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Interview: Ben Pollara at United for Care Florida

Freedom Leaf got the chance to speak with Ben Pollara at United for Care about the campaign to make Florida the next medical marijuana state.

Interview: Ben Pollara at United for Care
Medical Marijuana in Florida

By Freedom Leaf Staff

Ben_Pollara_scaledFlorida voters will have the chance to legalize medical marijuana in a key election on November 4th. Amendment 2 could bring the Sunshine State into an era of safe access for cannabis.

United for Care is the group running the “Yes on 2” campaign with veteran political consultant Ben Pollara at the helm.

Pollara was a member of the National Finance Committee for President Obama’s campaign in the important state during the last election.

While the initial effort for medical marijuana in Florida was all grassroots, it has now become mainstream electoral politics. That means television advertising, mailings and a major push on the ground. Those all come with hefty price-tags. Prominent Florida attorney John Morgan has contributed generously to see the effort succeed, contributing $3.8 million to the Yes on 2 campaign.

But opposition groups have suddenly found a wealthy backer in Sheldon Adelson who was described by Florida press as a “GOP sugar daddy and Las Vegas gambling magnate.” In September the “No on 2” crowd purchased a TV ad run worth $1.6 million.

Polling in mid September indicated the measure would likely pass, but the margins are too close to call. As it comes down to the wire, every single vote counts.

Pollara and Morgan have been traversing the state, participating in debates, making media appearances and energizing voters.

Freedom Leaf got the chance to speak with Pollara on September 17th about the campaign to make Florida the next medical marijuana state.

Freedom Leaf- What’s the atmosphere at the Yes on 2 campaign today?

Ben Pollara: “We feel good. polling continues to be strong. This is really not a controversial issue for Floridians. This is about the doctor and patient relationship. Just like exercise or diet, doctors should be able to recommend medical marijuana. Patient should be able to follow their doctor’s orders and not be criminals. We’ve got to get to 60 percent to win….so we don’t take anything for granted. Sheldon Adelson decided to take an interest by funding the opposition’s statewide TV buy. We’ve got a real fight on our hands.”

Freedom Leaf – How do local physicians fell about the issue?

Ben Pollara: “Every doctor I’ve spoken with – to a person – they are all for it. We have doctors talking [positively] to press or going to our meetings and events. Also, we recently got the endorsement of SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, the largest organization representing health care workers in Florida. SEIU represents more than 30,000 current and retired nurses and doctors around the state.”

Freedom Leaf – Does SEIU see an expansion possibility with medical marijuana workers?

Ben Pollara: “They went to their membership and asked them. SEIU does represent workers in other industries, but health care workers is their biggest membership in Florida. Every local in their state council endorsed the issue because they feel the same way we do about the value of medical marijuana.”

Freedom Leaf – What is the state of the Florida economy and do you think legal medical marijuana could help?

Ben Pollara: “Well we are still recovering from 8 years of George W. Bush. But I think Florida is the best state in the country. This will be one more reason to move here from more hostile climates. And a lot of Floridians are already considering moving to Colorado or other states to get their medicine. We can keep Floridians here to get the medicine they need. That can only help. “

Freedom Leaf- This would allow access to the full plant not just certain extracts?

Ben Pollara: “Correct. We define marijuana in Question 2 as Cannabis in the 2013 Florida statutes , which includes the whole plant.”

Freedom Leaf – How many patients do you think could be involved in the medical marijuana program?

Ben Pollara: “Before we went to the Supreme Court to get on the ballot the Florida Department of Health had to give some information. They estimated that number. The Office of Economic Development Research did a 15-page analysis of the issue. The low end was 100,000 and the top end was above 1 million. The number they finally settled on was 417,000 patients in the first full year of medical marijuana. “

Freedom Leaf – where is the opposition coming from?

Ben Pollara: “It is coming from gambling and tobacco. The spokesman for the ‘No’ campaign is a longtime lobbyist for one of the biggest cigarette companies in Florida and their Treasurer is from the Florida Cigar Association. And now Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest men in the world, who wants to bring destination casino gaming to Florida, is their biggest donor.”

Freedom Leaf – What are the biggest hurdles to overcome with voters?

Ben Pollara: “Mainly, the kinds of perceptions of marijuana in general. That and the false claims from the opposition that this is some ruse for full legalization. This is about bringing sick people their medicine.”

Freedom Leaf – Florida voters tend to be older, does that help?

Ben Pollara: “These are the folks most likely to be afflicted with a serious medical condition. But this is also a different generation of seniors who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, not the WWII generation. People have some experience and know that marijuana isn’t the boogeyman that it has been painted as being by the opposition. Florida is a big state. There are 67 different counties. Some are more favorable than others to this issue.”

Freedom Leaf – The state Legislature could have enacted a broad medical marijuana law, why take it to voters?

Ben Pollara: “I would would rather have done it with legislation. But the legislature did not act. Medical marijuana has been supported by a majority of voters since at least 2010. Activists have been petitioning the legislature for years and never even got a hearing. I am believer in representative democracy – but our elected leaders failed to lead – which is why we are on the ballot.”

United for Care can be found online at www.unitedforcare.org

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