Legalize It petition drive coming to St. Petersburg's Amsterdam for final signature push

The push to get legalized medical marijuana on the Florida ballot in 2014 is in its final days. After months and months of collecting signatures across the state, United for Care's campaign manager Ben Pollara says the petition has close to 1 million signatures.

"We are pretty damn close," Pollara told CL Wednesday. "We are just under a million signatures right now. We are continuing to collect all this weekend, wrapping up on Monday."

And this weekend, locals hope to grab as many last-minute signatures as possible. Saturday, January 11, St. Petersburg's recently opened Amsterdam craft beer bar is hosting a free 12-hour Legalize It petition drive party. Amsterdam owners John Cullen and Zoie Torres both worked in the medical field previously, and say that's why they wanted to support United for Care's cause.

"We've seen the potential benefits of medical marijuana for certain diseases, versus traditional pain medications," Cullen said Friday. "Studies have shown it helps with epilepsy, without any of the harsh side effects of traditional medications."

Both Cullen and Torres had seen Morgan & Morgan's advertisements (John Morgan has been the campaign's poster child and bankroll) and wanted to help. Last week they got in touch with regional organizer Bianca Garza.

"She said we needed to do something soon so we got the ball rolling," Cullen said. A week later, they had 10 bands, plenty of local beer donations, and more. There will be beer (Rapp Brewing, Barley Mow Brewing Co., and Florida Beer Company), food, raffles, music, education, and of course, petitions available for signing.

"This is about education primarily," Cullen said. " It's not about people smoking weed in the street. This is, for us, a cause we believe in supporting because of the benefits for those who need it."

Musicians (who've donated their time free of charge to perform) include:
Rob Irie (of Buffalo Strange) 2-2:45 p.m., Stadelman Bros (of Cope) 3-3:45 p.m., Chris Sgamatto (of Displace) 4-4:45 p.m., Hail Abigayle 5-5:45 p.m., The New Rulerz 6-6:45 p.m., Full Fledged Unit 7-7:45 p.m., The John Clark Band 8-8:45 p.m., Geri X 9-9:45 p.m., Holey MissMoley 10-11:45 p.m., and Applebutter Express 12-2 a.m.

By Monday, United for Care's Ben Pollara says they hope to have 1.1 signatures ready to deliver to the supervisor of elections office for verification.

"We give them boxes of petitions and a check for 10 cents per petition," Pollara says. "They give us a receipt, and either a dirty look or a smile."

The number of signatures being submitted is much higher than the roughly 700,000 needed to get on the ballot. That's because they allow for a certain rejection percentage (repeat signers, non-residents, etc.). Signatures have to be verified and submitted to the Secretary of State by February 1.

And then, of course, the state Supreme Court still has to come back with a decision about whether the amendment language is constitutional.

"We are nearing the end of our signature drive and are patiently waiting on the Supreme Court for a decision," Pollara said. "We'd hoped they rule prior to the end."

That decision could come back anytime between now and April. But the campaign isn't waiting around to hear back. Once signatures are submitted, Pollara says they start the next phase of the campaign, education and awareness.

"We are planning for the general election next week," he said. "We're doing outreach with labor unions, consumer groups and political groups. Basically, getting all the people who signed the petition to go out and vote."

Legalize It Petition Drive, Saturday, January 11. Free. 2 p.m.-2 a.m. 1049 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-623-4950. See the petition here.

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