The Strange Failure of Florida’s Medical Marijuana Initiative

In Florida, Republicans get cancer too, but even though on Tuesday 58 percent of voters approved a measure to allow medical marijuana — particularly useful in alleviating pain and suffering for cancer treatments — humane treatment will not be legally available in the Sunshine State.

3.3 million voters or 58% of Floridians approved the constitutional amendment. But Florida uniquely requires a 60 percent supermajority of the popular vote to change the law by referendum. How did this happen?

In the early 2000’s under Gov. Jeb Bush, the GOP legislature and its patrons, Big Sugar, the Florida Homebuilders, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, began demonizing a citizens ballot initiative rising to the forefront: Florida Hometown Democracy.

Activists had started collecting signatures for a ballot referendum that offered hope to alleviate the costs of state’s rampant suburban sprawl. Although Florida Hometown Democracy took an additional election cycle to make the state wide ballot, special interests wanted to head off the civic activists at the pass.

Florida’s lobbyist class representing deep-pocketed campaign contributors mounted a countermeasure. They did it with 58 percent of the vote in 2006 when 2.6 million voters approved putting brakes on ballot initiatives by requiring not a simple majority to pass a ballot item, but a supermajority: from fifty to sixty percent. That campaign was managed by a Jeb Bush lieutenant, John Thrasher — a former speaker of the Florida House — who was recently appointed president of a major Florida university by a GOP-laden board of trustees despite lacking any academic qualifications for the role.

All Florida Hometown Democracy wanted to do was to provide citizens the opportunity to vote for or against changes to community and municipal master development plans, required by state law to protect quality of life and the environment. Wealthy GOP funders viewed this as an existential threat.

That’s the history and the fact behind the reason why on Tuesday, the will of 3.3 million voters … a higher percentage than voted to legalize marijuana for adults in Oregon — failed in Florida. Ironically, both the medical marijuana amendment and the 2006 requirement of a supermajority passed by fifty eight percent of the popular vote in Florida. Only the marijuana amendment failed.

On Tuesday, another pro-people amendment — to conserve Florida’s vanishing wilderness — garnered 75 percent of the popular vote in Florida. Why? Mainly because the Florida Chamber of Commerce and special interests sat on the sidelines.

A lot of this money — more than $9 billion — will find its way into the pockets of special interests and land speculators over the next decade. But if you or your loved ones are puking your guts out from cancer treatments, thanks to those same special interests, there will be no legal marijuana in Florida to alleviate the pain.

How many Florida voters understand how this happened? In Florida, understanding from history is the highest bar of all.

Alan Farago lives in Miami.

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at