So John Morgan is throwing his political heft — code for megabucks — behind an effort to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.
It's the lift the marijuana lobby has long dreamed about.
Morgan is the perfect mainstream guy for the job. That plump mug of his is as ubiquitous as palm trees, thanks to the considerable air time he buys to promote his Morgan & Morgan law firm on television and radio — not to mention a forest of billboards.
If anybody can take pot from the fringe to the middle of the road in Florida, it's Morgan.
He's a big-time Democrat who writes checks with lots of zeros, but not always to his party.
He's a shrewd businessman who spreads the wealth to Republicans such as Dean Cannon and Chris Dorworth when practicality demands helping out hometown power players.
In other words, he has the ear of a lot of people, as well as a compelling personal story: Morgan's father suffered from emphysema and cancer, his appetite vanquished by the cocktail of prescription medicine he was on at the end of his life, and marijuana gave him some relief.
"John's a prominent business owner, a family man ... he's a very religious Catholic ... John brings a lot of positives to this campaign beyond his ability to write a check and asking his wealthy friends to write a check," said Ben Pollara, a longtime Democratic fundraiser who joined People United for Medical Marijuana about six weeks ago and became its treasurer two weeks ago.
Morgan was motivated by news coverage of a People United poll showing that seven out of 10 Floridians would support a constitutional amendment to support legalizing marijuana for medical use.
"I believe that 90 percent of Republican legislators would vote for this inside the privacy of the voting booth," said Morgan, though he says he doesn't use the drug.
Morgan has become chairman of People United. Founder Kim Russell, who serves on the Orange County Republican Executive Committee, is moving to the vice chairman's role.
Morgan's drive seems genuinely rooted in his father's experience.
"It was a very painful death," Morgan said. "My brother was able to get him marijuana, which enabled him to be able to be settled down and have a serenity he had not enjoyed until that time. I've seen it firsthand."
There's no obvious political upside for Morgan.
The subject of marijuana is still so toxic in Tallahassee that Pollara doesn't expect legislation aimed at legalizing pot for medical reasons to get much of a hearing.
People United's best shot is gathering the nearly 700,000 signatures by February of next year to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Pollara, former state finance director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, estimates it'll take up to $10 million to bankroll the effort.
Personally, I think there are solid arguments on both sides of the medical marijuana debate. I have serious concerns about the potential for abuse. But I also know that our most dangerous drug problem in Florida right now is the epidemic caused by prescription painkillers, not marijuana.
Pollara says the group is looking at crafting language that would force the Legislature to enact some regulation of marijuana dispensaries so that a free-for-all — like what happened in California — doesn't repeat here.
It's that kind of common-sense approach that Morgan says he wants to advocate.
Some have questioned what Morgan's involvement with the issue could mean for Charlie Crist, who works for Morgan's law firm and is widely seen as a Democratic challenger to Gov. Rick Scott.
But Charlie is the ultimate populist, and if People United's polling numbers are even close to accurate, then medical marijuana is a perfect populist issue for Crist — and Morgan.
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