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Marc Caputo, Miami Herald
Major Democratic donor John Morgan blasted the national party’s chair, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as an “irritant” who is becoming “irrelevant” after she voiced concerns about a medical marijuana proposal he helped put on Florida’s ballot this November.
“I know personally the most powerful players in Washington, D.C. And I can tell you that Debbie Wasserman Schultz isn’t just disliked. She’s despised. She’s an irritant,” Morgan, an outspoken Orlando trial attorney, told the Miami Herald.
“Why she’s trying to undermine this amendment I don’t know,” he said. “But I’ll tell you I will never give a penny or raise a penny for the national party while she’s in leadership. And I have given and helped raise millions.”
Tensions flared Friday morning after Wasserman Schultz’s office issued a statement saying she has “concerns” that the proposed constitutional amendment Morgan backs “is written too broadly and stops short of ensuring strong regulatory oversight from state officials.”
“Other states have shown that lax oversight and ease of access to prescriptions can lead to abuse, fraud, and accidents,” said her statement, first reported by the Tampa Bay Times. “Also, given Florida’s recent history in combating the epidemic of ‘pill mills’ and dubious distinction as having among the highest incidents of fraud, I do not believe we should make it easier for those seeking to abuse the drug to have easy access to it.”
Morgan, who has plowed $4 million of his own money into Florida’s Amendment 2 campaign, countered by pointing out that the proposed amendment and a state Supreme Court ruling would limit medical marijuana only to those with “debilitating” ailments.
“Does she not respect our Supreme Court? Does she not know what ‘debilitating’ means? I do,” said Morgan, also a top donor to President Barack Obama and Sen. Bill Nelson. “What word would she prefer?”
Wasserman Schultz’s office wouldn’t comment beyond her written statement.
In an email, the Democratic National Committee said that the congresswoman “was speaking as a mom and a member of Congress on her personal concerns on a local issue. The DNC has not taken an official position on this ballot initiative. We leave it to the good people of Florida to make that decision.”
She issued her comments after a national medical-marijuana advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access, targeted her Thursday in a South Florida TV ad for being one of 18 “out of touch” Democrats to vote in Congress against bipartisan legislation designed to stop the Drug Enforcement Administration from enforcing federal cannabis laws in states that have legalized it for medical or other reasons.
Wasserman Schultz said she didn’t like the congressional amendment because it “tied” the hands of law enforcement.
However, she did speak highly of a recently passed medical marijuana bill in Florida, which Gov. Rick Scott plans to sign, that would allow people with severe epilepsy to have access to a strain of low-THC marijuana nicknamed “Charlotte’s Web.”
That medical-marijuana bill passed this year after the GOP-led Legislature refused to even hear medical-marijuana issues for years.
Spurring the Legislature: Morgan’s constitutional amendment as it headed to the ballot. Polls show it has support that ranges from more than 60 percent to about 88 percent. Constitutional amendments in Florida must pass with 60 percent of the vote.
With the passage of the Charlotte’s Web bill, some opponents of Amendment 2 say the Legislature’s proposal removes some of the need for the broader Florida constitutional amendment that applies to other ailments.
Others worry that the Charlotte’s Web bill might not be enough. And they note that the Legislature could repeal it at any time, unlike the constitutional amendment.
“As a constituent of Rep. Wasserman Schultz and the father of a little girl who suffers from terrible seizures that could be alleviated by the use of medical marijuana, I find her remarks extremely troubling and disappointing,” Seth Hyman, a 50-year-old Weston father of 8-year-old Rebecca Hyman, said in a statement issued by United for Care.
“I don’t know how Congresswoman Schultz would feel if she was getting constant text messages from home every single day letting her know that her young child was suffering from yet another of hundreds of debilitating and potentially deadly seizures, but I suspect her view on Amendment 2 would be quite different,” he said. “I hope no one in her family ever has to experience what my Becca does every day, and I hope that she reconsiders her position on this life or death issue.”
The Democratic donnybrook over medical marijuana is rare. Most Democrats largely back the measure, which has been more of a wedge issue dividing Republican social conservatives and libertarian-leaning conservatives.
For months, Morgan and United for Care have been trying to beat back claims from some Republicans who say the amendment effort is designed to help Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, who works at Morgan’s firm. Opposition to Amendment 2 primarily comes from Tallahassee’s Republican establishment and longtime GOP donor Mel Sembler, an anti-drug crusader.
Opponents say the amendment could let some teenagers get marijuana or allow felons to become legal pot dispensers. Morgan says opponents are using false scare tactics to keep sick people from getting their medicine.
Wasserman Schultz, pointing out that she’s a “cancer survivor, mother and lawmaker,” said that she’s “acutely empathetic to the suffering of people with terminal illnesses and chronic pain. My view is that approval of the use of marijuana as a medical treatment should be handled responsibly and in a regulated manner that ensures its approval does not do more harm than good.”