Often hilarious, sometimes profane, occasionally long winded — Orlando-based personal injury attorney John Morgan was all that and more in a bravura appearance before the Tampa Tiger Bay Club at Maestro's at the Straz Center on Friday afternoon.
As the man who has invested $4 million of his own money to give Floridians the opportunity to become the 21st state in the union to have medical marijuana, Morgan's hour-plus speech was focused almost exclusively on the proposed constitutional amendment, whose presence on the ballot this November was only made certain within the past month after surviving a challenge in the Florida Supreme Court.
A skilled public speaker, Morgan, who has become a household name in Florida due to the ubiquitous television ads that refer to his legal practice, drew laughs immediately when he said, "If you've been injured in an automobile accident or hurt on the job," the opening line of those Morgan & Morgan commercials.
Mixing pathos with biting humor, Morgan often worked the crowd like a stand-up comic, and a crude one at that. Reflecting on how politicians are held in such low esteem for good reason, he blasted the bromide from legislators that they run for office to provide "public service."
"Every time I hear 'public service' I say to myself, 'bullshit....it's about vanity.'"
But he grew emotional talking about the two people in his family — his father and brother Timmy — who both grew so ill that pot was the only medication able to improve the pain they were suffering, if only temporarily.
Morgan's father died of esophageal cancer. When he was in the hospital dying, he was on a "cocktail of narcotics" that wasn't improving his condition, Morgan said. He pleaded with his father to indulge in smoking marijuana, which he finally agreed to do. He said after days of withering away, a meal consisting of a roast, carrots and potatoes was prepared for his father. Morgan says he'll never forget that night; shortly after consuming cannabis, his father was sitting up in his hospital bed with a Miller Lite in front of him. "He said, 'John? This shit works.'"
He then went on to assail the prodigious consumption of Oxycontin in this country, quoting reports that 16,000 people die every year from it. "You tell me one person who ever died from a marijuana overdose."
Although every major poll taken in recent months shows that the measure would pass this year, Morgan acknowledges that getting the 60 percent majority required for passage will not be easy. But he's extremely confident that it will become law.
He's also sensitive to, if not a bit irritated by, the fact that some critics believe there will be marijuana dispensaries on every block in every city, as critics described as being the case initially in California.
He then challenged the audience to name one of the 18 states other than California or Colorado where marijuana is prescribed legally. He said they might be hard pressed to do "because it ain't a problem out there! We just decided to take the state where it's totally legal and make that the whipping tree." He mentioned that that medical marijuana is also legal in Arizona, which he described as one of the most conservative states in the country. "They're not worried about medical marijuana in Arizona. They're worried about illegal immigrants in Arizona."
(Speaking of Colorado, a House Democrat from Orlando, Rep. Randolph Bracy introduced legislation today legislating recreational marijuana use in Florida.)
He said the resistance to pot in the U.S. has always been exaggerated, though he's never condoned its recreational use in his own family. He said the much of the opposition came from the 1936 film Reefer Madness. and that anti-drug laws in this country were rooted in racism, hatred and fear, which are the same arguments he hears today.
And he says it's unfortunate that, in Florida, support for the measure has come down to a partisan issue, with most Democrats supporting it and most Republicans opposed. He believes that if Rick Scott and Pam Bondi could do it over again, they would be neutral instead of being so vocal in their opposition, in particular Bondi, who was on the losing end of the battle to have the proposal struck down by the courts.
"If we had to polygraph every Republican legislator in the state, how many of them do you think have smoked marijuana illegally? I mean the hypocrisy is beyond the puke factor."
Part of the problem for Morgan is that he has become the face and voice of the movement to pass medical marijuana, though he's hardly steeped in understanding of every aspect of what will happen in Florida if the measure passes, something he complained about on Friday. "A lot of people are calling me like I'm going to be the guy who's going to be laying out the plots of land and dealing out the franchises," he surmised.
So far, there have been no major group(s) declaring they will actively oppose the medical pot initiative, though the election is still more than eight months away. Morgan doesn't envision that happening, though he did say "Big Pharma" might attempt to block the legislation.
Although it was mostly a love fest, there was one man in the audience who asked Morgan to comment on the rumors that his whole effort was simply designed to help elect his personal friend and now co-worker Charlie Crist, one of two major Democrats running for the nomination for governor this year.
The (unproven) theory is that there will be a greater turnout of Democratic voters than is normally the case in an off-year election because of the pot initiative, which will benefit Crist. As he has in the past, Morgan swatted down such rumors.
"Look. You would have to think [it was] back in February (of 2013) that I dreamed it all up ... that Bill Nelson wasn't going to run. That Charlie Crist was going to run. That I was going to go through all these obstacles to get there. I would love to tell you that I'm that smart and Machiavellian and conniving. But I'm not."
He went on to say that disease that does not choose a political party, and that he doubts anyone whose lives have been affected by a loved one benefiting from medical pot would change their vote.
And then with a slight pause. "But I like being credited with being conniving."