In September 2014, Luigi Costello of Sarasota was a United for Care volunteer, pacing a sidewalk on busy Manatee Avenue in Bradenton, holding big signs in each hand. At the time Costello was not typical of the block of voters who were coveted for Amendment 2. He is now.
“It’s about compassion,” Costello said.
Florida’s baby boomer generation is driving Amendment 2 across the finish line, according to two polls, a huge shift in support for medical marijuana that was missing two years ago when the initiative was courting younger voters.
Overall support for Amendment 2 among likely voters was pegged at 77 percent in early October by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Laboratory. A poll released Thursday for United for Care by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research indicated 74 percent favored Amendment 2.
"Importantly, support today is 13 percent greater than internal surveys taken three weeks from the 2014 election,” said Kevin Atkins, pollster for Anzalone Liszt Grove. “Amendment 2 looks poised to finish strong this year."
Each poll showed strong support across party lines and also revealed Florida’s older populations are on board for medical pot.
“The strongest support comes from the voters 34 years old and younger, but even likely voters 65 and older are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana," said Dr. Michael Binder, PORL’s director.
PORL’s poll showed voters ages 45 to 55 supported Amendment 2 by 85 percent; 56-65 by 75 percent; and 65 and up by 70 percent. Roughly 98 percent from ages 18-34 and 81 percent between 35-44 said they expected to vote yes.
Florida’s threshold to adopt an amendment is 60 percent.
“Voters recognize it is time to do what legislature failed to do and pass a compassionate medical marijuana law letting doctors use their best judgement for their seriously debilitated patients,” Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, said in an email statement.
Florida would be the 26th state to legalize full-strength cannabis for patients afflicted with debilitating medical conditions that include cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and glaucoma.
The polls also seem to reflect a shift in strategy that United for Care founder John Morgan, the Orlando attorney, acknowledged at a press conference in January.
“The good thing about getting old is you can talk to people your age and tell them, ‘Look, we’re the ones who are going to benefit,’” Morgan said. “It’s going to be our wife, our husband, our sister who’s going to need this.”
Amendment 2 was backed by nearly 3.4 million votes but lost in 2014 partly because younger voters — a sharp focus in the campaign — failed to turn out in numbers that United for Care expected. United for Care started targeting the no votes with a revised petition in January 2015. Then the state’s legislative session abruptly closed three months later, leaving a longshot medical marijuana bill on the table.
“That 42 percent [who voted no] will undoubtedly understand that this medicine will not go into the hands of children without a several-step process, [including] a signed parental consent form,” Morgan told The Daily Fray last year.
So far United for Care is beating opponents in contributions. Drug Free Florida had received $3,430,482, according to Ballotpedia, including $1 million from Mel Sembler, a former U.S. ambassador, St. Petersburg developer, and longtime anti-pot crusader. United for Care has raised $5,507,439, including roughly $2.6 million from Morgan’s law firm. The initiative also gained a $1 million boost in late September from New Approach, a pro-pot activist group.
“In 2014, a last-minute opposition media campaign was credited with sinking a similar amendment and causing it to fail,” Binder said when PORL’s results were released Oct. 11.
Hasta la vista