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Florida GOP Formally Opposes Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative, Clearing Path For DeSantis To Fund ‘Counter Message’ Campaign



The Florida Republican Party has officially come out against a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on the November ballot, clearing the way for Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to raise money to fund an opposition campaign against the measure.

The governor plans to fundraise for campaigns opposing both the cannabis initiative and an abortion rights proposal heading into the election, funneling the money through the state Republican Party, according to a local media report. Members of the organization formally voted to adopt the anti-legalization position on Saturday.

The resolution states that Amendment 3 would “benefit powerful marijuana special interests, while putting children at risk and endangering Florida’s family-friendly business and tourism climates.”

“We support killing the [marijuana and abortion] amendments as a party because it’s not good policy for the state,” Republican Party of Florida Chair Evan Power told The Miami Herald. “When you look at it, it seems like these amendments are out of step with what Floridians want.”

Power added in a press release on Monday that “Floridians are confident that their legislature has been passing laws that reflect the priorities of our state.”

The cannabis and abortion amendments are “unnecessary attempts by an increasingly shrinking minority who know the only way to win support for their radical agenda is to confuse and mislead the electorate,” he said.

An advisor to the governor also confirmed that DeSantis will “use his financial position to raise money for a counter message for both of those amendments.”

Morgan Hill, communications director of the cannabis campaign Smart & Safe, told Florida Phoenix that the “decision to authorize the use of adult-use cannabis will be made by the citizens of Florida at the ballot box—not at a gathering of political insiders.”

“Amendment 3 has wide bipartisan support because Floridians know legalization means accountability, transparency and safety,” Hill said. “Smart & Safe Florida is committed to safe access to cannabis products while empowering the legislature to enact comprehensive regulations, spanning from cultivation to consumption, including where people may or may not smoke in public. Such protections are customary with the implementation of any policy in our state regardless of industry.”

DeSantis previewed his plans of “getting involved in different ways” to oppose the proposed constitutional amendments late last month. He’s maintained that there’s no need to expand upon the state’s existing medical cannabis program and argued that further legalization would make Florida worse off, in part because he says the smell of marijuana would be more widespread.

“I don’t want this state to be reeking of marijuana,” he said last month. “We’re doing fine. We don’t need to do that.”

DeSantis also claimed the motives of the campaign behind legalization were profit-driven. “There’s people that will benefit financially if these things pass, and that’s what’s driving this, is the ability for people to line their pockets,” he said. “On the marijuana one, you’re going to have marijuana everywhere.”

He also previously predicted voters will reject the marijuana initiative in November and argued that passage would “reduce the quality of life” in the state.

Floridians would need to pass the medical marijuana industry-backed legalization initiative with at least 60 percent of the vote for it to become law. Recent polling released by USA Today/Ipsos suggests that might be a tall order, however: The survey found that 56 percent of Florida registered voters and 49 percent of Florida adults overall back the cannabis measure.

A separate Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Mainstreet Research poll found that only a 47 percent plurality of voters back the cannabis initiative, compared to 35 percent opposed and 18 percent undecided.

Economic analysts from the Florida legislature and DeSantis’s office, estimate that the marijuana legalization initiative would generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million in new sales tax revenue annually if voters enact it. Those figures could increase considerably if lawmakers opted to impose an additional excise tax on cannabis transactions that’s similar to the ones in place in other legalized states.

If approved, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow existing medical cannabis companies in the state, such as Trulieve, the campaign’s main financial contributor, to begin selling marijuana to all adults over 21. It contains a provision that would allow—but not require—lawmakers to take steps toward the approval of additional businesses. Home cultivation by consumers would not be allowed under the proposal as drafted.

Adults would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, only five grams of which could be marijuana concentrate products. The three-page measure also omits equity provisions favored by advocates, such as expungements or other relief for people with prior cannabis convictions.

Nearly all of the campaign’s financial backing has come from existing medical marijuana businesses, predominantly multi-state operators. Recently, the Florida Division of Elections (DOE) released the campaign finance activity report from the first quarter of the year, showing nearly $15 million in new contributions.

Trulieve, the main financial backer of the initiative, led the pack again with $9.225 million in donations during the first quarter. That follows the company previously contributing about $40 million as advocates worked to collect more than one million signatures to qualify for ballot placement.

The company’s CEO said recently that, contrary to the governor’s claims, legalization could actually “improve quality of life” for residents.

Here’s what the Smart & Safe Florida marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish:

  • Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. The cap for marijuana concentrates would be five grams.
  • Medical cannabis dispensaries could “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute marijuana products and marijuana accessories to adults for personal use.”
  • The legislature would be authorized—but not required—to approve additional entities that are not currently licensed cannabis dispensaries.
  • The initiative specifies that nothing in the proposal prevents the legislature from “enacting laws that are consistent with this amendment.”
  • The amendment further clarifies that nothing about the proposal “changes federal law,” which seems to be an effort to avoid past legal challenges about misleading ballot language.
  • There are no provisions for home cultivation, expungement of prior records or social equity.
  • The measure would take effect six months following approval by voters.

Here’s the full text of the ballot title and summary:

“Allows adults 21 years or older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products and marijuana accessories for non-medical personal consumption by smoking, ingestion, or otherwise; allows Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, and other state licensed entities, to acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute such products and accessories. Applies to Florida law; does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law. Establishes possession limits for personal use. Allows consistent legislation. Defines terms. Provides effective date.”

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Smart & Safe Florida announced in March that it was working to form a coalition of veterans to build voter support for the reform. The campaign has since formally launched that initiative.

Despite his opposition to the initiative, DeSantis, a former GOP presidential candidate who dropped out of the race in January, previously accurately predicted that the state’s highest court would ultimately allow the measure on November’s ballot.

DeSantis also weighed in on another relevant cannabis policy issue earlier this year when, while still a presidential candidate, he said that he doesn’t believe the federal gun ban for state-legal marijuana consumers is constitutional. Florida’s former agriculture commission, Nikki Fried, brought a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the rule, though the governor did not get involved.

Prior to dropping out, DeSantis also said that if elected president, he would “respect the decisions that states make” on marijuana legalization despite his personal view that the reform has a “negative impact.”

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