Campaign drops effort to get proposal on 2020 ballot
BY MARCIA HEROUX POUNDS
FORT LAUDERDALE – Despite strong support, Florida voters won’t get to decide this year whether to make recreational marijuana legal.
A group pushing a constitutional amendment said Monday that it will drop its bid to get the proposal on this year’s ballot and instead will focus on 2022.
The decision means Floridians, for now, could be left out of a marijuana movement that is sweeping the nation. Recreational marijuana is now legal in 10 states: Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Michigan, Vermont, Maine, California, Alaska and, most recently, Illinois, which began sales Jan. 1.
Legal pot could be on the ballot this year in eight more states: Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Thirty-three states, including Florida in 2016, have legalized medical marijuana for certain health conditions. This year, two groups were looking to get proposals on the ballot that would have taken the next step in Florida.
The campaign postponed Monday, known as Make It Legal Florida, was considered the strongest bid because major medical marijuana dispensaries in the state-backed it.
Nick Hansen, chairman of Make it Legal Florida, said the ballot initiative gathered more than 700,000 signatures to bring recreational cannabis to the state, but the narrow time frame to submit and verify the signatures prompted the committee to shift its focus to the 2022 ballot.
Feb. 1 deadline
The campaign had raised more than $8.6 million to support the petition drive, according to Florida’s Division of Elections. Its signed petitions are valid for two years, so they can put them toward the 2022 ballot effort.
The other group, Regulate Florida, announced earlier that it lacked enough signatures for the 2020 ballot. That amendment would have allowed Floridians to grow their own marijuana.
To make the ballot, an initiative must gather 766,200 signatures by Feb. 1. The ballot language then has to be approved by the state Supreme Court, and the amendment would need 60% of the vote to become law.
A Quinnipiac University Poll in June found that 61% of Florida voters supported the sale of legal marijuana in their communities. Sixty-five percent said adults should be allowed to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Even without ballot initiatives, legislators have the power to legalize marijuana, as they did in Illinois.
Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill Monday that would legalize marijuana for adult use and restructure Florida’s marijuana industry, which now requires companies to grow, cultivate and sell medical marijuana sold in the state.
It would allow growers to contract with processors and retailers. Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith filed a companion bill in the Florida House.
Both constitutional amendments met opposition from the Florida attorney general, as well as state House and Senate leaders, who asked the Florida Supreme Court to reject the proposals.
Wording an issue
In briefs filed with the court, they contended that wording of the petitions would be misleading because they wouldn’t fully inform voters that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
The Make It Legal effort was led by medical marijuana companies with dispensaries in Florida.
MedMen, a dispensary based in California, led the campaign. MedMen has a dispensary in West Palm Beach and nine other locations in Florida. Committee chairman Hansen joined MedMen in 2018 as director of government affairs in the southeastern United States.
Make It Legal also was backed by Parallel, the new corporate name of Surterra Wellness, which has 37 dispensaries throughout South Florida and the state.
Singer Jimmy Buffett had endorsed Make It Legal Florida.