Two of the biggest names to pass the expansion of medical marijuana in Florida -- Orlando attorney John Morgan and Florida For Care Executive Director Ben Pollara -- are going through a very public breakup after the state Legislature killed off a bill to regulate Florida’s medical marijuana industry late Friday evening.
After 60 days, state lawmakers still couldn’t reach an agreement over the number of retail facilities allowed in the proposals. With no compromise over the legislation, the bill died -- and Morgan says the blame for that lies squarely with Ben Pollara.
Morgan and insiders explained Pollara and Florida For Care’s lobbying efforts were the real reason the legislation failed.
It was Florida For Care, they said, which pushed the issue of limiting the number of dispensaries for growers at the last minute in order to force the state to issue more licenses in order to get rid of the original seven growers allowed to dispense the drug across the state.
At the 11th hour, insiders said, Florida For Care lobbyists Frank and Tracy Mayernick put pressure on Senate President Joe Negron over the cap numbers to ultimately force the state to issue more licenses and break up the seven original medical cannabis growers.
The Senate wouldn’t budge on caps of 50 and 100 dispensaries, and so the legislation died.
The idea for facility caps was actually a product of former Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned from office just two weeks ago. Artiles’ ghost seems to wander the Capitol halls -- with medical marijuana essentially being one casualty he took with him on his way out the door.
Sunshine State News first reported the inside ball game politics late Friday evening.
Morgan blames Pollara personally for the catastrophe, hinting Pollara was “responsible” for the failure in a Godfather-themed tweet posted Friday evening.
“My #ArmyOfAngels will be shocked to learn of the person responsible for this deadlock!” Morgan wrote, adding the hashtag “#FredoWillBeFishingSoon -- a reference to the iconic scene in the Godfather where Michael Corleone delivers the “kiss of death” to his brother, Fredo Corleone, after discovering he was the traitor responsible for a failed assassination attempt on him.
On Saturday, the firebrand attorney unleashed another storm of tweets, making good to tell the world who was behind the failed bill. Morgan called Pollara out by name, slamming the South Florida Democratic activist for putting money over the suffering patients of Florida. He accused him of having a financial stake in the legislation and of putting those interests over the will of suffering Floridians.
“Keep [Ben Pollara] away! #HeDidThisForMoney #SoldHisSoulForABowlOfRice,” Morgan tweeted.
For Morgan, Pollara’s “betrayal” runs deep. The two worked closely together both in 2014 and in 2016 to pass Amendment 2, which greatly expanded the use of medical marijuana in Florida.
They were united largely under the same cause: to bring relief to the suffering patients of Florida. Morgan, who is not a lobbyist and hardly gets involved in Tallahassee politics, relied heavily on Pollara to make good on the promise to Florida voters.
They worked hard, pouring millions of dollars and countless hours into getting the amendment to pass.
In November, 71 percent of voters finally said “yes” to the case they made. Things were golden for the two, who had quickly transformed their political work into a friendship.
But from Morgan’s perspective, that bond has been broken. From Morgan’s viewpoint, Pollara has failed.
“He betrayed my #ArmyOfAngels for money,” Morgan tweeted. “Tell us how much you were paid @bfgpollara? He is NOT United for Care. He IS United for BEN!!”
Pollara denied receiving any financial incentive over medical cannabis in an interview with Sunshine State News Saturday -- and he said he didn’t see his work with United For Care and Florida for Care as a conflict of interest.
“The only compensation I have ever sought or received for work related to medical marijuana has been for political consulting and lobbying,” he said. “I have always viewed any financial stake in the marijuana industry as a clear conduct with my roles as an advocate and leader of these two organizations.”
Pollara told SSN their relationship began to crumble earlier this week in the midst of negotiations on retail facility caps. Morgan was not happy over the idea of capping dispensaries and made it clear the bill would fail if caps were part of the end language.
“He called me on three-way with Jake Bergmann of [medical marijuana facility] Surterra [Tuesday evening,] threatening to kill legislation over caps and threatening the public shaming he's now delivering. Obviously, he's made good on both,” Pollara said.
Pollara attempted to mend the wounds with Morgan many times, he told SSN, but Morgan has given him the cold shoulder.
“He will not listen to reason, calls me a liar, and says horrific things to and about me,” said Pollara.
Now that medical cannabis legislation is a bust, it’s now up to the Department of Health to implement Amendment 2. The DOH will have until July 3 to figure out a regulatory system for the drug, which is set to serve hundreds of thousands of patients in Florida.
Morgan continued to poke Pollara, trashing him for misguided priorities.
The Orlando attorney, on the other hand, says he never received any sort of compensation to fight for medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.
“Read @bfgpollara's non denial denial closely,” Morgan wrote. “Who paid for the lobbyists? How much? Who paid BEN? I've never received a dime.”
The legislation wasn’t the only thing to blow up last night. Both the bill -- and Morgan and Pollara’s friendship -- are now finished.