Florida medical-marijuana plan named after Parrish woman

Initiative could alter the course of the upcoming Governor's race

mcaputo@miamiherald.comFebruary 26, 2013 

As many as seven in 10 Florida voters support a state constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana -- more than enough to ensure passage and possibly affect the governor's race -- according to a new poll from a group trying to put the measure on the 2014 ballot.

Medical pot's sky-high approval cuts across party and demographic lines, with Republican support the lowest at a still-strong 56 percent, the poll conducted for People United for Medical Marijuana, or PUFMM, shows.

The outsized support of Democrats and independents brings overall backing of the amendment to 70 percent; with only 24 percent opposed, according to the poll obtained by The Miami Herald.

Florida Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, is proposing the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, named for a Parrish woman who has fought for the past 16 years for the legalization of medical cannabis in Florida. Jordan, who has had Lou Gehrig's Disease since 1986, and is in a wheelchair, says the drug helps her manage the disease.

Even though there may be movement toward a medicinal pot bill, patients who say they need it now, are not immune to existing laws.

Jordan's husband, Robert, told the Herald that his Parrish home was raided shortly after 2 p.m. Monday by deputies and detectives with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office drug intervention unit who wore ski masks.

No arrests were made Monday but a total of 23 marijuana plants, including two waist-high nearly mature plants that Cathy Jordan uses for her treatment plan, and a crop of seedlings, were confiscated by authorities, Robert Jordan said.

When reached Monday night, Dave Bristow, a sheriff's office spokesman, could not confirm the raid or whether arrests were made.

Robert Jordan said no arrests were made, but charges are pending.

Clemens said Monday he was angry about the raid on the Jordan house.

"Do we want to be the kind of state that raids the home of a woman in a wheelchair in order to enforce outdated laws?" Clemens said Monday night.

Clemens said his bill would establish the framework for the legalization of marijuana in Florida for very serious diseases, like Lou Gehrig's disease, MS, cancer and others.

"It would not be for a sore elbow," Clemens said.

It would also lay out details how many plants a person may be able to grow personally and gives structure to how medical cannabis farms would operate, Clemens said.

Regionally, voters from the Miami and Orlando areas want medical marijuana the most.

Non-Hispanic white women, blacks and Hispanics -- all Democratic-leaning -- are the most-likely to back the measure and could be more likely to turn out to vote in two years if the medical marijuana makes the ballot.

"Supporters of the proposed amendment are less certain to cast ballots in the 2014 governor's race," David Beattie, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson's pollster, wrote in an analysis of the poll of 600 registered voters taken Jan. 30-Feb. 3 by his firm, Hamilton Campaigns.

"The proposal to allow the medical use of marijuana could provide a message contrast in the governor's race," Beattie wrote, "heightening its effectiveness as a turnout mechanism."

But, Beattie warns PUFMM in a memo, "don't frame turnout efforts on the passage of the ballot initiative in a partisan way."

To that end, former-Republican-operative-turned-Libertarian Roger Stone is planning to join PUFMM's efforts to give it a bipartisan feel.

A longtime backer of marijuana legalization, Stone is seriously considering a run for governor, where he'll likely advocate for the initiative called "Right to Marijuana for Treatment Purposes."

On the Democratic side, former Nelson and Hillary Clinton fundraiser Ben Pollara is signing up as the group's treasurer. Pollara said they've had discussions with Eric Sedler, managing partner at Chicago-based ASGK Public Strategies, which he started in 2002 with former White House advisor David Axelrod, still an advisor to President Barack Obama.

"The poll numbers were very encouraging," Pollara said. "But it's still a Herculean effort."

That's because Florida's Legislature and voters have made it tougher than ever to place measures on the ballot by citizen petition. PUFMM needs to collect the valid signatures of 683,149 Florida voters. That could cost up to $3.5 million.

Right now, PUFMM has raised just $41,000 and has collected only 100,000 signatures, not all of which are valid. Some might be too old because they were collected as far back as 2009.

PUFMM's Florida director, Kimberly Russell, said the group hopes that this poll and the top-notch campaign minds could turn things around.

"If we get this on the ballot, we have a great chance of getting this passed," Russell said. "The more these pass in other states, the more people support it everywhere else."

So far, 18 states plus the District of Columbia have medical-marijuana laws, including Republican-leaning states like Arizona.

Support appears to have increased in Florida since 2011, when a pollster for Republican Gov. Rick Scott -- who opposes medical marijuana -- surveyed the issue. Pollster Tony Fabrizio found support was strong in Florida, 57-38 percent.

But passing a constitutional amendment in Florida is tougher than in many states, in large part due to the 60 percent threshold.

"If there was organized opposition and $5 million, you could beat this thing," said John Sowinski, a long-time Florida citizen-initiative consultant.

Sowinski noted that the proposal might be perceived as too broad. While it specifies certain ailments -- from Alzheimer's to Crohn's disease to HIV/AIDS -- but it also allows marijuana for "other diseases and conditions when recommended by a physician."

"The weakness in the proposed amendment isn't helping AIDS patients get medicine to cope with pain," he said. "It's the language that's so broad it could allow doctors to simply recommend marijuana for almost anything. Many people still want drugs controlled."

A plurality of Florida voters, about 49, percent say pot should remain illegal while about 40 percent say it should be legalized, the poll shows.

The pollster, Beattie, warned in his memo that the campaign should frame the effort in medical and personal terms; don't say "legalize" and don't say "drug."

But, when asked if marijuana should be regulated and taxed like alcohol and cigarettes; 68 percent favored it and 27 percent opposed.

Asked if marijuana should be a "ticketed offense like speeding or running a red light," 48 percent approved and 42 percent disapproved .

For two years, the Florida House refused to hear a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed people to vote on the issue.

Clemens said he plans this week to release conventional legislation -- instead of a measure designed for voters -- to decriminalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Clemens said legislators didn't like the proposed amendment because it wasn't specific enough. So now he'll present specifics by way of a bill with a fellow Democrat, Rep. Katie Edwards of Plantation.

A whopping 81 percent of voters said doctors should be able to recommend marijuana to patients without fear of arrest or loss of license, while 14 percent were opposed. The doctor item was the most-popular polled.

A fifth of those opposed said they'd change their mind and vote yes if a doctor recommended marijuana to a family member suffering from a "serious illness," the Hamilton Strategies poll shows.

Attitudes might be evolving as Florida continues to draw retirees who came of age in the 1960s. An 18-year-old in 1967's "Summer of Love" is 64 today.

"Florida is changing," said Roger Stone, the libertarian consultant to PUFMM who might run for governor. "But one thing remains the same: We have a lot of older voters. And a lot of those older voters don't want the government making their healthcare decisions."

"My wife is not happy," Jordan said. "It really upset her. I am very protective of my wife. She can't feed herself. She got really upset and started crying. None of this should have happened."

Cathy Jordan told the Herald in 1998 that she lights up a marijuana cigarette and smokes it before going to bed each night.

"I regained my appetite after I started smoking," she said at the time. "It helps the pain and helps me to relax."

Robert Jordan, 64, said he had just awoke from a nap in his easy chair when he saw two deputies approach his house with drawn guns.

"I ran out and said, 'What are you doing here?' " Jordan said. "They said, 'We have probable cause. You are growing marijuana.' I said, 'It's medicine for my wife. I know people use that as an excuse, but this is true.' "

Jordan said he came at the deputies hard verbally and they gave back hard.

"I'm no saint," Robert Jordan said. "I'm a 100 percent disabled Vietnam veteran with a bit of an angry streak. We went at it but just verbally."

Jordan said he finally agreed to sign a document allowing authorities to walk through to check if they were operating a "grow house" but there is no indication what might occur next.

"Once they turn the information in, I am subject to arrest," Robert Jordan said. "We have a sign on our front porch indicating that we support Cannabis Action Network, which is a Florida organization to bring public awareness to change marijuana laws. we are trying to do this the right way. Many people use medical pot as a phony thing. But, with my wife, if she doesn't have marijuana in five or six days she goes downhill."

-- Richard Dymond contributed to this report.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service