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Key to Pot Vote: Turnout, Not Political Party

Samples of medical marijuana shown on display
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Need an example of how incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott and his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, are trying to attract every possible vote?

Ask them about medical marijuana. Neither candidate avoids the issue. But they do play it safe.

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

  “I’m going to vote against it. But it’s going to be on the ballot. All the citizens of the state have the right to vote whichever way they think,” Scott told Tampa’s Fox 13 News this past June.

And there’s Crist, no stranger to the well-rehearsed reply.

“If you want somebody who is compassionate, particularly about people in pain and that may be suffering, then you want Charlie Crist as your governor, a guy who supports medical marijuana, because it’s the right thing to do,” he told Orlando’s Fox 35 News last month.

But the people campaigning for and against the amendment say the candidates' takes on the campaign trail or during Wednesday's debate don't matter. If 60 percent of Florida's voters say yes to legalizing medical marijuana on Nov. 4, the amendment becomes part of the state's Constitution.

Ben Pollara is director of United for Care, a pro-Amendment 2 group. With some polls showing the yes vote at or near 60 percent, he says teaming with party candidates won't help legalize pot as a medical treatment for people with debilitating illnesses.

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Ben Pollara, campaign manager of United for Care

“So we’re trying to get our voters out, whether they are Republican, Democrat, Communist, Klingon, whatever they are, we are trying to get our voters out, the yes voters - not necessarily Democrats or Republicans,” Pollara said.

People who support medical marijuana tend to favor Democratic candidates, said Susan McManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. But it appears Floridians are not so party-centric on this issue, she said.

“Some are tying it to the governor’s race, but others are just looking at it as an independent issue. And it probably is the case that the younger people are looking more at it as an independent issue and older people are  looking at it as tied more to the governor’s race.”

Those younger voters? College students are an enormous target for the pro-Amendment 2 camp and its biggest supporter, Orlando attorney John Morgan. Last week, his "For the Patients" bus tour stopped at five state university campuses for rallies.

McManus says that strategy has worked in the past.

"I can guarantee that the advertising on the pro side will be intense on college campuses,” she said. “And one of the things we learned from the 2012 presidential race was that college students, at the end, came out in much larger numbers than had been anticipated.”

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for the No On 2 campaign

Families are a major focus for the No On 2 campaign. Spokeswoman Sarah Bascom says the final few weeks will be spent reaching people who believe the Amendment language is vague and opens the door to the legalization of recreational pot.

"I believe a lot of families and mothers and parents of children who are in middle school and high school – all of them, they understand what this could mean for the future of Florida,” Bascom said.

Still, it's impossible to take the partisan politics out of Amendment 2 issue. Morgan, who has poured millions into the ballot issue, is a major Democratic donor. And Crist - the Democratic nominee - is an attorney for Morgan's law firm.

Pollara says Morgan is pushing for Amendment 2 in memory of his late father and for his brother, who is paralyzed.

“John is not doing this for politics. John is doing this for charity and for his family. He started getting involved in this campaign before Charlie was a candidate, back when John was still trying to persuade Senator Nelson to run for governor,” he said. “So there’s no linkage between the two campaigns.”

And the opposition to Amendment 2 recently has received $4 million from Republican donor and billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Bascom says while the No On 2 campaign appreciates this support, it won't guarantee anything.

“Everyone has had speculation. The difference is with this, is that you can typically say how Republicans vote and how Democrats vote,” she said. “What these polls don’t tell you is if they actually show up to vote or if they are going to turn out.”

That uncertainty - for both sides - guarantees that they will be drumming up support until the very last minute, McManus said.

“Initially it was just seen as one-sided, it would help get out the pro-Amendment 2 crowd,” she said. “But now with the other money coming in, and the No ads really catching fire, it’s seen as a get out the vote tool for both.”

Mary Shedden is news director at WUSF.