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Failure of MMJ Bill Rips Apart Florida’s Top Cannabis Team

May 9, 2017
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Sunshine State News and is republished with permission. 

Two of the biggest names to pass the expansion of medical marijuana in FloridaOrlando attorney John Morgan (above, right) and Florida For Care Executive Director Ben Pollara (left)are going through a very public breakup after the state Legislature killed off a bill to regulate Florida’s medical marijuana industry late Friday evening.

When the bill died John Morgan laid the blame squarely on Ben Pollara—and tweeted his anger to the world.

After 60 days, state lawmakers still couldn’t reach an agreement over the number of retail facilities allowed in the proposals. With no compromise over the legislation, the bill diedand Morgan says the blame for that lies squarely with Ben Pollara. 

Morgan and insiders explained Pollara and Florida For Care’s lobbying efforts were the real reason the legislation failed.

Florida For Care, they said, pushed the issue of limiting the number of dispensaries for growers at the last minute in order to force the state to issue more licenses in order to get rid of the original seven growers allowed to dispense the drug across the state.

Related

Up in Smoke: Florida Legislature Can’t Agree on Medical Marijuana

At the 11th hour, insiders said, Florida For Care lobbyists Frank and Tracy Mayernick put pressure on Senate President Joe Negron over the cap numbers to ultimately force the state to issue more licenses and break up the seven original medical cannabis growers. 

The Senate wouldn’t budge on caps of 50 and 100 dispensaries, and so the legislation died.

BEN-POLLAR-JOHN-MORGAN

Pollara, left, and Morgan in happier days.

The idea for facility caps was actually a product of former Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned from office just two weeks ago. Artiles’ ghost seems to wander the Capitol halls — with medical marijuana essentially being one casualty he took with him on his way out the door. 

Sunshine State News first reported the inside ball game politics late Friday evening.

Morgan blames Pollara personally for the catastrophe, hinting Pollara was “responsible” for the failure in a Godfather-themed tweet posted Friday evening.

“My #ArmyOfAngels will be shocked to learn of the person responsible for this deadlock!” Morgan wrote, adding the hashtag “#FredoWillBeFishingSoon — a reference to the iconic scene in the Godfather where Michael Corleone delivers the “kiss of death” to his brother, Fredo Corleone, after discovering he was the traitor responsible for a failed assassination attempt on him.

On Saturday, the firebrand attorney unleashed another storm of tweets, making good to tell the world who was behind the failed bill. Morgan called Pollara out by name, slamming the South Florida Democratic activist for putting money over the suffering patients of Florida. He accused him of having a financial stake in the legislation and of putting those interests over the will of suffering Floridians.

“Keep [Ben Pollara] away! #HeDidThisForMoney #SoldHisSoulForABowlOfRice,” Morgan tweeted.

Related

Where Are the Medical Marijuana Doctors in Florida? We Mapped Them.

Betrayal Runs Deep

For Morgan, Pollara’s “betrayal” runs deep. The two worked closely together both in 2014 and in 2016 to pass Amendment 2, which greatly expanded the use of medical marijuana in Florida. 

They were united largely under the same cause: to bring relief to the suffering patients of Florida. Morgan, who is not a lobbyist and hardly gets involved in Tallahassee politics, relied heavily on Pollara to make good on the promise to Florida voters.

They worked hard, pouring millions of dollars and countless hours into getting the amendment to pass. 

The two turned their political work into a friendship. But from Morgan’s perspective, that bond has been broken.

In November, 71 percent of voters finally said “yes” to the case they made. Things were golden for the two, who had quickly transformed their political work into a friendship.

But from Morgan’s perspective, that bond has been broken. From Morgan’s viewpoint, Pollara has failed.

“He betrayed my #ArmyOfAngels for money,” Morgan tweeted. “Tell us how much you were paid @bfgpollara? He is NOT United for Care. He IS United for BEN!!”

Pollara denied receiving any financial incentive over medical cannabis in an interview with Sunshine State News Saturday — and he said he didn’t see his work with United For Care and Florida for Care as a conflict of interest.

“The only compensation I have ever sought or received for work related to medical marijuana has been for political consulting and lobbying,” he said.  “I have always viewed any financial stake in the marijuana industry as a clear conduct with my roles as an advocate and leader of these two organizations.”

Related

What’s the Deal With Florida’s ‘Dispensaries’?

Friction Over Capping Dispensaries

Pollara told SSN their relationship began to crumble earlier this week in the midst of negotiations on retail facility caps. Morgan was not happy over the idea of capping dispensaries and made it clear the bill would fail if caps were part of the end language.

“He called me on three-way with Jake Bergmann of [medical marijuana facility] Surterra [Tuesday evening,] threatening to kill legislation over caps and threatening the public shaming he’s now delivering. Obviously, he’s made good on both,” Pollara said.

Pollara attempted to mend the wounds with Morgan many times, he told SSN, but Morgan has given him the cold shoulder. 

'He will not listen to reason, calls me a liar, and says horrific things to and about me.'
Ben Pollara, Campaign manager, Amendment 2

“He will not listen to reason, calls me a liar, and says horrific things to and about me,” said Pollara.

Now that medical cannabis legislation is a bust, it’s now up to the Department of Health to implement Amendment 2. The DOH will have until July 3 to figure out a regulatory system for the drug, which is set to serve hundreds of thousands of patients in Florida.

Morgan continued to poke Pollara, trashing him for misguided priorities.

The Orlando attorney, on the other hand, says he never received any sort of compensation to fight for medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

“Read @bfgpollara’s non denial denial closely,” Morgan wrote. “Who paid for the lobbyists? How much? Who paid BEN? I’ve never received a dime.”

The legislation wasn’t the only thing to blow up last night. Both the bill—and Morgan and Pollara’s friendship—are now finished.

Allison Nielsen's Bio Image

Allison Nielsen

Allison Nielsen reports on Florida politics for Sunshine State News. She can be reached at allison@sunshinestatenews.com, or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

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  • Todd Burgess

    It’s not a drug.

    • You sure? “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.”

  • Geoff Jacobs

    Yeah, well, if he HADN’T received any money, he’d be talking about litigation against Morgan for defamation and other things. It’s obvious, HE DID!!

    • Geoff Jacobs

      THANK YOU Mr. Morgan for all of your efforts on this issue!!

    • AAMCO

      by capping grows from having only 5 dispensaries means we needed more grows and a way to open the medical industry up. Both of them are using the situation to their advantage in politics. two way street

    • wayzupusc

      At work so only skimmed it so far but seems like semantics to me. Could be he hasn’t received monies yet but if he got what he was pushing for meant he stood to personally gain financially in a significant way in the future? I will have to read more thoroughly when I get home but this Pollara guy sounds shady as heck.

  • AAMCO

    Fucked again, both are using us to get political power, morgan wants to be governor and Pollar, well he’ll do anything

  • 360dunk

    The thousands suffering from arthritis and epilepsy in Florida now will have to suffer longer because these two douche-nozzles can’t agree on the number of dispensaries? That’s messed up.

  • Thomas Blank

    limiting the number of dispensaries to 7 in a state of 25 million is all about the financial interests of 7 entities. More jobs would be created with more dispensaries, and living in california and seeing a healthy cannabis economy, I like the idea of spreading the wealth around or more than 7 entities. When you look at some other states you an see how not to do it. These licenses become very valuable when there are just a few, politicians award them to the wealthy. Its time to spread the action to the middle class, not just the wealthy friends of politicians.

  • Seth Bowie

    Taking 20 pills a day is a use of drugs exactly any meds and pills are drugs that will kill us and the use of marijuana will not hurt or kill us. It’s like we said before marijuana is alot safer than pills and alcohol because pills or meds and alcohol and not marijuana also Marijuana is not a drug once again it’s a plant!!!!

  • Seven dispensaries is arbitrary and capricious, a secret product of midnight beaurocrats. Reasonable regulation of pharmaceuticals or intoxicants is rationale. But why only seven insiders, why secret? – follow the money. Truthfully the plant is widely available to anyone now and the resistance to it simply puts further downward pressure on the opinion the public has of the legislature.

  • BrookeWyvers

    📣An Urgent Request To All Floridians:

    After We The People Passed the 2016 Florida #MedicalMarijuana Ballot Initiative the “Bought and Paid For” politicians are working to invalidate the Will of #WeThePeople with outrageous and onerous rules and regulations that run contrary to what we voted for, and passed last November on election day.

    It’s now not enough that we Vote and pass Ballot Initiatives, we must now also elect (from our citizen base) the people who will actually represent us, and honestly work to fulfil the will of the People. If the mandates approved by voters are ignored by our elected officials we no longer have representation. Indeed these elected representatives apparently are only beholden to the Powerful Donors, and not We The People.

    Mr. John Morgan has tirelessly worked defending everyday people like us and our right to have a day in court when we are wronged by the powerful for decades. Mr Morgan has built his life, and his livelihood working for the needs of the People, and not the powerful working very hard to have this compassionate Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative placed on the ballot.
    To see our votes cast aside to benefit the few, the powerful at the detriment and harm to so many really sick and sometimes dying people is an outrage and an abomination to our United States founding principal Power is vested and derived from We The People. Be you for or against the compassionate use of Medical Marijuana by people in need must come secondary to the very notion that the will of the People must not be usurped in favor of the powerful.

    We need one of our own to be elected Florida Governor. We need John Morgan.
    Please sign the petition to Draft John Morgan for Florida Governor, and please ask all your Florida friends to do the same. Please share this post, or share this link (www.forthegovernor.com) with your friends on your Facebook or other social media pages.

    Thank You! http://www.forthegovernor.com/