Ben Pollara, United for Care



New Approach, $1 million boost for medical marijuana

By JOHN HOWELL The Daily Fray
October 2, 2016 3:25 pm

With the clock winding down for Florida’s hopeful medical marijuana patients and advocates, United for Care received a $1 million boost Friday and a potential Nov. 8 difference-maker against deep-pocketed Amendment 2 opponents.

The contribution came from New Approach, a spokeswoman for United for Care said, and is the largest one-time donation to United for Care.

MedicalmarijuanaHand.jpg“It's going to be put to good use very quickly,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care.

New Approach has provided financial support for medical marijuana initiatives and cannabis legalization efforts in several other states, including Washington, Massachusetts, and Oregon. The political action committee was spearheaded by philanthropist Peter Lewis, the former head of Progressive Insurance who died in 2013.

Political polling in favor of Amendment 2 appears strong but remains tentative. The initiative was defeated in 2014 by 2 percentage points despite late polling that indicated far more than 60 percent of Florida voters — the constitutional threshold for approval — were on board for medical marijuana.

In July, a poll on behalf of United for Care showed 77 percent of likely voters favored Amendment 2. A St. Leo University poll in September showed roughly 69 percent were in support — up from 65 percent in a June survey.

The contribution from New Approach, Pollara said, will help make sure “our message is on television across the state and that Floridians understand this is about putting medical decisions back in the hands of doctors and patients and out of the hands of politicians."

Drug Free America spent roughly $7.5 million to counter United for Care’s initiative in 2014 and promised in April to raise $10 million to stop United for Care’s revised amendment.

In September, the Drug Free Florida Committee spent more than $1.8 million, mostly in advertising, to sway voters against the initiative, according to the News Service of Florida. Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, also a leading donor in 2014, pitched in $1 million.

Earlier this year, Tampa Bay developer Mel Sembler and a family trust associated with the daughter of Publix founder George Jenkins contributed roughly $2 million to Drug Free Florida. At the time, John Morgan, the Orlando attorney and architect for United for Care, said, “I've got a message for [Drug Free America]. Bring it on. No amount of money and lies are going to stop us from winning this time."

Morgan invested about $4 million of his own money to support Amendment 2 two years ago. He is digging deep again, so far contributing more than $2.6 million.

“I’m spending a fortune right now,” Morgan told the News Service of Florida. "I don’t know what the number will be until the month’s over."

Anti-medical marijuana pamphlets from Drug Free Florida started arriving in mailboxes in mid-September, Florida Politics reported. “Vote No on 2” also held a press conference last week in Miami Beach that included former state Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell and state Sen. Jack Latvala. A Clearwater Republican, Latvala also voted against the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act (Charlotte's Web), the non-euphoric medical marijuana treatment that was signed into law in June 2014 but remains on hold because of legal entanglements.

"Former Justice Bell is deserving of the utmost respect for his service and legal acumen, but on this issue, he's simply another voter,” Pollara said. “The only Judges that are relevant in this conversation are the seven current members of the Supreme Court, all of whom approved of Amendment 2's constitutionality in their unanimous opinion."

Latvala is also appearing in television ads for Vote No on 2.

"If the legislature had done their job in the first place, Senator Latvala wouldn't have an amendment to oppose. They didn't," Pollara said. "If Senator Latvala is displeased that this issue is now before voters as a constitutional amendment, perhaps he should reflect on why the legislature failed to enact the people's will."


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