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United for Care says it has signatures to get medical marijuana on ballot

United for Care, the organization working to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot, announced Wednesday night on its web site that it has shifted to campaign mode and has enough signatures to get on the ballot.

"I believe we have collected the petitions we need to get on the ballot. Over 1.1 million in all,'' wrote Ben Pollara on the organization's web site. "This could not have happened without the amazing generosity of our thousands of donors - and in particular, our Chairman, John Morgan, who donated millions to this endeavor."

Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer, and his family contributed more than $2.5 million to the initiative effort, much of it in the final weeks as the group hired hundreds of petition gatherers to collect the signatures needed in time to have them verified by the Feb. 1 deadline.

Elections officials are still in the process of validating the signatures presented by the organization and are expected to reject a few hundred thousand of them. Under state law, the group needs 683,149 valid signatures, and must have its language approved by the Florida Supreme Court in order to make it to the ballot.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz and Gov. Rick Scott have all argued to the court that the justices should reject the language as misleading.

The proposed amendment would allow people to buy marijuana at state-regulated dispensaries if they obtain written permission from a doctor who attests that they need it for medical reasons. The amendment prohibits people from growing their own marijuana and allows the Legislature to shape the details of the enforcement provisions.

Recent polls have shown that voters throughout the state, from both parties and amid all demographic groups, strongly support the sale of marijuana for medical use, even though federal law prohibits it.  Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia and is legal for recreational use in two states, Colorado and Washington.

The shift in attitude is changing attitudes in the Florida Legislature as well. Legislators in the House are advancing a bill to allow for the decriminalization of a strain of marijuana that is low in the psychoactive properties, THC, and high in properties that help to control seizures. One strain, known as Charlotte's Web, is considered medically promising for children who suffer from severe seizures.

Polara credited "literally thousands of volunteers" who contributed their time "collecting petitions in the rain and heat, on their weekends and holidays,'' he said.