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May 23, 2018

Newsmakers of the Year

John Morgan - Impact Player

Jason Garcia | 12/26/2014

Few people had a worse election night in November than John Morgan. But few people had a bigger impact on Florida politics in 2014.

The personal-injury attorney, recognized statewide for his "for the people" advertisements, was instrumental in resurrecting, if only temporarily, the political career of former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and reconstituting him as a viable Democratic candidate for governor. Crist lost, but only by about a percentage point.

Perhaps more significantly, Morgan initiated, funded and led the campaign for Amendment 2, which would have legalized marijuana for medical use in the state and possibly opened the door for more widespread use of the drug in Florida.

Morgan served as the public face of the campaign, which he described as deeply personal for him, and spent roughly $4 million on the effort. Caught on camera, glass in hand, delivering a profanity-laced Speech to young medical marijuana supporters at a bar in Lakeland, Morgan served up a public relations feast to opponents of his "Yes on 2" campaign. But the amendment still earned nearly 3.4 million votes, more than either Scott or the winning candidates for attorney general, CFO and agriculture commissioner — in a midterm election in which the electorate was older, whiter and more conservative.

While the amendment fell two percentage points short of the 60% threshold required to pass, it had an immediate impact — and established the parameters of marijuana use as an ongoing state issue.

Last spring, lawmakers passed a law allowing limited medical use of a noneuphoric strain of marijuana commonly referred to as "Charlotte's Web" — a step that would have been all but unthinkable just a few years earlier in a GOP-controlled Legislature filled with strict social conservatives. Backers Of the bill concede that lawmakers were motivated in part by a desire to pre-empt Morgan's constitutional amendment, which they feared would open the door to use of the drug for reasons only marginally "medical."

"I think Mr. Morgan deserves credit for beginning the discussion," says state Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) who sponsored the Charlotte's Web bill in the Florida House. Gaetz says his own interest in the subject was sparked by a 2013 CNN documentary, but he acknowledges, "I think Amendment 2 may have been lingering in the minds of legislators as they were choosing how to vote" on his bill.

Longer term, the marijuana issue is here to stay, Morgan says. If the Legislature doesn't act, Morgan suggests he will try again on the issue in 2016, a presidential election year.

"He's left a big imprint that's not going to go away," says former Democratic state lawmaker Dan Gelber.

Tags: Politics & Law, Floridian of the Year

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