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Last-minute push for medical marijuana signatures

Working with volunteers and paid petitioners, the group pushing for legalized medical marijuana in Florida is working furiously to get the rest of its petitions delivered to election officials, said Ben Pollara, campaign director for United for Care.

He said about 100,000 signatures were turned in today around the state, bringing the total delivered to nearly 800,000. He expects another 100,000 will be dropped off by tomorrow afternoon, with yet another batch turned in by next week.  The petitions include the roughly 150,000 collected before the group temporarily suspended its drive in the fall.

"We should be close to 1 million," Pollara said Monday. Organizers have until 5 p.m. Feb. 1 to get the required 683,149 signatures. The group is aiming for 1 million signed petitions because the rejection rate can be nearly 30 percent due to issues like duplication or out-of-state signees. 

"Most supervisors have told us that if we get the petitions to them by Jan. 15, they would count them," Pollara said.

Hillsborough County had received about 30,000 petitions through Dec. 22, with another 40,000 turned in since then. Craig Latimer, the county's supervisor of elections, said the turn-around time in Hillsborough is about two weeks.

The effort to get a constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot has cost about $3 million, Pollar said, with most of that financed by Orlando personal injury attorney John Morgan

"Eighty-five to 90 cents of every dollar spent has been spent on collection," Pollara said. The group is also paying for drivers to personally drop the petitons off at Florida election sites.

"Barring some disaster, we should have enough signatures to get the amendment on the ballot," Pollara said.

But obstacles remain. With legal challenges from Attorney General Pam Bondi and legislative leadership, the Florida Supreme Court has to decide whether the ballot language is too vague or misleading. The court has until April 1 to make a decision.

While efforts to raise the medical marijuana issue in the legislature have failed in the past, lthe House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will hold a workshop Thursday hear a bill to allow the medical distribution of a specialty strain, known as Charlotte's Web.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Nohlgren contributed to this article.