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John Morgan, the Minimum Wage, and Medical Marijuana

John Morgan is a prominent attorney in my state of Florida. He founded Morgan and Morgan in Orlando in 1988, initially employing three attorneys. His firm now has offices all over Florida and in thirteen other states.

Morgan is a strong proponent of both legalized medical marijuana and a $15 an hour minimum wage. Although we can applaud his work on behalf of the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida, the same cannot be said for his efforts to have the state of Florida raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

If you have never heard of John Morgan, and if you have never been to Florida, no matter. What is true regarding the minimum wage and marijuana in Florida applies to your state as well.

The federal government considers the growing, distributing, buying, selling, possessing, or smoking of marijuana to be a violation of federal law. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801). As a Schedule I drug, marijuana is said to meet the following criteria:

  • The drug has a high potential for abuse.
  • The drug has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  • There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government has the authority to prohibit marijuana possession and use for any and all purposes. Yet, thirty-three states, including Florida, have legalized the medical use of marijuana, ten states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and at least twenty states and more than fifty localities in a dozen states have either fully or partially decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since July 24, 2009, and applies to any employee in any state who is covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). But the FLSA also permits states and cities to set their minimum wages higher than the federal minimum. In 2004, when the federal minimum wage was $5.15 an hour, voters in Florida approved a constitutional amendment to raise the state’s minimum wage to $6.15 an hour and index it to inflation. Because the Florida minimum wage has been adjusted annually ever since, it is now up to $8.46 an hour.

In the 2016 general election, Florida voters approved the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Amendment 2) by a vote of 71.31 to 28.69 percent. A similar measure had failed in the 2014 election. It legalized medical marijuana for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician, allowed caregivers to assist patients’ medical use of marijuana, and required the Department of Health to register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and issue identification cards to patients and caregivers.

The main backer of Amendment 2 was the group People United for Medical Marijuana, headed by John Morgan. The top contributor to the support campaign for Amendment 2 was the Morgan and Morgan law firm.

In June of 2017, the Florida legislature passed, and the governor signed, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act (SB 8A) to establish regulations for the implementation of Amendment 2. The bill ended up banning the smoking of medical marijuana. After Morgan filed a lawsuit claiming that the bill violated Amendment 2, the Florida 2nd Circuit Court agreed, ruling that Amendment 2 provided patients with “the right to use the form of medical marijuana for treatment of their debilitating medical conditions as recommended by their certified physicians, including the use of smokable marijuana in private places.” The Florida Department of Health appealed the ruling to the Florida First District Court of Appeal and the decision was stayed. Then the stay was lifted. Then the stay was reinstated. Florida’s new governor, who was sworn in just last month, has called on the legislature to repeal the law banning smokable forms of marijuana or else he would drop the state’s appeal. A bill to that effect is now working its way through the Florida legislature.

Now Morgan is behind a new ballot initiative to raise the Florida minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2021 and then by $1 an hour every year thereafter until it reaches $15 an hour in 2026. He maintains that he has enough signatures from around the state to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the ballot language, which is the first step in getting an amendment on the ballot. If the Florida Supreme Court approves the ballot language, over 700,000 signatures will be needed to get it on the ballot. Voters will then decide on the amendment in the 2020 general election. Morgan and Morgan has already raised its starting pay to $15 an hour. Those already making that much will get a raise. Morgan said that although it’s going to cost his firm millions of dollars, “When you treat people fairly, people will stay longer and they will be more productive. I believe my profits in productivity will skyrocket.”

Morgan is no libertarian. He was, after all, a supporter of Hillary Clinton. But his support for the legalization of medical marijuana was certainly libertarianesque. He seems sincere in his belief that because marijuana can be effective in the treatment of certain medical conditions, it should be able to be prescribed by physicians. Libertarians, of course, go way beyond this. They view medical marijuana as a freedom issue, just like they view recreational marijuana as a freedom issue. Libertarians simply say that it is none of the government’s business whether someone wants to use marijuana for medical reasons or whether someone just wants to get high. The purported medical benefits of marijuana are irrelevant

When it comes to the minimum wage, Morgan claims to be “a compassionate capitalist” and “not one of these democratic socialists that are the rage of the day.” But his push for a government-mandated minimum wage is anything but libertarian. Although there are economic arguments against raising the minimum wage, and I have made them myself, libertarians, once again, view this as a freedom issue. Matters of pay and benefits are solely the concern of employers and employees. It is none of the government’s business what the pay and benefits are that an employer and an employee agree upon. Edie Ousley, spokesman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, had it right when he called the $15 minimum wage plan “another new mandate on local businesses.” Whether Florida businesses choose to have their starting pay at the current minimum wage or at $15 an hour is their business. Wages—the price of labor—should be determined on the market just like the price of anything else. Morgan almost makes my case when he points to “decisions by companies such as Disney to increase its wages to $15 an hour by 2021.” “It’s already happening. Some of the more responsible companies are doing it anyway,” says Morgan. Universal Orlando recently announced that it will be increasing its base pay to $12 an hour.

John Morgan notwithstanding, the freedom principle should be applied to the issue of the minimum wage just like the issue of medical marijuana.

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