By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - A new poll shows a Florida ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana falling short of the votes needed to pass, with even supporters acknowledging on Thursday that they were struggling in the face of well-funded conservative opposition.
Following a two-week barrage of attack ads, the latest poll shows just 48 percent of Florida voters support a constitutional amendment to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes. It must secure 60 percent voter approval to pass.
“It’s like a cliche in political races, but we’re at a point when the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day,” said Ben Pollara, who runs the pro-legalization United for Care campaign.
The University of Florida poll, conducted for the Tampa Bay Times newspaper and central Florida's Bay News 9 and News 13 television stations, found 44 percent of voters were opposed to medical marijuana. Only 7 percent were undecided.
Pollsters surveyed 781 likely voters between Oct. 7 and 12, with a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.
The latest findings are a marked shift from early polls suggesting the amendment would sail to passage with approval numbers well above 70 percent.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a prominent spokesman against the amendment, said the measure has run into a voter backlash.
“Approval is dropping precipitously in polls,” he said. “People are paying attention and realizing that what they thought it was, marijuana exclusively for the sick, is not true.”
The shift in public opinion comes amid a wave of attack ads, largely financed by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, claiming the measures is worded so broadly that it could allow people to get marijuana for non-medical purposes.
Opponents include "Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot," coalition featuring the leading state doctors' association, sheriffs and police chiefs and some large business groups.
The chief backer of the medical marijuana push, Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, has spent $4 million promoting his campaign.
He began an advertising campaign this week, with a spot in which Morgan describes his brother paralyzed and suffering painful seizures that marijuana prescriptions could help.
The amendment would permit doctors to prescribe marijuana for cancer, AIDS, ALS and other serious conditions, when a physician determines that benefits outweigh potential risks.
(Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Walsh)