By DARA KAM
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
KISSIMMEE, May 10, 2016.
Attorney John Morgan brought his medical-marijuana crusade to the nation's premiere cannabis business trade show Tuesday, captivating a roomful of believers before passing around the collection plate for his cause.
Morgan --- a self-described "salty-tongued" speaker and a devout Catholic --- peppered his 50-minute speech with f-bombs, attacks on the Florida Legislature and a declaration that the future of medical marijuana has reached a "tipping point" in Florida and the nation.
"There is no state in the union that is more ready for this industry than this state,” Morgan said, before closing his speech with a prayer from Mother Teresa and a standing ovation.
The Orlando trial lawyer, whose visage is plastered on billboards across the country and whose trademark “for the people” motto has become inextricably linked with Morgan, has already spent at least $7.5 million of his and his law firm's money on the effort to legalize medical marijuana in Florida.
For the second time in two years, voters will decide in November whether doctors should be able to order medical marijuana for patients with a wide variety of illnesses. In 2014, a similar measure narrowly failed to get the 60 percent approval necessary for constitutional amendments to pass in Florida.
And, according to the man who said he spent more than $50 million on advertising last year for his law firm, the key to the passage of Amendment 2 in the fall is green.
"The reasons it won't pass will be money," Morgan said. "Money is going to be our biggest obstacle."
Morgan said he has "no clue" how much he'll spend on this year's effort.
"Sometimes I go to happy hour and I have one drink. Sometimes I end up closing the bar and wind up at the Waffle House at 3 a.m.," he said.
After his speech, Morgan was mobbed by some of the 3,000 convention attendees, some of whom had never heard of the accidental marijuana advocate until Tuesday. He met with potential donors in a private room before leaving the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, and conference organizer Marijuana Business Daily was hosting a $100-per-ticket fundraiser later in the evening. The business publication was also contributing $30,000 to People United for Medical Marijuana, better known as United for Care, the political committee behind Amendment 2, according to campaign manager Ben Pollara.
"He can't go to the grocery store without people hugging him and crying and asking him for selfies. He's gone from being a TV lawyer to being a folk hero," Pollara said of Morgan.
Pollara, who enlisted Morgan to help with the proposed constitutional amendment in 2014, said that he raised more than $200,000 at a similar event in Portland, Ore., last week.
Florida has already legalized non-euphoric marijuana for patients with severe muscle spasms or cancer, and full-strength pot for terminally ill patients.
But the cannabis industry sees Florida as the nation's biggest frontier. With 500,000 patients, Florida would eclipse the number of recreational users in Colorado, where medical marijuana is a $1 billion-a-year industry, and would be the biggest legal marijuana market outside of California.
"It's a gold rush," Morgan said of the interest in Florida. "What if all of a sudden, in the beaches of Florida, there were diamonds. How many people would be in the sand dunes tomorrow? You couldn't get on the beach. It's that mentality, where people are stampeding for this gold rush."
Morgan, who has raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates and is close to Bill and Hillary Clinton, said he considers his involvement in the medical marijuana cause as "political philanthropy."
Morgan threw his support behind the measure because of his father, who suffered from cancer and emphysema, and his brother Tim, who was partially paralyzed due to injuries sustained as a teenage lifeguard when he dove into concrete pylons while trying to rescue a swimmer.
"For some reason, for some how, for some way, I became the medical marijuana guy in Florida, the most unlikely of people," Morgan said. "All of us go through life trying to find nirvana. Everybody's trying to be mindful. … I can't stay still for a second doing that. … But in the end, we're all looking for one thing. We are looking for peace. That's all we really want."
The medical marijuana cause has given Morgan a sense of peace, he said.
"You don't find peace in money. You don't find peace in hedonistic activities … You find peace, in life, when you do something for your fellow man," he said. "Join me in this mission and may God grant you eternal peace."