The medical marijuana petition drive has the necessary signatures needed to get on the 2014 ballot and now just needs approval from the state Supreme Court before Floridians can vote on the issue.
A massive push to gather the voter signatures before a Feb. 1 deadline was met with a week to spare. In early December, the drive funded in large part by personal injury lawyer John Morgan only had about 135,000 of the 683,149 required voter signatures. By Friday afternoon it had 710,508, meeting a minimum threshold in 14 congressional districts to get on the ballot, according to the Department of State's website.
"As Muhammad Ali once said, 'We shocked the world,'" said Morgan, who has personally spent about $4 million on the effort.
The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the use of marijuana if prescribed by a doctor for debilitating conditions. It needs approval from 60 percent of voters — if the Supreme Court allows it on the ballot.
Along Fort Lauderdale Beach Friday night, several people voiced their support for medical marijuana.
"I think that it's about time," Christina Canto said.
Canto and others said they believe medicinal marijuana deserves a legal designation for terminally ill people left with few pain management options.
"They need to have medical marijuana. If they're in pain and that's what helps and they know they're dying, give it to them," said a woman who called herself Char.
Washington state and Colorado recently approved recreational marijuana use, and some see the Sunshine State joining them soon.
"I think in about two to five years Florida will be a decriminalized state, and once they do, I will be growing for the state of Florida," Tyler Heacox said.
Morgan had put the petition drive on hold because Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi challenged the ballot summary for the proposed amendment. But once he realized the court might not settle the issue with enough time to make the ballot deadline, Morgan opened his checkbook and went ahead anyway instead of waiting for a ruling. The court heard arguments on the ballot language in December.
"I knew what I was up against, but I had to make the decision to double down or to wait until 2016, and I don't like to wait," Morgan said of the gamble, realizing he will have to hit the reset button on the initiative if the Supreme Court agrees with Bondi. "Every day I go to court, I gamble. Every day I take on a pharmaceutical company, I gamble. Every time I sue the tobacco industry, I gamble. But I'm used to winning more than I lose."
Bondi's office has argued that the amendment would allow more widespread use of marijuana than voters would be led to believe based on the ballot summary, which is limited to 75 words for citizen initiatives.
The court won't rule on whether medical marijuana should be allowed, but simply on whether the ballot language is clear.
Even if the Supreme Court approves the language, it will likely be a political issue. Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposes medical marijuana, and the two Democrats hoping to challenge him this year — former Gov. Charlie Crist and former state Sen. Nan Rich — support it. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, both Republicans, also don't want the issue on the ballot.
Bondi had nothing to say about the petition drive passing the signature hurdle.
"We are currently awaiting a ruling from the Florida Supreme Court regarding the medical marijuana ballot language and will refrain from comment at this time," said her spokeswoman, Jennifer Meale. She noted, however, that the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Medical Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and Save our Society from Drugs have supported Bondi's effort.
If it makes the ballot, Morgan sums up the opposition this way: "The only three groups that I would see having any interest in it not happening are the pharmaceutical industry, the for-profit corrections industry and the Mexican cartels."
Morgan has taken on the cause in large part because of how he's seen it help his father, who died of cancer, and his brother, who is a quadriplegic, when prescribed drugs didn't work.
"If my brother took the Xanax pills they want him to take, he'd be taking seven a day to control his uncontrollable spasms and pain. Marijuana takes care of that in a matter of seconds," he said. "To me it's what is the most good that I could do with my limited resources for the most amount of people that will be sustainable, and that is forever."