Backers of the medical marijuana amendment say Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is using his office for political purposes to oppose the amendment, citing a letter on his official letterhead setting up a meeting of pastors on the subject.
But a spokesman for Judd denied there’s any impropriety, saying Judd was merely convening a meeting of his constituents for educational purposes on the issue of the amendment.
The flap is over a July 31 letter from Judd to Polk County pastors inviting them to a “special summit to discuss this critical topic and exchange ideas with other leaders in our local Faith community.”
The meeting is to be held at the Sheriff’s Office in Winter Haven, with lunch provided, and recipients were asked to RSVP to a Sheriff’s Office staff member.
The letter doesn’t take a specific position on the issue, but says, “It is important our local Faith Leaders are prepared to answer questions that may arise in our community over the next few months” about Amendment 2, which would legalize use of marijuana for medical purposes.
“This is Sheriff Judd talking to his constituents … to have a forum and educational effort on the amendment,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Scott Wilder. “It’s certainly appropriate.”
Wilder said Judd “has talked to a lot of citizens groups to educate people about the medical marijuana amendment. He’s always careful -- he’ll explain what his opinion is, but he always makes it clear that voting on the amendment is up to the individual.”
Judd opposes the amendment. He serves in the office of past president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, which is part of Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot, which opposes it.
But Wilder said Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot is an educational committee, not a political committee.
He said the letter went to “most if not all the churches in Polk County,” possibly several hundred.
Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, the pro-amendment campaign group, disagreed.
The letter “makes reference to both the election and the ballot item, and I don’t know in what universe it’s appropriate for that to be occurring on a government letterhead,” he said.
“It is particularly unfortunate that the head of both a law enforcement agency and a statewide organization representing law enforcement would skirt so closely against the boundaries of ethics and the law; and even more unfortunate that he would do so in the service of denying compassionate care to sick and suffering Floridians.”
Florida election law specifically allows elected officials to take public positions on political issues, but forbids use of public money for “political advertisement or electioneering communication concerning an issue, referendum, or amendment, including any state question, that is subject to a vote of the electors.”
There’s an exception for electioneering communications that are “limited to factual information.”