GARY STEIN: OF PAIN, PEOPLE, POT, POLITICS, PUBLIC FIGURES AND PRIORITIES

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First in a series.

As Election Day approaches, the backers on both sides of the ballot initiative to make medical marijuana legal in Florida are getting fired up.

It’s a battle of wits, money, compassion, money, politics and money and of course, the people who are donating the money to either pass or defeat Amendment 2.

A lot of big donors have fueled the Say No on 2 campaigns. In just one week in mid-September alone, over $1.9 million was spent on ads to inspire and confuse us. The Say No on 2 folks use such arguments as “the next face of date rape in Florida will look like a cookie,” “caregivers will be drug dealers” and simply “Amendment 2 is flawed.”

These ads generate raw emotion. Each side hopes that those emotions will motivate their supporters to vote on Nov. 4.

Sheriff Don Eslinger of Seminole County, working with dontletfloridagotopot.com, told the News Service of Florida, “The intent is to, obviously, inform Floridians of the amendment and how its flawed. And I think its going extremely well.” When asked why, he said, “Well, because read the amendment. Its flawed people understand that it cant be fixed if theres some unintended consequences.”

The biggest funder for the “No” side isn’t saying a thing. Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and the eighth richest man in the world, has given $4 million. He has not explained his opposition to the amendment.

Some people say that Adelson is reacting to the death of his son, Mitchell, who died in 2005 of a drug overdose at age 48 after years of cocaine and heroin abuse. Adelson has another son who also has struggled with similar addictions. It is understandable that Mr. Adelson has suffered from the loss of his son, and dealt with an immense amount of grief.

Adelson has been a generous supporter of addiction research for many years. He’s married to an Israeli doctor, Miriam, who specializes in addictions.

Given his intense interest in the science of addition, I assume Adelson knows that marijuana is not a “gateway drug” nor has anyone ever died of a marijuana overdose.

Adelson put out over $100 million to support the candidacies of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in 2012, and millions more to other conservative races, so I assume his motivation for opposing Amendment 2 has nothing to do with its medical benefits. The political goal seems far more believable.

Once a Democrat, Adelson became a Republican in 1996 because he felt the Democratic Party was losing interest in supporting Israel.

Adelson has donated many millions of dollars to Israeli institutions. He has given hundreds of millions of dollars to researchers at the Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at Tel Aviv University.  The Center has made advances in studying how marijuana and its associated chemicals can potentially mitigate brain injuries and reduce the symptoms of degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

I assume he’s aware of the scientific evidence his money has helped reveal. So, I can only conclude that his opposition to Amendment 2 has nothing to do with its medical benefits.

The big donor promoting Amendment 2 is attorney John Morgan. He has been far more vocal about his motives. He says he has seen how the use of medical marijuana helped reduce the pain of his paralyzed brother Tim and helped his father, who was dying of cancer.

Morgan has donated the bulk of the money for the campaign to pass Amendment 2, which must get 60 percent of the vote to pass. Smaller donations are coming from thousands of small donors, including a number of donations from corporations, lawyers, entrepreneurs and individuals. Some of the larger donors would profit if the amendment passes.

Conspicuously missing from the list are some of the hundreds of wealthy celebrities who make Florida their home. Many Floridians, whose lives would be better if Amendment 2 passes, and many progressive voters buy the celebrities’ recordings, go to their concerts, attend their games, go to their movies or watch them on television. Several, such as Bill Maher, have openly supporting the cause but are not on the contributor list for United for Care, the name of the campaign promoting passage.

Morgan stated earlier this year, “I thought when I got the ball rolling, I’d get halfway down the road and turn around, and there’d be other people ready to push the ball,” Morgan said. “When I turned around, no one was there.”

It sure would be nice if the big-money donors with no profit motive stepped up. It’s time they open their checkbooks and show how much they care.

Gary Stein, MPH, a native Detroiter, worked for the Centers for Disease Control, landed in the Tampa Bay area to work for the State Tobacco program and is now a health advocate and activist and blogger for the Huffington Post. Column courtesy of Context Florida.