John Morgan, attorney and marijuana advocate, explained to Matthew Kind from CannaInsider.com why he’s putting millions of dollars into the fight to legalize marijuana in Florida. Listen to the full 30 minute interview here.
Matthew: Recently Florida has overtaken New York to become the third most populous state in the U.S. with 20 million people. With this kind of population in sway Florida’s decision to legalize cannabis can greatly help or hinder a broader legalization movement. Here to help us understand the opportunities and challenges in Florida is John Morgan. John has been a vanguard leading the legalization effort both in terms of activism and his generous financial donations. John, welcome to CannaInsider.
John Morgan: It’s good to be here.
Matthew: John give us a sense of geography. Where in the world are you today?
John Morgan: Today I’m in Ponce Inlet, Florida. It’s a beautiful beach. I’m in my beach house. It’s blue skies and breaking waves and a cigar and a glass of ice tea.
Matthew: Nice, nice. John what’s your background? How did you get involved in this effort in such a big way?
John Morgan: I got involved because a fellow political guy came to me a few years ago and asked me what I thought about the legalization of medical marijuana. I told him that my brother Tim Morgan who was quadriplegic couldn’t function without it. He uses it illegally in Florida. He’s a C-6, C-7 quad. If he took the medicines that they want him to take for his pain and spasms, he would be… He was up to seven Xanax a day, and I took a half a Xanax once and it was like, you know, I was knocked out for 12 hours. And so I said it’s important. I mean there’s people like my brother. My father had cancer and he used it when he had his cancer treatments and I said it’s nothing short of miraculous. So he kind of started walking me through it, showing some polling and he said would you be interested in helping us. And I said yeah I would because in Florida 400,000 who have things like epilepsy and post traumatic stress disorder and cancer, quadriplegic, just keep going through the whole list of illnesses and injury. I said 400,000 really sick people would benefit, and I’m also a trial lawyer and I spend a lot of my time and my efforts fighting the pharmaceutical industry. I know the evil that comes from that industry.
I know the deaths that come from opioids. I know the people that are killed a year, 13,000, hundreds of thousands hooks, millions of family members affected. And then you look at marijuana and you say this is a plant that was put into nature for us by God or nature, depending on how you look at it, and it works. And so there it began.
Matthew: And then what’s United for Care?
John Morgan: United for Care is the organization that we formed to get our constitutional admend led. The Florida legislature is very conservative in the hid pocket of the pharmaceutical industry and there was no hope there. So United for Care was set up as our organization to get the language approved by the Florida Supreme Court to then collect signatures. We needed tens of thousands of signatures and then to go on the ballot and we needed, the first time around, we needed to have 60% of the voters which as you know is a landslide. And so United for Care, if anybody wants to learn more about it, they can go to www.untiedforcare.org if you want to help or learn, and that is our vehicle for our constitutional amendment.
Matthew: Okay. And you’ve put a lot of financial resources into United for Care. Do you mind disclosing how much you’ve put in to give a sense of scope for us?
John Morgan: I think about $8 million now. I mean the first time around I made every mistake known to man. I mean I’m out there. I’m not a constitutional lawyer. I’m not a political operative and so if there was a mistake made the first go around, I made it, and I spent a lot of money that I didn’t have to spend the second time around. We lost the first time by like a point, 58.5%, but what kind of drove me is the more I was out there the more people were calling me, thanking me and begging me, and telling me their stories and coming up to me in the street and grocery stores and everywhere and it was like my God this movement is gigantic. There’s an underbelly of people who are desperate for this.
So because of that I felt like I do try to give a lot of my money away that I make because for a lot of reasons I think we should. And to me this is an important philanthropy as a food bank. I mean I financed a big food bank called the Morgan/Morgan Hunger Relief Center and Second Harvest Food Bank and to me this was kind of on par with that kind of philanthropy because so many people were going to benefit day one and then day two and three and four it just becomes geometric.
Matthew: How big of a part do you think Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnet, laid into feeding the legalization effort in 2014?
John: I think a lot because we weren’t, again back to my mistakes, I don’t think I do a good job of responding to it. We kind of rag tagged there at the end. He brought some money and his ads were totally misleading. We hadn’t really thought out the strategy for that. I mean they had all these different, you know, there’s these drug dealers taking care of sick people and the drug dealers want to get the drugs. I mean ridiculous stuff. Drug dealers don’t buy medical marijuana and pack it together and sell it. They go out with a cigarette boat and get it by the bails out here off my beach, but it was effective. They were scaring people. Our children are going to get marijuana, our children. I mean it’s like what, to me it’s like you got more shit inside your medicine cabinet Sheldon that could kill everybody. Marijuana is not going to kill anybody, but those fear tactics were very effective, especially to people when you get to 60 years and older.
Every year up the ladder is where the votes really fall off for us because older people, and unfortunately I hate to report that I’m now 60 so I’m one of them, the older you get we found the more scared and uninformed they were and we started losing that vote. I mean you go to 60 to 65 to 70 to 75 and it was an off year election and those people vote. I mean that’s an even, that’s something to do. Haircut tomorrow and vote today.
Matthew: So is that a big part of the strategy this time around? Just kind of mitigate the fear of the senior citizens?
John: I think yeah to educate them, to say listen guys you all make up 13% of the population but you make up 40% of healthcare and the pharmaceutical needs. You, me, I’m with you. We’re the ones that are going to be stricken with these illnesses and to try to educate them that look this is a lot safer than oxy. This is a lot safer than Percocet. I mean all you got to do is look at a picture of Prince in his elevator shaft. I mean that’s what did him in. And so to kind of tell that story, and then I think the other strategy is look last time was an off year election. We had two people, unpopular running for governor, nobody cared. Important to know is those candidates who were running they got very low numbers, medical marijuana got higher vote totals than any single person on the statewide ballot.
This time around it’s a presidential election. Turnout was my enemy last time. This time turnout will be my friend I believe. The last time the Supreme Court approved our language 4 to 3, it was very close. This year I tweaked the language to kind of answer some of the critics, tweaked the language last time 4 to 3, Supreme Court. This time the Supreme Court said by 7-0 opinion we approve your language. Last time the Attorney General Pam Bondy opposed us with Amicus Brief, this time she didn’t. Last time, everybody was saying let’s do this legislatively. Last time we said okay well let’s try to do it. Two years have gone by, nothing has happened in the legislature. And finally this time in this presidential election we’ve got three people that are going to be running for president of any substance. We got Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and I think his name is Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party. All three of the presidential candidates running for office are 100% in favor of the legalization of medical marijuana. The important thing to remember is injury and disease does not pick political parties. Just because you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean you’re going to get multiple sclerosis. Just because you’re a Republican doesn’t mean you’re not going to be injured in an accident. As we all know disease and injuries they are neutral.
Matthew: Do you talk with anybody in the legal profession; judges, lawyers that support marijuana legalization but are fearful to step forward and announce their support publically?
John: Yeah and sheriffs and police chiefs. I mean kind of a lot. The last time the Sherriff’s Association came out really against us and they said look we’re for it. We just don’t want it to be done with an amendment. We want it to be done legislatively so there can be more control. This time the sheriffs, while they’re not going to come out for me, they’re not going to be out there fighting me like they did last time. Look there’s a whole world, a whole industrial business of housing and jailing drug offenders. And these policemen and sheriffs and police chiefs they don’t want to be wasting their time chasing down people who are using medical marijuana, and they are compassionate people. My main opponent was Sheriff Grady Judd from Lakeland. He said look I want this to happen. I just want it to be done legislatively. If you ask him now he says the legislature failed us.
The people who really come up to me and who support me are doctors, nurses, people who work in hospice centers, people who work in rehab centers, oncologists. The cancer doctors are the ones that come to me and go for God sake please make this happen. There is a drug that you can take for nausea, but it doesn’t work. I mean they’ve never been able to figure out how to make it work. When you have taken chemo and you take marijuana in any form it almost immediately gives you your appetite and quells your nausea. It just works. So a lot of people are coming forward and I think as these dominos are falling around the country, people are more embolden and have more courage to say hey we’ll step forward and be out there.
Matthew: As cannabis gains a bigger foothold in Florida and if legalization passes, do you see yourself getting involved in the commercial side of the business at all?
John: No, I have no interest. I have no land, I have no dispensaries, I have no plan. Every law firm and lobbyist in the State of Florida now has a marijuana group, but I’m an entrepreneur. I have a bunch a hotels and shopping centers and part of a private (14.29 unclear) that I have attractions and my law firm is Morgan & Morgan. I’ve got them all over the country. So I got all I can handle and I think it’s better for me not to be because I don’t want this to be about me and some kind of financial gain for me. So that’s been my pledge that I don’t and I won’t.
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Matthew: How big of a factor is an increase in tax revenue in helping the legalization effort in Florida?
John: Well look when you really think, when you get into the business side of it it is every day technology and innovation gets rid of a lot of jobs here in America. This is a job creator. This is a tax creator. This is an economy builder. I mean all you have to do is look at it in Colorado and see what’s happened out there. I mean the governor was kind of 50/50 on it and how he’s 100% on it. Real estate values have gone up. There’s more real estate spaces taken. There’s jobs, there’s revenue, there’s taxes. From a business side this is an absolute no brainer. It just means money to the state and jobs for the people.
Matthew: John can you explain what Civil Asset Forfeiture is for our listeners that don’t know?
John: Well if you were caught, I’m not a criminal defense lawyer. I’m a trial lawyer but I did go to law school. It’s basically where if you’re involved in a criminal enterprise that you can forfeit your assets that were involved in that. If you have a car or something your car could be impounded and sold. By the way that’s a big business for a lot of sheriff’s departments. That is a revenue bill and some of these… that’s kind of a dirty little secret. I mean that’s a revenue builder for them.
Matthew: Right. They have part of their budget built in is civil asset forfeiture and that being said do you think it really colors how we should look at their opposition to cannabis?
John: I think it might. I mean look you got people who want to lock people up for drugs because there is private jails. I mean you think it colors those people’s view, yeah they want to lock them up because they make money. In fact if I owned a hotel, which I do, but I want tourists to come to my hotel, yeah. That’s how I make money. The only way people make money that own jails is to lock people up. And so what we decided to do in this country is to have this so called War on Drugs where we lock people up who have a drug addiction. We don’t lock people up for having diabetes, but we lock them up in America. We love to put people in jail in America. We have 18 times more people in jail per capita than any country in the world and the closest to us is China and I’ve been to China and I was scared to chew bubble gum and look at a police. I just stayed in my hotel room looking out the window, but we will lock people up a lot faster here because it’s profitable. We like to act like we’re very tolerant people, but America may be the most intolerant. The caning that goes on in Singapore pales in comparison to all the people in jails in America.
Matthew: Yeah I think there’s just a feeling of powerlessness like our legislators have kind of been taken over, infiltrated by certain powers that just dictate what to do and one of those powers is the prison lobby or companies that benefit from the War on Drugs and we just don’t know what to do. It’s frustrating.
John: Well look I mean the pharmaceutical industry is billions and billions and billions of dollars and they don’t want this. The two groups that don’t want this to pass are pharmaceutical industry and El Chapo. Those are the two people who are really groups that don’t want it. I do a lot of tobacco litigation, sue the tobacco companies for deaths of people. The tobacco industry is probably the most evil, diabolical industry. I mean they are in the business of premeditated murder. You know what they call the young smokers? They call them replacement smokers. Forty-four thousand people die every year, excuse me, 440,000 die every year from tobacco. When you smoke a filtered cigarette and you see that brown stuff at the end of the tip. You think oh that’s the tar and nicotine. No it’s not. They lace the cotton with a chemical to make it turn brown so you think that all of that is being blocked. They are in the business of premeditated murder and our government allows it. Why? Because they got the bribe money. It’s outrageous. And by the way, marijuana has never resulted in one single death ever in the world from marijuana use.
Matthew: Great points. Now what you think will happen if Chris Christie becomes Attorney General in the Trump administration, if that happens?
John: Well it would be like the bully from your fifth grade class is now in charge. The teacher has gone out to take a smoke and now the bully is in charge of the classroom. I mean it’s unimaginable to me. I’m a liberal democrat okay but I’m a very fiscal conservative. I’m a businessperson, I’m a capitalist. I love what Bernie Sanders said but I just couldn’t go that far because I mean there’s just not enough money to give everybody shit for free. But when I look at the people, Chris Christie and what’s going on in America I’m like, I mean, I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I know that people called Trump Hitler and Mussolini. I don’t want to go that far but I will say this, I can see how Hitler happened. Because I’m sure that Hitler was not out saying I’m going to exterminate all the Jews the first day in office, but he was saying some awful shit.
What I hear and what I see makes me understand how good people hoping to protect themselves let real bad people get in charge. So Chris Christie, what he would probably do is he would probably undo all the… he would probably start prosecuting everybody federally because there’s a conflict between the states and the federal government which could shut down everything marijuana in America. You can’t bank because of it now. Banking with marijuana is real difficult because the federal preemption.
Matthew: Any desires to run for political office in Florida or otherwise?
John: Who me, no. Listen I got a great life. I go to Hawaii in the winter time. I come to my beach house in the spring and in the late fall. I go to my house in Orlando. I travel the world. I’ve got all my children work with me in my law firm. I’ve got grandchildren. I sit out here on the back porch at night and drink Makers Mark and grill steaks. Why the heck would I want to do something like that?
Matthew: Now if Amendment 2 doesn’t pass for some reason will you continue your activism?
John: I’ll continue my activism. I can’t imagine doing it a third time. I mean I would have to say you know I’ve carried the baton for two legs. Let’s see what we can do. I’m now 60 years old. What I plan to do if it passes, I plan to then go out and do another constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage in Florida to $15 an hour because none of this stuff is ever going to happen in the legislature because the Chamber of Commerce and these people that bribe our politicians. They don’t want to pay people a living wage. I mean in all my businesses I pay living wages, and guess what? I think I make more money because of it because people stay. But I don’t know how people live on 7-8-9 dollars an hour. I mean the food bank, the Morgan & Morgan Hunger Relief Center at Second Harvest Food Bank, 250,000 people, this is in Orlando, come every month or every week, excuse me. Most of them are the working poor. I mean they go to the grocery store, they check people out and they get in their car and they go get free food because they don’t have enough money to feed their families. I mean Bernie Sanders is right on on that.
Matthew: You know sometimes even the best laid plans have unintended consequences as we saw when Wendy’s says they plan to automate all their fast food restaurants with automated ordering. So sometimes there’s a benefit in higher wages for some folks but at the same time that kind of creates an incentive for businesses to use automation or software or other things that replace people entirely because they don’t want to pay the increased wages. Do you think that’s a tradeoff worth making?
John: Yeah because I don’t believe it. I believe that Wendy’s can try to automate all they want. I mean I’ve driven through there. I haven’t ever seen anything automated in Wendy’s.
Matthew: Well they just announced it recently.
John: Well they can announce they’re going to go to Pluto too, but who is going to cook the hamburgers? Who is going to take the change? I mean when you come through the drive thru window. I mean everybody has got aspirations. Listen if you want to worry about something, worry about the driverless car. The driverless puts car dealerships will sell fewer cars. I mean how many hours a day are you in a car. You don’t need a car. If you’ve got Uber and a driverless car, you don’t need a car anymore. I mean last night we went to a restaurant, we had some drinks here. Uber came to my house at the beach, we got in the Uber. We drove down the street, we had dinner. We came back. I mean but if it was a driverless car, I think what that does is there’s no more insurance agencies, there’s no more insurance companies, there’s no more body shops. I mean innovation of technology is coming which also kind of makes my point for the marijuana industry. It is a job and tax creator.
So you know technology and innovation is going to come. I don’t think this, business is never going to pay people more just so they can do it. If they can do it more efficiently, they’re not going to just keep the robots out just because they’re good people and benevolent people. I don’t believe it.
Matthew: John you recently were a participant and speaker at the Marijuana Business Daily Conference. What did you think of that when you went around? It was your first time there. What did you think of the cannabis business community?
John: Shocked. I mean I thought I was at an Amway convention. I mean there was thousands of people there. See I’m not part of this group. I had never been to anything like that before. I’ve been on the medical marijuana side in Florida and you know very smart people, business people, doctors and I just thought we are at a tipping point that one day in the near future that avalanche is going to happen and people will go my God what happened. It was just a snowflake, well no with all that built up snow it finally just fell and it was well organized. The people were smart. The vendors were good. I was amazed. It was in my hometown so I didn’t have to go that far to do it, but it was I think 3,000 or 4,000 people there. I was like good lord.
Matthew: Right. John I like to ask a personal development question. As you look over the arc of your life, is there a book that had an outsize impact on your that you would like to share with listeners?
John: A book? There’s been a lot of books. I mean the book that’s impacting me right now is a book called Halftime, and everybody always gives the phony answer the Bible so I’m never going to do that. But there’s a book called Halftime and what Halftime talks about is going from success to significance. That you go through life making money and trying to get ahead and then you get to a point in your life where you’re at Halftime or for me probably the third quarter. It’s a fantastic book. So the premise of the book is why are we here and what’s it all about and what comes next. And when you stop focusing on success and you start to focus on significance you will find a much greater peace inside of yourself. I find a great peace for doing this.
I found a great peace when I did the food bank. We just put a bunch of money to build a domestic shelter for abused woman called the Morgan & Morgan Harbor House, and I have found when you look at people that have peace and you’ve seen them in your life, what is it behind it? Why does that person feel, why is that person so chill? Why is that person such at peace? I’m trying to look at it and here’s what it is. There’s a prayer by Mother Theresa and it goes like this, the fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is peace. When you go from success to significance you take what’s called her simple path and when you get to that service part, and that’s where I’m at right now with legalizing medical marijuana, when you get to that service part that’s what gives you peace and that’s what gives you, I think in my own mind, everlasting peace.
Matthew: Great. That’s a great place to close John and as we do close I want to thank you for your activism and generous donations to marijuana legalization. Can you tell us one more time how listeners can find United For Care online?
John: Go to www.unitedforcare.org. We will accept your money. We need your money. We don’t know what they’re going to come at us with in the fall, but we got just so close last time. We just need that one more snowflake for our tipping point to give us this avalanche. So it’s www.unitedforcare.org.
Matthew: John thanks so much for coming on CannaInsider. We really appreciate it.
John Morgan: Alright, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.