TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott is against it. Sen. Bill Nelson is for it. Former Gov. Charlie Crist is also a supporter, and the opposition may have just received a boost from former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Political heavyweights are staking out positions on Amendment 2, the ballot measure this fall that will ask Floridians whether medical marijuana should be legal in the state. While an overwhelming majority of civilians support the amendment – 88 percent to 10 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll – familiar names in Florida politics are lining up pretty much along party lines, hoping their good name and statewide recognition might swing voters as they contemplate the fall ballot.
Some pols’ positions are more nuanced. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio opposes Amendment 2, but supported the legalization of the low-THC marijuana strain “Charlotte’s Web” approved by the state Legislature. And good luck wheedling a position out of President Barack Obama. The Office of National Drug Control Policy says the administration “steadfastly opposes” legalization, but the president has said that in states that have approved marijuana in some form, prosecution would not be a priority.
Bush entered the fray last week, with the Drug Free America Foundation posting an announcement that the popular former governor was joining its “Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot” coalition.
“Florida leaders and citizens have worked for years to make the Sunshine State a world-class location to start or run a business, a family-friendly destination for tourism and a desirable place to raise a family or retire,” Bush said in a statement.
“Allowing large-scale marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter to all of these efforts. I believe it is the right of states to decide this issue, and I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November.”
Heavy words from a heavy hitter, but a veteran observer of Florida politics said such endorsements aren’t likely to tip any scales.
“Normally, endorsements have the most impact when people have little information about a subject or a candidate,” said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida.
With trial lawyer John Morgan bankrolling United for Care, the pro-medical pot side, and Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas gaming mogul, pumping millions into the opposition effort, Floridians are going to be inundated with information come the November election.
The Bush name comes with enough cache that a voter who admired the former governor might “take a second look,” said MacManus.
Bush was joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida and the Florida Trucking Association in opposing Amendment 2. Previously, the Florida Police Chief’s Association, Florida Sheriff’s Association and Florida Medical Association gave medical pot the thumbs-down.
Backers of Amendment 2 don’t seem concerned.
“At United for Care we neither actively pursue nor tout political endorsements,” Ben Pollara, head of the pro-Amendment 2 group, wrote the Tampa Tribune in an email. “Our endorsements are the nearly 800,000 registered voters who signed the petition to put Amendment 2 on the ballot, the over 10,000 volunteers who have joined our campaign and the more than 3,500 donors who have contributed to making this effort what it is today.”
After this month’s primaries, voters go to the polls on Nov. 4.