United for Care Chairman, Ben Pollara, still verbally massaging the press to to get medical marijuana passed in 2016. God help proponents.
By Jacob Engels
Super-lawyer John Morgan is not about to give up on medical marijuana in the Sunshine State, despite the defeat on Election Day last month – and based on what we know, that’s a bad thing for those like me who support some kind of workable drug law reform that would make marijuana available to those who are in pain or suffering in Florida. Once leading handily in the polls, the campaign for Amendment 2 morphed into a grotesque vanity vehicle for Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan and his law firm.
Since November 4, observers have reached a consensus that the only way for medical marijuana to happen in the state is for Morgan to completely separate himself from the issue – and for his Sancho Panza, Ben Pollara to do the same to some extent.
“I mean, let’s be honest. The last person that House and Senate leaders want to hear from on this issue is the guy who bankrolled Charlie Crist and financed many of their opponents. The only people who hate Morgan more than Republicans are the many Democrats he pledged money to and delivered nothing. Pollara is a “fundraiser with scant campaign experience,” a longtime Tallahassee insider told us Monday.
Pollara, who Morgan enlisted to help pass the measure, has been held responsible for steering the Amendment 2 push from a bipartisan push to a GOTV machine for Democrats. Some NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) volunteers complained about agreeing to work for Amendment 2 and instead being shunted off to canvass for the Charlie Crist campaign.
While the generic question of medicinal marijuana polled at 88%, the actual ballot language for Amendment 2 polled as high as 72% after the measure made the ballot. Curiously, the campaign for an amendment that required a projected 56% of Republicans to get to 60% statewide made no effort to communicate bipartisan or Republican support for the measure.
Many Republicans who supported the effort like State Senator Paula Dockery and Wendy Bitner – wife to beloved former Republican Party of Florida chairman Dave Bitner (who died of ALS a few years ago) were not featured in radio, print, or television advertisements trying to appeal to Republican voters, nor were they asked to do surrogate speaking.
The biggest push for Amendment 2 should have been in October – breast cancer awareness month. Where were the advertisements that included mothers, daughters, aunts and grandmothers who were suffering and could have benefitted from medical marijuana? This is a population who could benefit from medical marijuana. Why were none of these courageous faces helping get the message out?
Like many, I voted for Amendment 2, as flawed as it was. Those who reject the 60% threshold because the recent failure of Amendment 2, which racked up 58% but failed to pass – should vent their wraith on those who drafted a flawed amendment that contained vulnerabilities and the incompetent campaign put in charge of passing it. After delaying the proposed amendment language, Florida personal injury attorney John Morgan was forced to pay top dollar for petition circulators, spending $4 million in an effort that should have cost $2 million had it been started earlier, wasting more money that could have been used on advertise and get-out-the-vote vote efforts. Perhaps if that extra $2 million funded TV in key markets, 2 percent of voters could have been swayed.
Although Morgan told the Miami Herald, “I can get the money. I have the money. I will be joined by people with money who will help,” and this “I’ve been very fortunate in life, and I can make it happen,” his contribution to the fall campaign was minimal as he diverted substantial monies to the campaign of Charlie Crist – rather than putting his money where his mouth was. In other words he didn’t “make it happen.”
The few campaign ads the Amendment 2 campaign did run, were mostly in Orlando where Morgan has his personal injury law practice, and featured John Morgan and his brother – rather than real patients who would actually benefit from medicinal marijuana. Morgan has even boasted to several intimates that the Amendment 2 ads featuring him and his brother have netted his law firm $5 million from new clients.
A drunken rant by Morgan, which went viral – underlined that the marijuana in question would not be medicinal but recreational, further harming the campaign and bolstering concerns of the opposing No on 2 campaign.
Now, it’s Pollara who has started to reach out to several legislators to find out how medical weed can get passed through the legislative process rather than a ballot initiative – one of them being a high-ranking Republican, the other a well positioned Senate Democrat. Pollara started making contact over two weeks ago. There could not be a worse messenger…
In both instances, Pollara has made little headway with either elected official. Several sources in Tallahassee say it’s blatantly obvious that Pollara is being sent on Morgan’s behalf. Lobbyist registrations and filings show that as of Monday December 1st, Pollara is not registered to lobby with the state, which might also explain why elected officials are wary about taking his calls or setting meetings with him.
An employee at the lobbyist registration office in Tallahassee told us that individuals are allowed to submit in person or by mail and that you can only begin lobbying once the office is in receipt of your paperwork.
“It is possible that someone like Mr. Pollara could have already mailed in his paperwork, but we do not currently have anything from him,” according to the employee.
With mail only taking two days to get anywhere in the state of Florida if sent from within the state, it’s interesting to find that Mr. Pollara’s name is not listed in the online database of individuals currently permitted to lobby in the state of Florida. This means that Mr. Pollara is potentially operating as a lobbyist illegally.
“Sometimes we have trouble processing the registration fee or have issues with information provided on the paperwork. In that case, we send everything back to the individual applying and ask them to fix those matters before they begin lobbying.”
If Mr. Pollara and Mr. Morgan intend on making a serious attempt at convincing the legislator to craft a bill that legalizes medical marijuana in the state, they should at the very least make sure they are doing so in a legal manner. Maybe it’s a paperwork snafu, or maybe Mr. Pollara is counting on me, and you to not care if he lobbies legislators illegally.
Either way, it’s hardly the way for proponents of medical marijuana to start exploring their options after a painful defeat at the ballot box and John Morgan and Ben Pollara are hardly the men this state needs out in front pushing for medical marijuana for Floridians in need.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org