House Speaker Greg Stumbo has accepted a position as partner at Morgan & Morgan, a Florida-based personal-injury law firm whose founder, John Morgan, is a major financial backer of the movement to legalize medical marijuana.
In September, Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, announced that he wants a debate in Kentucky about legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.
"I am open and leaning toward supporting the use of medical marijuana as I read more and more research," Stumbo said on Sept. 24.
Through a spokesman, Stumbo this week said he came to his stand on medical marijuana after speaking to Floyd County constituents who support it.
"There is no correlation between Morgan & Morgan and the medical marijuana," Stumbo spokesman Brian Wilkerson said.
John Morgan, a Lexington native who moved to Orlando, Fla., in 1971, gave $250,000 over the summer to People United For Medical Marijuana and produced several commercials to support the effort. He expects to give several million dollars more, he said this week.
On his firm's website, Morgan wrote that medical marijuana helped his father while he was dying from cancer and emphysema.
"Medical marijuana has been proven to give our loved ones relief they need, helping with pain, appetite, seizures and spasms," Morgan says in a radio commercial he recently produced in Florida. "Unfortunately, Tallahassee politicians refused to vote on the issue last session. They wouldn't even hear testimony from patients and their families."
In an interview, Morgan said he's glad to hear about Stumbo's public comments on medical marijuana, but he's not the impetus.
"Greg and I have never talked about it, but I'm spending a boatload of money to get it on the ballot in Florida this fall," Morgan said. "Now that I know he feels this way, maybe we can do something in Kentucky, too."
Steve Robertson, chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party, was ready to draw the opposite conclusion.
"We at least now know that Stumbo bases his public positions on his private finances," Robertson said. "After standing in opposition to the hemp bill, it's mind-boggling that he'd suddenly turn around and advocate for medical marijuana based on his new job."
During the 2013 legislative session, Stumbo criticized and worked against — though he ultimately voted for — a bill that established a licensing system for Kentucky hemp farmers if the federal government decriminalizes that plant, a close relative to marijuana. Stumbo said he agreed with police officers who argued that hemp and marijuana crops could be confused, making their jobs more difficult.
Later this year, Stumbo went to work for Morgan & Morgan. He recently began starring in television commercials for the firm, which employs 240 lawyers in a half-dozen states, including former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.
"I'm Greg Stumbo of Morgan & Morgan," Stumbo says in a 30-second spot currently airing on Lexington stations. "As attorney general of Kentucky, I was honored to be your personal attorney."
Stumbo, who was attorney general from 2003 to 2007, goes on to tell viewers: "The insurance company doesn't have your family's best interest at heart. We do. Call us."
Speaking Wednesday, Morgan explained the hire: "Stumbo is a consumer advocate. That's what he's done both professionally and politically. He knows his way around Kentucky and he's obviously well-known among his peers."