Pot politics could play a role in the Florida governor's race

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Story highlights

  • Polls show Democrat Charlie Crist and his Republican Rick Scott are neck-and-neck
  • Scott is the current governor of Florida, Crist is former governor
  • Observers say Democrats are hoping a medical marijuana initiative could help Crist
  • It could "bring out a set of voters (not) likely to vote in a midterm election," says a reporter
Will pot politics push Florida Democrat Charlie Crist to victory on his quest to regain the governor's mansion?
That's what some Democrats are hoping.
Polls show Crist and his GOP rival, current Gov. Rick Scott, are neck-and-neck. A Quinnipiac University survey released Monday has Crist at 42%, Scott with 41%, Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie with 7%, and 9% of likely voters still undecided. Public Policy Polling released Sunday had the Crist and Scott at 44% each.
Crist's law partner, John Morgan, spent millions to get an amendment to legalize medical marijuana on the ballot on Tuesday -- a move some say was meant to help Crist win by boosting turnout from Democratic-leaning groups.
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"Democrats in Florida privately hope that having a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot can bring out a set of voters who aren't otherwise likely to vote in a midterm election," said Reid Wilson, a Washington Post reporter who closely follows state politics. "It's very political calculation and one that frankly Charlie Crist's allies have put a lot of money into."
In a sign of a growing trend, 23 states and the District of Columbia have already legalized medical marijuana. Florida is not the only state where pot is on the ballot this year -- voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., have a chance on Tuesday to approve measures legalizing recreational use of marijuana, following in the footsteps of pot pioneers Washington and Colorado, where weed has proved to be big business. State records show marijuana sales brought in an average of roughly $332,000 a month to Colorado communities in the first eight months of the year.
There has been some big money behind the ballot battle in the Sunshine State. According to the Center for Public Integrity, an estimated $4.7 million has been spent on television ads supporting both sides of the debate. Most of that money -- $3.9 million -- has been spent by opponents of the ballot measure, who are financed in large part by conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
In contrast, after a massive effort to get the measure on the ballot, Morgan and his supporters have spent just $828,800 on television ads urging voters to pass the amendment -- a disadvantage that could prove decisive in a race that will come down to the wire.
That means it could be anybody's game.
"The campaign against [the amendment] has been pretty aggressive and I think pretty effective based on the polls so there are a lot of people who are now actually kind of mobilizing to vote against medical marijuana initiative, because they think it's just problematic, too many loopholes, too easy for people to basically be selling marijuana out in the open," said Adam Smith, the political editor of the Tampa Bay Times. "So there's at least some speculation that rather than driving young people who are inclined to vote for it to the polls, it's going to motivate people who are against it to turn out which could help Rick Scott.
The amendment needs 60% to pass and while many polls show strong support for the initiative, it is not clear that there is enough to pass it -- a sign that Democrats' high hopes the ballot measure could sway the race for their guy could go up in smoke.