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John Morgan tells Rotarians how marijuana helped his dying father

TAMPA — The trial lawyer leading the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida said his father — a man who generally scorned drugs — died with dignity because of marijuana.

In a campaign stop Tuesday, John Morgan urged members of the Rotary Club of Tampa to consider medical marijuana an "issue of compassion." He spoke about his father, suffering from cancer and emphysema, who found that marijuana allowed him to shed the haze of prescription drugs and enjoy small pleasures until the end: his son taking him on aimless car rides, or a crisp Miller Light.

"This is a plant that was put into nature for us by God," Morgan told the crowd of about 150 club members and guests. "I don't believe we can know something is right and do nothing."

Morgan, a multimillionaire Orlando trial lawyer, has spent more than $4 million in support of a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana with a doctor's certificate. He urged attendees to "embrace it, because the alternative is oxycontin and much more devastating drugs that hook and kill people."

Opponents say Amendment 2 is riddled with loopholes that will allow for easy access to marijuana and little recourse for fixing problems once enacted.

"This amendment that he's backing is not about the sick and dying," Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, said in an interview. "This amendment is wide open for any condition they can get a pot doctor to write a recommendation for."

She lambasted Morgan for leveraging emotional stories for political gain.

Fay said politics are the driving force behind Morgan's campaign — the election as governor of his friend and employee Charlie Crist. Morgan denies any political motive.

A video of Morgan speaking to young voters in Lakeland, apparent cocktail in hand, recently made the rounds because of his profane language. He laughed about the video Tuesday.

"That was an X-rated locker room speech to fire up young people," he told reporters. "If young people vote, I'll win."

Morgan said Tuesday that medical marijuana is an end-of-life drug and a safer, less addictive alternative to "poisonous narcotics" like oxycontin.

A recent study estimated that the number of narcotic painkiller overdoses in states with medical marijuana is 25 percent lower than would be expected without legalized marijuana.

Morgan cited support from figures like CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and shared family experience: his brother Tim, a quadriplegic, also uses the drug for pain relief.

Rotarians questioned Morgan, most with concerns about spillover into recreational use.

John McMullen, 70, a Republican and retired banker from Harbour Island, said legalization is "the right thing to do."

Lynn Elliott, a Rotary member from Tampa, said despite her conservative leanings, she, too, supports medical marijuana.

"A lot of people out there are making it into something it doesn't need to be," she said. "They're afraid."

Two other members said their worries lie not with pot but the amendment.

"The Florida Legislature has shirked its responsibility," said Andy Bowen, 67, of Tampa, who works in public relations. He supports medical marijuana but would prefer action by the Legislature rather than a constitutional amendment, he said.

Bill Gillen, 69, a past president of the club, echoed him: "At least with a law, you can change it."

Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or at (727) 226-3339. Follow @clairemcneill.

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