John Morgan Tours Florida To Tout Med Marijuana
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John Morgan Tours Florida To Tout Med Marijuana
Posted by CN Staff on October 10, 2014 at 15:14:07 PT
By Stephen Nohlgren, Times Staff Writer
Source: Tampa Bay Times
Tampa -- Outside the University of South Florida student center last week, a luxury bus originally customized for rock stars idled by the curb. The soft hum of its air conditioning was drowned out by students chanting, "Yes on 2! Yes on 2!'' In the bus, Mr. Marijuana warmed up for another day of barnstorming.Multimillionaire attorney John Morgan, 58, said he did not foresee this whirlwind 19 months ago, when he took over a campaign to legalize medical marijuana by putting it in Florida's Constitution. But he clearly has embraced it.
Working on four hours sleep Tuesday, he had already traveled from Orlando, debated the Hernando County sheriff on the radio and still faced three campaign stops and a documentary interview before he could climb into the bus late that night, pour a Jack Daniels and head home. "I would make a terrible political candidate,'' he said later, contemplating another month of campaigning for one of the hottest issues this election. "I don't know how they do this." But every cause needs a champion  and who better for this one than a glib, thick-skinned, profane warhorse whose endless TV ads have made his Kentucky drawl and jowly mug a Florida fixture for years?And for all Morgan's musings about exhausting road trips and lost family time, this crusade has reaped great personal benefit.Morgan expects to spend about $6 million on the marijuana campaign. Amid the publicity, his firm is attracting an extra 1,000 clients a month, he said. That translates to a revenue boost of about $50 million over last year.Morgan cannot walk two blocks without strangers wanting a picture with him. At every stop, people with shaking voices, moist eyes and damaged bodies reach for him as if mere touch could heal.None of this, however, guarantees success on Nov. 4.Constitutional amendments in Florida must pass by at least 60 percent. Though most polls have hovered around 70 per cent approval, Morgan recently saw one at 67. Last week, the Tampa Bay Times, the state's largest paper, editorialized against the amendment and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson dumped another $1.5 million into opposition coffers.So Morgan, less confident than he once was, is spending more time campaigning."People are seeing the (anti-Amendment 2) ads," Morgan said, "and I'm worried that people are going to be tricked.'' Morgan has his talking points down pat: Marijuana is a miracle herb. Legislators are callous do-nothings. Narcotics kill, while pot makes you sleepy. Opponents employ lies as scare tactics.Beyond these basics, Morgan tweaks to fit his audience.At USF, he told 100 or so students that greedy drug manufacturers fund the opposition, a theory that might not play well to an older audience that relies on prescription medications.The youth vote will carry the day, he told the students."I really didn't know young people before this started,'' he said. "Now everywhere I go I am high-fiving people. I didn't even know what a selfie was.''Next stop was his law firm's Tampa office. A Miami producer filming a documentary wants him on camera. Morgan entered an eighth floor suite and blurted out, "This isn't our office.''Morgan had not set foot in the Tampa office in more than a year and didn't know it had expanded up a floor.Morgan & Morgan is a huge personal injury firm, with branches in seven states. But Morgan himself long ago traded lawyering for entrepreneurship. He owns Marriott hotels and shopping centers, a billboard company, an agency that helps other law firms produces ads, a sports management group, museums for kids and an investment company with former Orlando Magic star Grant Hill.Morgan provides ideas, capital and advertising. Partners do the grunt work. With his wife Altima  a securities lawyer and the other half of Morgan & Morgan  he spends weekends at Ponce Inlet, a beach town south of Daytona famous for its lighthouse. He nurtures his tan, cigar and drink in hand, and indulges in a guilty pleasure  the National Enquirer.If nothing else, his beach reading material confirms the adage that great trial lawyers stay in touch with the common man. 'For the People,' indeed.He defended the tabloid's juicy fare, insisting "It's true. They do polygraphs on those people.''But he also admitted to keeping his habit discreet. "I have subscribed for 10 years because I am embarrassed to buy it at the checkout counter,'' Morgan said. "My favorite edition is the cellulite edition. I love seeing movie stars without makeup."Tuesday afternoon, a "town hall meeting" with about 70 people at a modest community center in Tampa drew campaign workers, patients and personal testimony.Morgan says he hasn't smoked marijuana in 30 years, but he tells the crowd that his paralyzed brother Tim eases pain with pot-infused chocolate.Tampa resident Erin Elliot, 51, takes the microphone to speak of the bacterial infection that made her legs useless and put her in terrible pain that narcotics could barely touch. Yet if she adds marijuana, she fears it will show up on blood tests and she will lose insurance coverage."All I can do is lie in bed and scream,'' she said. "I vomit, I sweat and what I hate the worst is that my 8-year-old daughter has to watch this.''Morgan mentioned his next stop, a debate in Bartow with Polk County sheriff Grady Judd, an outspoken opponent of Amendment 2. The audience explodes with catcalls and hisses.Morgan grinned and amped up his farewell, declaring: "I'm going to Polk County to put another a-- whipping on him.''Back on the bus, Morgan explained the vehicle's origin. He was partying with country legend Willie Nelson  no stranger to marijuana  after a recent concert, and met two people who lease custom buses to rock stars. They donated a bus to Morgan. The outside is wrapped in standard political red, white and blue.Inside are black leather benches, colored neon lights, flat screen TV's, wifi and a kitchenette  all it lacks is a stripper pole, Morgan joked.Checking his e-mail, Morgan discovered that Sheldon Adelson was unhappy. One of the world's richest men, Adelson's contributions to the opposition now total $4-million. Despite their differences, the two men have exchanged respectful e-mails for months. But Morgan's United for Care headquarters in Miami just issued a release chastising Adelson for financing lies, and Adelson is demanding a retraction."It will be done in the morning,'' Morgan types back on his mini Ipad  grumbling aboutf the gaffe."You don't attack people with billions.''For all his bravado in Tampa, a tamer John Morgan addresses the League of Women Voters in Bartow. The audience is older and whiter, a crowd that appears to like their law-and-order sheriff, Grady Judd.Actually, Morgan does too. "After this is all over, we are going to have to have country band called John and Judd and go around playing county fairs,'' Morgan said, noting this is their third debate over medical marijuana."I was thinking more like Judd and John,'' the sheriff retorted."Anyone who has a gun can do anything they want,'' Morgan countered.Judd decried what he calls loopholes in Amendment 2 and warned voters against enshrining them in the state constitution.But beneath their sparring is a bond. "How's the baby?" Judd asks at one point.That would be Morgan's first grandchild  John Bryant Morgan  born a week ago.Later, Judd spoke of his nephew who suffered permanent brain damage in a diving accident while working at Morgan's firm. Morgan has helped support the family ever since.After the debate, Morgan spotted Judd leaving through a side door. "Hey Grady,'' Morgan yelled. "What say we meet at Boots N Buckles after this? If I go there with you, I can do anything I want.''"If I knew it was going to be that entertaining the last time, I would have been there,'' Judd yelled back.After their second debate, Morgan ended up at the popular Lakeland saloon, where management asked him to take the stage and address a raucous crowd on Ladies Night. Drink in hand, Morgan's profane, rambling performance created a two-day sensation on YouTube, much to the delight of his opponents. This night will end differently.Greeting well-wishers on his way back to the campaign bus, Morgan was stopped by Morgan Haas, 34, leaning on a cane. The Lakeland man thanked Morgan, who noticed Haas' left hand trembling badly."Whaddaya got?'' Morgan asked."Type I diabetes, thyroid cancer, 14 broken bones and two broken vertebrae,'' Haas said. "Now they tell me I might have MS."Morgan's face flushed. He hesitated, speechless at last.He extended his hand, closing it into a fist at the last second. Haas made a fist, too, and they bumped. Together, they headed out the door.Source: Tampa Bay Times (FL)Author: Stephen Nohlgren, Times Staff WriterPublished: Friday, October 10, 2014Copyright: 2014 St. Petersburg TimesWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives 
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