ST. PETERSBURG -- More than half of Florida’s voters support the legalization of medical marijuana, according to an exclusive Bay News 9/Tampa Bay Times/UF Graham Center statewide poll.
The poll, which surveyed 814 Floridians who are likely to vote, found that 58 percent of respondents support medical marijuana. Thirty percent said they oppose it and 9 percent said they haven’t given the subject much thought.
In November, voters will weigh in on the controversial matter, as Amendment 2, which legalizes medical marijuana, will appear on the ballot.
When the poll respondents were asked about Amendment 2, 57 percent of them said they planned to vote yes, while less than a quarter of respondents - 23 percent - said they were going to vote no. Seventeen percent of respondents said they haven’t thought much about it.
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The telephone survey was conducted Aug. 27 through 31 and has a margin of error of 3.4 percent.
While the numbers show widespread support for the legalization of medical marijuana, the poll’s findings indicate that support may not be enough to pass Amendment 2. Sixty percent of voters will need to vote “yes” on the amendment before it becomes law.
The increase in support among Floridians mirrors the national surge in public support in the past several years. California was the first to legalize it in 1996, and since then much of the American West and the Northeast have followed suit. Washington and Colorado recently took the matter a step further, legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
If Amendment 2 passes, Florida will join 23 other states, including Washington DC, in permitting the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Two other states – Ohio and Pennsylvania – are also considering medical marijuana legislation.
'Uphill battle' ahead for medical marijuana advocates
Bay News 9 Democratic political analyst Ana Cruz said medical marijuana supporters face an “uphill battle” in the coming election, as the issue is one that particularly resonates with younger voters.
"Historically it is very difficult to get out young voters in the gubernatorial cycle and it is much easier to do so during the presidential cycle,” she said.
Cruz said that the medical marijuana campaign needs to get younger voters, who don’t traditionally show up at the polls on Election Day, to show up at the polls.
"They support it, and they can say they support it all day long, but if they don’t actually go to the polls to vote for it, then that poses a real problem,” she said.
Cruz said the Amendment 2 campaign will ultimately come down to turnout on Election Day.
Amendment 2’s path to November ballot
Supporters of Amendment 2 collected enough signatures for the initiative to appear on the ballot, but while supporters were gathering those signatures, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged it in court, arguing the wording of the proposal was misleading.
In an 18-page petition, she argued that the amendment title and summary suggests the amendment would allow medical marijuana in “narrow, defined circumstances, and only for patients with ‘debilitating diseases.’
“But if the amendment passed, Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations,” Bondi wrote.
The Florida Supreme Court ultimately disagreed with Bondi, ruling 4-3 in favor of allowing voters to decide on the amendment.
Supporters of medical marijuana also tried a legislative path to legalization this year. Florida lawmakers sponsored a pair of bills - House Bill 859 and Senate Bill 962 - named for Cathy Jordan, a Palmetto woman who uses the drugs to treat symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Both bills died in committee when the legislative session ended in May.
A third bill (Senate Bill 1030 and 1700) legalizing a non-euphoric strain known as Charlotte’s Web did pass both houses, and Gov. Rick Scott signed that bill into law. Charlotte’s Web is a low-THC form of cannabis that is used to treat certain illnesses, such as epilepsy, in children.
High-profile advocates on both sidesThe issue has drawn high-profile advocates on both sides.
Personal injury attorney John Morgan is among those leading the effort to pass Amendment 2. Morgan, who has pledged to pump millions of his personal fortune into the campaign, says medical marijuana is a personal issue for him, citing his father’s battle with esophageal cancer and emphysema.
“One of my brothers said, 'Look, we can go get some marijuana for him,' “ Morgan told our Orlando partners News 13 last year. “He did, and my dad had an appetite. His anxiety was gone, he wasn't nauseated and he ultimately died, but it wasn't a death that was with pain and anxiety and stress. So, I've seen it work, and I know it works.”
Former Gov. Jeb Bush and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd are among those who have come out against the amendment. Judd recently debated Morgan during a public forum sponsored by our partners at the Ledger.
"I don't know anybody that's not compassionate and doesn't want that, but Amendment 2 in its current form worries me," said Judd. "It's my job as your sheriff to say beware of the consequences."
On a special upcoming edition of Bay News 9's Political Connections, we'll break down the amendment, listen to arguments on both sides and run claims about the proposal through PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter.
Send us your questions about the Amendment on Facebook and Twitter - use #BN9amendment2. You may see your questions answered on air.
The special edition of Political Connections all about Amendment 2 airs on Sunday, Sept. 21 at 11 a.m. and replays at 8 p.m.
Polling was weighted by age, party identification and media market, allowing the results to mirror the distribution of age groups, party identification and media market in the Florida Voter File. It was also prepared for News Channel 13, Bay News 9's sister channel in Orlando.