Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III cooking up a storm.
by John B. Morgan
Special to the Tampa Bay Times
Something unprecedented happened in Tallahassee this week. The Florida House of Representatives quit three days early. They just threw up their hands and stopped working. I'm incredulous, but maybe I shouldn't be.

These are the same people who, for years, refused to even give a hearing to medical marijuana legislation in Florida. These are the same people who then, once medical marijuana was on the ballot, had the gall to say it should be passed legislatively, rather than by constitutional amendment. These are the same people who, staring down a ballot measure, finally passed what they call a "medical marijuana law" but wrote it so hastily that a year later it still hasn't been implemented.

Anyone who knows me knows two things about me: I keep my word and I never quit. It is simply not who I am. It is not who I raised my kids to be. I've recently become a grandfather, and it is not who I want my grandson to be.

I am going to keep my word and push to pass a medical marijuana law that helps sick and suffering Floridians. And I am not going to quit until that happens.

I took up this cause for my brother, who has spent his entire adult life in a wheelchair, in severe pain, and who only has a normal life because of medical marijuana. But medical marijuana quickly became an issue that is larger than my family. It's about all of our families.

When I first became a public advocate for medical marijuana, people immediately started telling me their stories. A father whose 8-year-old daughter has hundreds of seizures a day and none of the drugs work. A mother who is stricken with cancer but doesn't want to try marijuana to relieve her suffering because she's afraid she might get arrested and lose her children. A wife, given a death sentence by an ALS diagnosis, who is still alive nearly three decades later because her husband grows and administers marijuana for her illegally.

Those are the stories of the present, of people who need this law right now. But this is just as much for me about the future. Like me, everyone deserves an opportunity to give their children and grandchildren a better life than we had. Our children and grandchildren deserve the ability to live in a state where they can have safe, reliable access to medical marijuana should their doctors recommend its use.

I have to believe the politicians in Tallahassee were not thinking about this like I do, through the lens of family, because if they were, passing a sensible medical marijuana law would have been a no-brainer.

I cannot believe they call this working. If my kids showed this kind of work ethic in school, they would have been grounded. And guess what? I would have drug-tested them too. I run a big law firm, with hundreds of employees. If someone who worked for me said to me on Tuesday that they weren't showing up for work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I'd tell them not to come back Monday.

There are a few courageous Republican and Democratic legislators who tried valiantly to bring compassion to Florida. Unfortunately, in Tallahassee, the power of the pharmaceutical industry and the special interests are proving more powerful than the people.

The people don't have a vote in Tallahassee, but they do have a vote in November 2016. Medical marijuana will be back on the ballot, and we will get the law we deserve.

Compassion is coming to the great state of Florida, as it has in 23 other states plus Washington, D.C. I plan to lead this march to victory as long as it takes.

Last fall we almost won. Nearly 3.4 million Floridians voted "yes" for medical marijuana, totaling 58 percent of the vote in favor. That's usually a win. Medical marijuana received a half-million more votes than Rick Scott and more than any other elected official on the ballot. This time around, we will not only win a broad majority, we will win a majority larger than 60 percent, and medical marijuana will become the law of the land.

Politicians in Tallahassee may not want to work. So be it. We will do their work for them. We will do their work, for the people, for the patients, for our families.

John B. Morgan is the managing partner of the Morgan & Morgan law firm and the Chairman of the medical marijuana advocacy group, United for Care. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

By Colleen Curry

March 30, 2015 | 3:50 pm
Indiana lawmakers are hastening to draft and pass language this week that will "clarify" the state's newly passed religious freedom law after enormous public outcry. But some pundits point out that the gaping holes left by the law will result in a slew of unintended consequences that might not be that easy to fix.

On Friday, the same day Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Church of Cannabis sought and received approval from Indiana's secretary of state to operate as a church. Under the new law, members of the church may be able to smoke marijuana as part of its religious belief system, according to Indiana lawyer and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, who first called attention to the marijuana church's move last week.

Shabazz told VICE News today that Indiana's new law could protect many types of behavior under the guise of religious freedom, including Native American tribes smoking peyote and Muslim prisoners being allowed to grow beards.

"It got me thinking, a lot of religions use marijuana in rituals — the Rastafarians, the Zion Coptic Church of Ethiopia — so then I did some research online and under RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] in the state of Indiana. It pretty much says that before the government can infringe on your religious liberty, it has to offer up a good argument," Shabazz said. "So now, when you arrest someone for pot possession, he can claim he's a Rastafarian and those are his religious beliefs.

"It's not a comment on RFRA, it's just pointing out that you can't say you only get religious freedom for your sake or your population, when other people can take advantage of this too," Shabazz said. "It opens up a lot of questions and issues I don't think my friends at the State House fully understand."

The law's unintended consequences may be a surprise to Pence and other legislators, who seemed surprised over the weekend at the blowback they were receiving from businesses and the public across the nation over the law.

"I just can't account for the hostility that's been directed at our state," Pence told theIndianapolis Star."I've been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill."

Related: Indiana Governor Under Fire for Creating State-Sponsored 'News Outlet'

Indiana Senate President David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma held a press conference first thing Monday morning to say they would "encourage our colleagues to adopt a clarifying measure of some sort to remove this misconception about the bill."

In addition to loopholes like the potential legality of smoking marijuana, lawmakers were met with a flood of economic consequences. The CEOs of multiple companies, including Apple and Salesforce, have condemned the law, with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announcing the company was stopping all business travel to Indiana. The consumer ratings site Angie's List, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, immediately halted its plans to build a new headquarters in the city.

"We are putting the 'Ford Building Project' on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future," said Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle in a statement.

Related: Petition to Move NCAA Out of Indiana Over 'Religious Freedom' Law Gaining Momentum

Sports organizations, including the NCAA and the NFL, are being called on to take their business out of Indiana following the law's passage. The NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis and hosting the men's college basketball Final Four Tournament there this weekend, said it was concerned about the legislation. More than 59,000 fans signed a petition asking the NCAA to move out of the state, while former professional players including Jason Collins and Charles Barkley said the league should think twice about hosting the event in a state with legal discrimination.

A slew of other repercussions emerged over the weekend as well: openly gay actor George Takei called for a boycott of Indiana on Twitter and suggested the gaming convention Gen Con could leave the state, the cities of Seattle and San Francisco have banned city employees from traveling to Indiana on taxpayer funds, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said today that he's implementing a travel ban.

"Because of Indiana's new law, later today I will sign an executive order regarding state-funded travel," Malloy tweeted.

Sheila Kennedy, a longtime political commentator in Indiana politics and current professor of law and policy at Indiana University, said that the state's lawmakers were clearly not anticipating any of the consequences they are now faced with over the law intended to appeal to conservative Christians.

"The people at the State House thought, 'we'll pass this meaningless bill,' but didn't anticipate the blowback," she told VICE News.

Since Indiana has no anti-discrimination bill on its books to protect gays and lesbians anyway, the new bill protecting the right to discriminate is unnecessary, she said. The politics surrounding the bill are actually about getting even for 2014's gay marriage ruling, she said.

"There was a group of angry Christian conservatives who were used to getting their way and they were badly beaten in the fight over gay marriage. They're still smarting over that. So this was sort of a way to stick their thumb in the eye of the gay community," Kennedy said.

"Pence is stuck between rock and hard place," she said. "His base is the extreme, religious right, so he can't afford to back off now. But everybody else, including the business wing of the Republican Party, is."

Pence and other lawmakers said they will try to clarify the law this week, but they will not repeal it.