A burst of ads coming soon to TV screens in Florida will feature patients and doctors extolling the virtues of marijuana as a compassionate way to treat the sick and ease their pain. The soft-sell campaign, a laid-back variation on the usual political pitch, is designed to promote a constitutional amendment on November’s ballot to legalize medical marijuana. Countering that message will be a rival set of ads warning that approval of the amendment would lead to widespread drug use, supplied by “pot docs” and “pot shops” at every turn.
The dueling ad campaigns will compete for attention amid political appeals from candidates for governor and other offices, adding to an expected deluge of election messages though late summer and early fall. Neither side would say when its ads will start or how much it’s planning to spend. But both sides are preparing to hit the airwaves with TV and radio spots while developing networks of campaign volunteers and delivering their messages on the Internet. It’s not quite politics as usual.
“We’re not in a partisan scrum. We’re not in an attack-and-response mode,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager of United for Care, which is spearheading the marijuana amendment. “We’re just going to go out there and have people share their stories about how medical marijuana has affected them, or could have affected them, and their loved ones.” The testimonials, he said, will come from patients, doctors and nurses. He said 10,000 volunteers have signed up to help convey the message through phone calls, in-person talks and social media.
They will be pitching constitutional Amendment 2, which “allows the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.” A more limited alternative was approved by the Republican-run Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in June. It legalizes development and distribution of a non-euphoric strain of cannabis — dubbed Charlotte’s Web — to help Florida residents who have cancer and other debilitating diseases. Early polls indicate overwhelming public support for medical marijuana — by 88 percent in a statewide Quinnipiac University poll — but analysts expect a close vote on Amendment 2, which requires 60 percent approval to become law.
Opponents, including law-enforcement groups and Republican leaders, say the amendment is full of loopholes that could allow unscrupulous “pot docs” to recommend the drug for recreational users. “The thing I would be concerned about is the ruse of medicinal marijuana for purposes of allowing people basically to buy a joint and smoke it,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told Florida reporters this month. Nonprofit groups that oppose the measure have banded together under the Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot coalition, which provides speakers at public forums. A separate group known as Vote No on 2 will lead the ad campaign.
A sample ad already has popped up on the Internet. The video shows scenes of children walking past marijuana stores in California, big piles of pot and derelicts puffing on pipes. “They say they just want to help the sick, but that’s not the whole story,” a narrator intones. These scenes are interspersed with commentary from experts, such as lawyers and cops, who support the theme “The Devil is in the Details.” “A vote for Amendment 2 is a vote for legalization of marijuana forever in the state of Florida,” Grady Judd, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, tells viewers.
The coming air war will bring the debate into Floridians’ living rooms. “There’s certainly going to be enough spending to make it a salient issue, with both sides ramping up their ad buys,” said Daniel Smith, political science professor at the University of Florida. He said this issue, highlighted by the ads, will prompt some voters to cast ballots who otherwise might not bother with a non-presidential election. “It could turn out people who are not enamored of Republicans or Democrats but see this issue as important to them,” Smith said. “They see the failure in Tallahassee to address this issue in any meaningful way and may be motivated to come to the polls.”
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