John Morgan vows to battle on

(News-Press.com) - Attorney John Morgan said Wednesday that he's learned some lessons from the failure of his hard-fought crusade to get medical marijuana legalized in Florida, and vows to come back even stronger in 2016.

Morgan spoke in a wide-ranging news conference in Orlando on Wednesday, giving his postmortem on what went wrong with the campaign for Amendment 2, what went right and what the future holds. The amendment lost Tuesday by a vote of 57.6 percent yes and 42.4 percent no. It needed 60 percent to win.

"I'm a risk-taker by nature," Morgan said. "I'm a winner and I lost, but I look at this as not the war, but the first battle of the war."

The good part is that the 57 percent vote is a clear mandate that medical marijuana is something the majority of Floridians want, he said.

Nationwide, marijuana measures gained ground in the election, with medical marijuana being legalized in the island territory of Guam, and Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., voting to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use. "I think it should be legal," Morgan admitted. However, Florida "is not ready for straight up,legalized marijuana. But if I thought it would pass, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

Amendment 2 lost because Nevada billionaire and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson decided to get involved in the election and injected $5.5 million into the Vote No on 2 campaign; mistakes Morgan made in going through the process of getting the amendment on the ballot; and problems voters had with the amendment language, he said.

A major factor was the inability to get the senior vote, he said.

"I didn't communicate with the 65 and older crowd" to let them know that the amendment was really for them, he said. "Don't be scared of it."

His ads should have been better, Morgan said.

Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for the Vote No on 2 campaign, dismissed Morgan's reasons for the measure's failure. "We do not believe anyone voted against it out fear." Claiming that is the reason is disingenuous, she said. "Those that voted against did it because they disagreed with the amendment.

"Have they ever thought to look at the mistakes they made when drafting it, pointed out by many editorial boards, and saying maybe the amendment failing is because of their actions and not others' inactions?"

Bascom said Vote No on 2 is doing its own post-election analysis, and that analysis most likely will stay internal.

"But overall, I would say an informed electorate helped the most," he said.

However, Peter Bergerson, an FGCU political science professor and longtime campaign analyst, said there is credibility to the argument that seniors were against it and that better ads would have helped.

"It was either indirectly or at least widely assumed that this was a youth legalized marijuana issue and not a medical issue that involved marijuana," he said.

The promotion of the amendment was "kind of like a John Morgan crusade," Bergerson said. "I think the model he used to convince people to support it was the same model he used to attract clients to his law business."

Vote No on 2 launched a TV campaign ad blitz in October, blasting the amendment and loopholes the opposition contended it had. The bulk of Adelson's money, donated after Sept. 25 ($3 million), funded the blitz. "A million dollars to him is like me pulling out a 10 (dollar bill)," Morgan said. "He can do whatever he wants and he did." Adelson is the 12th richest man in the world, according to Forbes.

Morgan spent about $4 million and provided in-kind radio advertising and other resources. Most of the money went to gathering more than 700,000 signatures to get on the ballot, he said.

"In the process of getting on the ballot we made mistakes. At the end of the day, they (opposition) really poured money into advertising and we didn't have that kind of money." Now that he's familiar with the process of getting on the ballot, it will go smoother, more quickly and cost less, he said.

Morgan said he is open to tweaking the amendment wording or anything else that will help it pass next time around.

"I'm not a constitutional lawyer. I'm just a hillbilly from Kentucky who works hard," he said. Morgan has asked his constitutional attorney, Jon Mills, to start working on the new amendment.

"A lot of people object not to legalized medical marijuana, but the way the amendment was written," said Susan MacManus, professor of public administration and political science at the University of South Florida. "First of all, we have to see where there is common ground." Another possible step is passing a legislative bill on medical marijuana, she said.

Morgan said he's had conversations about the amendment with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a main spokesperson for the Florida Sheriff's Association, which led a coalition called "Don't Let Florida Go to Pot." The two have debated the issue in public and are friends.

Grady told him, "You know, John, I'm for medical marijuana — just not for the way you had it." Morgan replied, "Good, maybe we can take this up to Tallahassee and show those jackasses how it should be done."

Morgan said he doesn't trust legislators to take action to pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana unless another possible constitutional amendment is "breathing down their necks."

Bergerson said passage of a bill legalizing medical marijuana is not going to happen in the next legislative session.

"For lots of reasons, that would not be very likely," he said. "That is not going to be a high priority in the session. Even with the 57 percent vote, I don't see it as a high priority. They may debate and discuss it."


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