Marijuana proponents have turned their sites on unlikely territory in recent months. With ballot initiatives under consideration in Arkansas and Florida, a new front has opened in the marijuana wars: legal weed in the Deep South.

In Florida, one of the state’s richest lawyers, John Morgan, is leading a push to gather 1 million signatures by February. If he succeeds, voters will be able to choose whether they want to allow medical marijuana. Polls show 70 percent support for the idea.

Morgan leads a group called People United for Medical Marijuana, and they filed the paperwork necessary to gather the signatures for the proposed amendment to the state constitution. Morgan told members of a non-partisan political club that he took the initiative because lawmakers won’t.

“These politicians are here for themselves, and that’s why I’m here,” said Morgan. “Because they are not going to do the job for you.”

“These politicians are here for themselves, and that’s why I’m here.”

John Morgan
Lawyer, Florida

Morgan, whose father was helped by medicinal pot on his deathbed, said he plans to spend several million dollars, first on the push to gather signatures, then on the actual ballot initiative.

Morgan has promised Florida’s system would be tightly regulated, vowing the state would never become another California. The plan would be limited to Floridians suffering cancer, ALS and other severe illnesses and would require prescriptions from medical doctors.

“This would be what I would call the opposite of California,” he said. “This is not a wink and a smile and psychologists prescribing marijuana. It’s much more regulated and it’s really for the terminally ill and chronically ill, not for somebody that’s having a bad hair day.”

Possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana in Florida is currently a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. An attempt to enact medical pot in the state Legislature never even made it to committee during this year’s legislative session, and earlier efforts to decriminalize pot have failed.

In Arkansas, meanwhile, weed proponents are upping the ante. Less than a year after barely failing to win enough votes to institute medical pot, advocates there are pushing for a new referendum that would legalize marijuana outright.

A group that calls itself Arkansans for Medical Cannabis submitted a revised proposal to state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel Aug. 2. Their first proposed constitutional amendment was rejected in July by McDaniel, who said the wording was ambiguous.

If the revised amendment is certified by McDaniel, Arkansans for Medical Cannabis would begin gathering signatures. If they get enough, the proposal would go on the 2014 ballot and ask voters to approve all marijuana use, medical, recreational and industrial.

An attempt to make medical weed law in Arkansas fell just 30,000 votes short of a majority in November, suggesting legalization may find some support. But it remains to be seen whether the reins will be loosened anytime soon.

Arkansas, like Florida, treats minor possession as a misdemeanor. Being caught with less than 4 ounces carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500 on a first offense (on a second offense, anything greater than an ounce is a felony).

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