MIAMI (AP) -- Tied to an unpopular president and his signature health care law, Democrats in the nation's largest swing state see medical marijuana as a potential antidote to political malaise in this year's midterm elections.
Party operatives are pushing a constitutional amendment that would make Florida the first state in the South to legalize some pot use. Polls show the measure has widespread public support, and it's particularly popular among young voters - a critical part of the Democratic coalition with historically weak turnout in non-presidential election years.
"I wish that it didn't take medical marijuana on the ballot to motivate our young voters," said Ana Cruz, former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. "But listen, we'll take it any way we can get it."
Activists are also gathering signatures for medical marijuana initiatives in Arkansas, where Democrats are fighting to retain the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat, and Ohio, where the party is trying to oust GOP Gov. John Kasich. But those petition drives face significant organizational hurdles.
The political world likely will be focused on Florida in November for clues about the turnout potential among young voters of pot on the ballot. At stake is the governor's office, as well as a handful of competitive House seats.
In 2012, both Washington and Colorado saw spikes in youth turnout when marijuana initiatives were on the ballot. This year, Florida could be a critical test case for whether those increases were an anomaly or the start of a trend in advance of the presidential election in 2016, when activists plan to launch legalization campaigns in at least six states, including battleground Nevada.
"It's a smart move on the Democrats' part," said David Flaherty, a Colorado-based GOP pollster. "It's going to help them, no doubt about it."
Florida Republicans argue that Democrats do not have a clear-cut advantage on medical pot, with public polls showing an overwhelming majority of GOP voters supporting it. They also say it's unlikely to excite young voters in the way that legalization campaigns did in Colorado and Washington, where pot was sanctioned for recreational use along the lines of alcohol, or become part of a divisive culture war that could drive turnout.
Nevertheless, the marijuana initiative may be one bright spot for Democrats in an election year that could be grim for the party. President Barack Obama remains unpopular, and Republicans are trying to make the elections a referendum on his health care law. Gov. Rick Scott is making the health care overhaul a central issue in the governor's race and outside conservative groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, are funding a barrage of negative ads against Democrats in a handful of swing-voting House districts.
"I would rather have it on the ballot than not," said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant who managed Obama's Florida campaign in 2008. "It could have a marginal impact, and a marginal impact in Florida could be the difference between winning and losing."
A Republican victory in a special House election last month in Florida underscored the Democrats' turnout problem. The St. Petersburg-area district has 2.4 percent more registered Republicans than Democrats, but GOP voters outnumbered Democrats by 8 percentage points among those who cast ballots.
Some Republicans paint the medical marijuana initiative as a ploy by Democrats to help former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, reclaim the governorship. Crist supports the measure, saying it's "an issue of compassion." Scott opposes it, citing his brother's struggles with substance abuse.
The marijuana campaign's chief financier is John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer and major Democratic donor whose firm employs Crist. Morgan insists the effort is personal, not political; he says marijuana eased the suffering of his father, who died of esophageal cancer, and his brother, who is a quadriplegic.
Democrats say the medical pot measure could help counter Republican energy by motivating young and independent voters. According to a national survey sponsored by George Washington University last month, nearly 40 percent of likely voters said they would be "much more likely" to vote if a legalization measure was on the ballot, with another 30 percent saying they would be "somewhat" more likely to vote.
Organizers of the medical marijuana effort plan to raise and spend $10 million on their campaign, with much of the money devoted to a turnout operation aimed at registering voters to cast absentee ballots.
"We want to be able to have our stereotypical, lazy pothead voters to be able to vote from their couch," said Ben Pollara, a Democratic fundraiser and campaign manager for the United for Care group, which also plans to get voters to the polls on Election Day.
Associated Press news researcher Judy Ausuebel contributed to this report.
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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was arrested Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport after authorities said he became belligerent during a security screening and threatened that he had a bomb.
The 24-year-old player was randomly selected for a secondary screening at Terminal 1 and became uncooperative with the process, airport police Sgt. Karla Ortiz said. She said he told a TSA agent that he had a bomb before walking to the gate. When airport police officers caught up with him, Ortiz said Smith became uncooperative and was taken into custody.
A witness video posted on TMZ.com shows Smith exchanging words with an officer as he was being handcuffed and escorted out of the gate area.
Smith was booked for investigation of making a false bomb threat. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said anyone who makes a bomb threat at an airport is potentially subject to federal charges, although no such charges have been filed against Smith.
A message seeking comment from Smith's agent wasn't immediately returned.
With the arrest, Smith is involved in three pending criminal cases.
"We are disappointed to learn of the incident today involving Aldon Smith," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. "As this is a pending legal matter and we are still gathering the pertinent facts, we will have no further comment."
A fearsome pass-rushing specialist, Smith took a five-game leave of absence from the 49ers last season to undergo treatment for substance abuse. He rejoined the team Nov. 5.
Smith played in a 27-7 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 22, two days after he was arrested and jailed on suspicion of DUI and marijuana possession. After the game, he publicly apologized for his behavior and later announced he would leave for treatment.
Leading up to the playoffs in early January, Smith said during an interview with The Associated Press he was encouraged by the strides he had made to better himself off the football field that put life - and his work - in perspective. He said at the time he hadn't had any alcohol since before his Sept. 20 DUI arrest, and that he wasn't craving it. When he rejoined the team Nov. 5, he insisted he was on the path to lifelong sobriety stuck by that statement.
His teammates rallied around him in support of his rehab and, later, his return to the team.
Smith emerged as one of the NFL's most-feared pass rushers in 2012. He had a franchise-record 19.5 sacks that year, but failed to record a sack in his final six games including the team's postseason Super Bowl run.
Smith finished with 8 1/2 sacks and 34 tackles in 11 games last season, making eight starts.
In November, Smith pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, stemming from a June 2012 party at his home. Investigators say several shots were fired, two partygoers were injured and Smith was stabbed. In the subsequent investigation, prosecutors say detectives found five unregistered weapons in Smith's house, including two Bushmaster rifles and an Armalite AR-10T. They say those are assault weapons illegal to possess under California law.
Smith and former teammate Delanie Walker were named in a lawsuit last September filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court by a Northern California man who said he was shot at a party at Smith's house on June 29, 2012. The players charged a $10 admission and $5 per drink, the lawsuit said. Smith and now-Tennessee Titans tight end Walker were allegedly intoxicated on Smith's balcony when they fired gunshots in the air while trying to end the party, the lawsuit said.
Smith, selected seventh overall in the 2011 draft out of Missouri, had previously been arrested on suspicion of DUI in January 2012 in Miami shortly after the 49ers lost in the NFC championship game.
This is the latest in a long list of legal issues for 49ers players the past two years - and recently, too. The Niners, who lost to the rival and eventual champion Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game, have made nearly as much news away from the field as they have in free agency this offseason.
On Thursday, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was one of three NFL players named in a Miami police report involving a woman who passed out in a hotel and later woke up in a hospital not knowing how she got there, though no one has been charged with a crime. Kaepernick, 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton and Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette - a former 49er - were with the woman at a Miami hotel where Lockette lives, according to the Miami Police Department report. The police say it's too early to determine whether a crime was committed.
Late last month in San Jose, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver was arrested on suspicion of felony hit and run and reckless driving after he drove a car into a bicyclist and fled. He is the player who underwent sensitivity training after his anti-gay remarks leading up to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. He has done outreach to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Last summer, another starting linebacker, Ahmad Brooks, was investigated by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office on allegations that Brooks repeatedly hit a teammate on the head with a beer bottle. No assault charges were filed because of insufficient evidence.
According to police, Brooks hit then-teammate Lamar Divens with the bottle three times and then punched him in the face during an early morning argument June 8. Divens sustained a 3-inch cut on his forehead.
Another member of the defense, Demarcus Dobbs, was suspended for Week 1 last season for his own arrest on suspicion of DUI and marijuana possession in 2012.
AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley and Josh Dubow in San Francisco contributed to this report.