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It’s Official – Medical Marijuana is on the Ballot in Florida for 2016

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November 2014 medical marijuana was on the ballot in Florida for the first time – many families and individuals were hopeful that this would finally mean they would get access to some much needed relief. After months of petition gathering, struggles with Supreme Court approval, and a campaign that seemed to be attacked and nitpicked at every turn – the initiative lost by only 2%.

The chance at legal access to medicine that could change the quality of life for thousands of citizens was so close – I remember refreshing the statistics until the vote was over, watching the number go from 64% to 63% and eventually drop under 60%. With less than half an hour left I knew we had lost – and by the time the polls closed, we had just over 58% of the vote.

One of the worst parts about that? In any other state, 58% would have been a landslide win – but in Florida there is a required 60-40 ruling and anything below that just isn’t good enough, no matter how much of a majority it is. Florida is set up that way because they want it to be difficult to change the constitution, they want to be sure that only major changes that are widely agreed upon make it through.

While anti-legalization groups celebrated, people that had been waiting for this for so long had to come to terms with the fact that there was still no relief, no compassion. The only hope for a small portion of people was the Charlotte’s Web law which would allow low-THC marijuana to be grown and sold for epilepsy, other seizure disorders, and the terminally ill.

Unfortunately, that same situation is no closer to providing relief than it was when it was passed 2 years ago. It’s really sad, but the truth is they’re wasting time and putting it off and putting it off – and in the United for Care press conference January 28th we heard their opinion: Charlotte’s Web was a trick – a decoy of sorts.

After all, those who were uncertain about legalizing medical marijuana saw Charlotte’s Web as their opportunity to vote “no” and not feel any guilt. The people who need it most will have access no matter what – but the truth is the demographic of people who would actually benefit from the low-THC strain is very small in comparison to those who would benefit from a strain higher in THC.

The good news? John Morgan made a point to ensure people that he would return for the 2016 election – medical marijuana would be on the ballot and it will be legalized in Florida. He made good on that promise last summer when United for Care got together again, starting their petition gathering months earlier than they did for the 2014 campaign.

It was many long months of signature gathering, but after collecting over 1 million signatures, of which they needed 683,000+ to be from registered Florida voters. That goal was met and confirmed last week – United for Care is on the ballot and awaiting the designation of Amendment 2 once again.

So with this success, where do we find United for Care now?

“The near future, we’re really trying to turn this campaign from a petition gathering effort into a general election campaign.” Ben Pollara (campaign manager) said in an exclusive phone interview with The Marijuana Times. “Basically making sure that we have all our ducks in a row for a statewide campaign, putting our message forward.”

In the recent press conference there had been mention that TV, radio and the internet were going to be their main means of communicating their message come fall. They also made note that last time they were relying heavily on the hope that they could get the younger generation out to vote – especially since this is something many younger people believe to be right.

That didn’t work out well last time however and this time they will be focusing more efforts into educating the population aged 60-80 who are most likely to benefit from the reform.

Pollara made note that one of the next steps will be to take a new public opinion poll as there has not been one since the 2014 election. This will give them a better idea of where they stand and where their efforts will be best placed when it comes to getting their message out.

“Paid advertising will be targeted, not entirely, but mostly to persuading those voters (age 60-80) that medical marijuana is the right thing to do and it’s not something that’s scary.”

Knowing last time around there was a lot of trouble with anti-legalization campaigns like Drug Free America and No on 2 who were extremely persistent in 2014, I asked Pollara if he was anticipating a lot of trouble with them the second time around.

“I don’t know, I’ve got to run my campaign, I can’t be guessing and wringing my hands over what the opposition is going to do.”

Pollara – as well as many of us – are very confident in this campaign and this initiative. Mistakes were made in 2014, but that was the first try – this time they know where they went wrong and they have already decided that they aren’t going to give into the “battle” between pro-marijuana and anti-marijuana groups.

“One of the things that I’ve found is that we don’t have to outspend them or even match them dollar for dollar, but we have to do a better job than we did in 2014 of effectively communicating our message. We’re not going to be out there – at least not until the big communications – responding to their messages because there is no need to.

We need to get our message out that marijuana helps people and that communication should be made between a doctor and a patient. They can push out all the negativity and misinformation that they want, but as long as we’re able to get the facts out there and our message of compassion out there we’re going to win.”

I have to say, I don’t disagree. There is no point in giving into the game that anti-legalization groups play. All they do is twist words and tell half-truths, convincing people who simply don’t know any better that marijuana is a dangerous drug. United for Care is prepared to combat that with nothing but the truth, as it should be.

For those of you readers who live here in Florida – I want to say thank you if you signed the petition to help get United for Care on the 2016 ballot. It’s a long road ahead of us – and even once the initiative passes we will still have an uphill battle to get everything in place in a timely manner – but with hundreds of thousands of people waiting (rather than the few thousand who benefit from Charlotte’s Web), I don’t think the state will take too long to act on it.

If you’re interested in helping with the United for Care campaign there are two ways you can do so. They do take monetary contributions – most of which is likely going to educating voters. If you can’t afford to make a monetary contribution, but you would still like to help out, here’s Ben’s advice:

“We encourage everybody to go on our website, UnitedforCare.org, and sign up as a volunteer. We don’t have a Tampa office yet but we’re likely to open on in the next couple of months. There will certainly be something for folks to do if people want to help we can put them to work – taking phone calls or talking to neighbors or whatever. Definitely there are ways (to help out) without contributing money – we need people’s time as much as we need their money.”

So there you have it – United for Care is sitting back, waiting, and preparing – but it won’t be long until we start seeing more Vote Yes on 2 in the media. If you live in Florida – even if you or no one you know will benefit from this law, please take the time in November to vote.

Even if it’s not your family – imagine if it was? Imagine if it was you who was waiting for medicine that doesn’t cause more symptoms than the ones it’s trying to relieve. If that were you, you would be begging people to vote yes.

Even if you’re the guy who says “will my vote really count?” or “if it were recreational, I’d vote” – remember, your vote does count – we were less than 2% away from winning in 2014 and every state with recreational sales started off with a medical marijuana program.

This benefits all of us – it’s our right to have safe medicine. It’s our right to access medicine that works. This is to save people’s lives and quality of life. This is our state, it’s our right, and it’s our freedom. Vote yes on 2 November 2016!

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