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Anti-medical marijuana forces place $1.6m TV ad buy, promise more to come


Drug Free Florida, the folks opposed to medical marijuana, is dropping major greenbacks on a TV ad campaign: $1.6 million statewide in the first week of October.

The buy coincides with the first batch of absentee ballots dropping in the mail. Republicans and conservatives are the most-likely to vote by absentee ballot and the least-likely to support the proposed constitutional amendment, which needs 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Republican support is still strong, albeit not over 60 percent in most surveys, but out-sized Democratic and independent support have the constitutional amendment polling at anywhere from 61 to 70 percent (it's likely about 65%). By my calculations, if you drag down Republican support to about 42 percent, the amendment likely fails -- even if Democratic and independent support remains in the low to mid 70s.

We don't yet know the exact message of Drug Free Florida's ads, but it's doubtful it'll bash medical-marijuana backer John Morgan (why give the trial lawyer free advertising and credibility with people who want to hire a renegade?).

Not only is the medium the message. So is the size and location of the media buy. And this has "conservative" written all over it. Conservative North Florida (except for West Palm Beach's media market, which gives a great bang for the buck) will see the most ads, a figure expressed below as GRPs, which stands for Gross Ratings Points (1,000 GRPs generally means an average TV viewer will likely see the ad 10 times).

"Our ad buy is all about the commitment we have to the voters - to make sure they understand the real motivation behind this effort and how bad it is for our state. And that will not stop until Election Day," said Drug Free's spokeswoman, Sarah Bascom.

The ad buy is surprising for its size and because, early on, Morgan had pledged to "do what it takes" to pass the amendment through his group, People United for Medical Marijuana, which goes by United for Care. That meant, he said months ago, that he was prepared to swap out Morgan & Morgan TV ad time to tout this amendment. Morgan and his firm have contributed and loaned the campaign about $3.8 million of the $5.4 million it has spent.

Now, that commitment looks in doubt.

And outside forces have come to the aid of Drug Free, which had raised $3.2 million and spent just $545,000 before the ad buy. Its biggest contributor: GOP sugar daddy and Las Vegas gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, who gave $2.5 million and is, according to some, ready to double that commitment. Five million dollars is the equivalent of pocket change to Adelson. Still, his opposition in Florida is somewhat mysterious, considering he has funded medical-marijuana research in Israel and his home state of Nevada has a far more-liberal medical-marijuana law that explicitly allows people to grow pot (unlike Florida).

Advertising isn't the whole game in politics, but it goes a long way in Florida. Still, United for Care says it has more built-in advantages: popular support

“It's no surprise Drug Free Florida Committee is making such a large buy so far out from Election Day. When your basic position runs completely counter to public opinion, millions in misleading advertising is the only strategy available. But no amount of advertising can overwhelm the basic facts,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager at United for Care. “Floridians know the benefits of medical marijuana are real, and the people of this state are deeply compassionate. We believe the overwhelming majority will vote to make sure patients no longer have to risk incarceration for listening to their doctors and seeking relief from debilitating diseases and medical conditions.”

   Market       GRPs   Ad buy size
Tallahassee 1225 $65,000
West Palm 1140 $254,000
Pensacola 1115 $137,000
Panama City 1000 $54,000
Ft Myers 935 $118,000
Tampa 760 $309,000
Orlando 730 $339,000
Jacksonville 625 $109,000
Gainesville 605 $42,000
Miami 275 $180,000