Jeb Bush opposes Florida medical marijuana ballot initiative

(CNN)
Friday, August 15, 2014 - 10:32am

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced his opposition Thursday to an overwhelmingly popular proposal that would legalize medical marijuana in his state.

The Republican said "allowing large-scale, marijuana operations to take root across Florida, under the guise of using it for medicinal purposes, runs counter" to the state's efforts to boost tourism and a business-friendly environment.

Amendment 2 will appear as a ballot initiative this November and must garner 60% support to pass.

"I believe it is the right of states to decide this issue," Bush said in a statement. "And I strongly urge Floridians to vote against Amendment 2 this November."

Bush joined a coalition against the measure along with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, and the Florida Trucking Association.

Bush is considering a presidential bid for 2016, and his opposition to the measure could be an in issue in his political future given the widespread support for medical marijuana, both in Florida and on a national scale.

According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 88% of Florida voters back legalized medical marijuana, including 80% of Republicans. And more than half of voters favor the idea of allowing adults to have small amounts of pot for recreational use.

Medical marijuana also has strong backing nationwide. A CNN/ORC International Poll in January showed that nearly nine in 10 adults favored legalizing pot for medicinal reasons. As for recreational marijuana, a CBS News Poll in May indicated that 48% of adults think it should be legal, while 47% think it should be illegal.

Despite Amendment 2's broad support among Florida voters, many of the state's GOP elected officials are speaking out against the measure, including Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio (another potential presidential contender) and much of the legislature's Republican leadership.

Republican mega donor Sheldon Adelson, who's heavily involved in presidential elections, has spent $2.5 million against the initiative, the Tampa Bay Times reported in June.

Political observers note that a medical marijuana ballot initiative could help increase Democratic turnout during a midterm election year.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, the group that pushed to get the measure on the ballot, said in a statement it's "surprising" that Bush would "take a position so out of step with the voters who twice elected him to the highest office in the state."

Scott already signed a bill into law this year that allows a limited strain of marijuana for medicinal use and has support among Florida Republicans. The substance is low in THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) and aims to help some cancer patients, as well as those suffering from epilepsy, muscle spasms and seizures. He also signed a bill that protects the patients' identities.

Bush is campaigning with Scott Friday morning at an event in South Florida.

CNN's Steve Brusk contributed to this report.

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