 
Crist, many analysts say it is too close to call.

"Sixty percent is very difficult to get," said Greg Steube, 
R-Sarasota, a state representative starting his third term in office. 
"I have always said I think it will fail by a couple of points. It 
will be a very close vote."

But political analysts predict the issue could prompt a 
higher-than-anticipated voter turnout for the midterm election, which 
historically has weak participation.

"Peripheral voters, who are often indecisive independents or weak 
Democrats or weak Republicans, may be motivated to come to the polls 
because of the medical marijuana measure," said Daniel Smith, a 
University of Florida political scientist.

The outcome of the medical marijuana debate may come down to tactics, 
analysts say.

After one Quinnipiac University poll earlier this year showed the 
amendment had a 94 percent approval rating from Democrats and 80 
percent approval from Republicans likely to vote, the group targeted 
the language within the amendment - and stayed away from a scientific 
discussion of potential medical benefits.

Conversely, analysts say that while United For Care did a masterful 
job of securing the required 800,000 signatures needed to get the 
measure on the ballot, its campaign has been pocked with inconsistency.

"If you wanted to write a story about how to run a campaign, the Vote 
No on 2 people have been genius, they've been fantastic," said 
Michael Binder, whose poll from the University of North Florida in 
early October had the amendment passing by seven points.

"But the Yes people, United for Care, have been terrible, just 
awful," Binder said. "It is such a bad campaign."

Last week, United for Care issued a "cease and desist" request to 
statewide television stations over an ad it did not want aired. The 
group maintained it violated Federal Communications Commission rules.

The trouble was, the video in question from Vote No on 2 appeared 
online, on YouTube and other outlets, and not on television.

United for Care's Pollara later acknowledged the mistake.

Meanwhile, a recent Tampa Bay Times/University of Florida poll 
predicted the amendment would fail with just under 50 percent voting 
in favor of it.

"If it passes, with 63 percent or 64 percent or something like that, 
that means we got lucky in the people in the sample, or we did a 
better job of targeting likely voters," Binder said.

As the campaign heated up this fall, the dryly worded proposal became 
the subject of a circus-like atmosphere.

At a debate held in Bradenton by the League of Women Voters, cannabis 
supporters showed up wearing Yes on 2 T-shirts and waving "Yes on 2!" placards.

They cheered when Pollara spoke, and booed Vote No on 2 state 
coalition director Jessica Spencer.

Elsewhere, Orlando attorney John Morgan - who was instrumental in 
getting the amendment on the ballot, spending $4 million of his own 
money to organize supporters initially - boarded a bus for a 
statewide tour of college campuses to drum up support.

On the other side of the issue, Drug Free Florida has enlisted law 
enforcement, a key statewide medical association and others to sway voters.

"If this passes, you'll be able to get medical marijuana for back 
pain, or it could be neck pain, it could even be menstrual cramps," 
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, Greg Steube's father, told a 
group gathered for a lunchtime debate over medical marijuana in 
Lakewood Ranch last month .

Most recently, it has turned to the airwaves, armed with a $4.5 
million war chest from Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

United for Care, however, has spent little on TV ads of its own of 
late. Instead, it appears to be relying primarily on testimonials 
from people like Hoch, and word of mouth.

Hoch, who identifies herself as a conservative Republican, has to 
date continued to work in banking and real estate despite her MS. She 
battles pain and fatigue daily, she says.

"I want to be able to access this medicine, so that I can continue to 
work, as it progresses," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom