Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Marijuana Hurdle Is Cleared

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Marijuana Hurdle Is Cleared

Article excerpt

MEDICAL USES: Enough signatures to get on the ballot ... if the court allows it

Medical marijuana supporters cleared a huge hurdle Friday in their effort to put a constitutional amendment on Florida's ballot in November, but a major obstacle remains.

The ballot initiative had collected 710,508 certified signatures as of Friday afternoon, according to the state Division of Elections Web site, comfortably eclipsing the required figure of 683,149.

Attention now turns to the Florida Supreme Court, where opponents are challenging the ballot language as misleading and in violation of a state law requiring that constitutional amendments be narrowly tailored to a single issue.

The justices must rule by April 1. Florida's highest court has rejected amendments in the past because of confusing or misleading ballot language.

Regardless of how the court rules, the successful petition drive is a significant accomplishment for a movement that once was on the political fringe.

"It's an enormous lift and an enormous achievement no matter what happens from here on out," said Ben Pollara, director of the United for Care campaign. "This is a history-making moment. Our campaign has really changed the dialogue in the state of Florida."

Activists such as Manatee County residents Robert and Cathy Jordan have been working to legalize medical marijuana in Florida for years. The Jordans remember trying to gather signatures on the causeway to Anna Maria Island during a petition drive in 1998, when most people ignored them.

"We've never seen this much momentum," Robert said. "It makes us feel like we've been right all along."

Personal-injury lawyer John Morgan financed the latest medical marijuana push. His dying father used marijuana to help relieve the pain from esophageal cancer and emphysema.

"Thank God for John Morgan; he's the one that got this thing talking," Jordan said. "When you have the money, it shows what you can do."

Morgan and his law firm gave nearly $2.8 million to the petition effort in contributions and loans. …

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