A medical marijuana group says it has cleared its first major hurdle to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot: Collecting enough voter signatures to trigger Florida Supreme Court review of the initiative's language.
Since July, People United for Medical Marijuana collected at least 110,000 signatures -- well in excess of the 68,314 needed to start the review, said the group's treasurer and director, Ben Pollara.
Pollara said the group, nicknamed PUFMM, will temporarily suspend its paid petition-gathering drive until the court rules on the constitutionality of the proposal, which can't be misleading or cover multiple subjects.
Why halt now?
"You got $150,000 a week to pay to collect signatures?" Pollara asked rhetorically.
A main argument to speed up the review process: The Florida Legislature made petition drives tougher, and therefore more expensive.
PUFMM could actually have as many as 140,000 signatures already by week's end, at which point the outstanding petitions gathered by volunteers and the signature-gathering firm National Voter Outreach should be in.
To win a state constitutional amendment, it takes 60 percent voter approval -- a threshold that polls indicate PUFMM could meet by 10 percentage points.
If approved, Florida would be the 21st state to decriminalize marijuana.
Medical marijuana activists, including PUFMM, recently celebrated the show "Weed" by CNN's doctor, Sanjay Gupta, who reversed his position on medical-marijuana and said the drug could be good medicine for some people -- despite the federal government's claim it has no real medicinal value.
But St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation, already gearing up for a fight with PUFMM, blasted Gupta's show.
“Many drug prevention, policy and treatment experts are confused by Gupta’s position. The big issue is really about what Dr. Gupta is not saying,” Calvina Fay, the foundation's executive director said in a written statement. “He left it unclear whether he opposes the widely abused “medical” marijuana programs now legal in some states. As seen in states that track why people are using marijuana as a so-called medicine, on average, only 10% of the registered users have serious life-threatening diseases. His lack of a formal position on what he is or is not supporting is an irresponsible move for such a highly-regarded physician. Further, the CNN documentary was careless in suggesting positive health and psychological benefits of crude marijuana for which there is little or no scientific evidence,” continued Fay... A golden opportunity was missed to discuss the potential of developing legitimate medicine from some of the compounds in marijuana that can withstand research and be delivered through safe delivery systems in appropriate and controllable dosage amounts."
Also, PUFMM was riven by an internal squabble when Republican-turned-Libertarian consultant Roger Stone broke with the group, saying it's acting like a front for Democrat Charlie Crist should he wish to run for governor.
Pollara denied the charge.