TAMPA — Top Florida Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced she opposes the proposed medical marijuana constitutional amendment, drawing an angry response Friday from another of the party's most important state figures — Orlando lawyer John Morgan.
Morgan has bankrolled the amendment campaign and is a chief supporter of Charlie Crist in his bid for governor.
The state Republican Party seized on the rift, accusing Morgan — and by association, Crist — of sexism for criticizing Wasserman Schultz. Wasserman Schultz is head of the Democratic National Committee and has represented the Miami area's 23rd Congressional district since 2005.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Morgan called her “an irritant” who is “despised” by national political leaders.
“She is the new Allen West of South Florida. ... She should just become a bridesmaid for Pam Bondi's next wedding.”
West is a conservative political commentator and one-term Florida congressman, and Bondi is Florida's attorney general. Both are Republicans.
Via email, Morgan confirmed to the Tribune the accuracy of the Herald quotes.
“All true,” he wrote. “I will never help her again.”
Since shortly after he left the governor's office at the end of 2010, Crist has worked for Morgan's Orlando-based personal injury law firm, Morgan & Morgan.
A long-time backer of Crist even before Crist switched from Republican to Democrat, Morgan has contributed almost $4 million to the marijuana amendment campaign and is likely to be one of Crist's top financial supporters.
Wasserman Schultz uses the same argument against the amendment pushed by a newly formed opposition group, saying it's “written too broadly and stops short of ensuring strong regulatory oversight from state officials,” particularly considering the state's history as a center of the illicit trade in narcotic painkillers.
She said it opens the door for marijuana to be dispensed for almost anything a user claims is wrong.
The amendment says a patient can obtain marijuana if a physician certifies the patient has a “debilitating medical condition.” That's defined as one of a list of major diseases including cancer and AIDS, or “other conditions for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks.”
Wasserman Schultz said in her statement she supports “evidence-based medical marijuana treatment” including use of a derivative low in marijuana's euphoria-causing chemical to treat cancer pain and epileptic seizures in children, and backs a bill for that purpose passed by the Legislature this spring.
Morgan scoffed at her argument, suggesting Wasserman Schultz doesn't know the definition of “debilitating” or doesn't respect the Supreme Court, which rejected that argument in allowing the amendment on the ballot.
Republicans blasted Morgan's language as sexist, focusing on the bridesmaid comment, and said Crist has a “problem with women” because he has refused to debate his dark-horse primary opponent, former state Sen. Nan Rich.
“Coupled with Charlie Crist's favorite put-down of Democratic opponent 'God bless her' Nan Rich, Charlie's problem with women just got bigger,” said party spokeswoman Susan Hepworth. Crist uses the phrase frequently when discussing those he disagrees with.
Asked whether she considers the comment sexist, Rich said, “He dismisses me. Whether he's doing that because I'm a woman you'd have to ask him. But it's kind of condescending, like patting somebody on the head.”
Rich said she has backed the medical marijuana amendment from the outside and strongly disagrees with Wasserman Schultz, but added, “I don't like the way he (Morgan) referred to her.”
The two women are longtime political allies. Wasserman Schultz said she's neutral in the primary, but Rich said the “Democratic Party establishment certainly has not been neutral,” noting a $500,000 contribution to Crist from the party's campaign committee on governor's races.