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Florida Marijuana Initiative Needs 60% Voter Support To Pass, A Threshold Achieved In Only Three Other States Before



“You still have a large group that still looks at cannabis as the gateway drug where there’s no medicinal benefits.”

By Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix

As the campaign to get recreational cannabis legalized in Florida moves into its next phase, opponents and advocates of the proposal are operating under the same premise: The measure is likely to receive at least majority support by the voters in November. But that’s not good enough in the Sunshine State, which requires more than 60 percent to pass a constitutional ballot measure.

Only three states in the country have passed ballot measures on recreational cannabis by that margin—a potential harbinger as Florida advocacy groups prepare to crank up their cannabis campaigns in the upcoming months.

New Jersey voters in in 2020 and Maryland voters in 2022 both supported legalizing cannabis for adults by more than 67 percent, while Arizona voters passed their measure by 60.03 percent in 2020. (The District of Columbia approved a weed ballot measure by 70 percent in 2014.)

While adult recreational cannabis is now legal in 24 states, not all of those measures were passed by voters via the ballot box.

In nine states, legislators voted to approve the recreational use of cannabis among adults. In the 15 remaining states, voters approved the measures. But what stood out was the three states who had approved the measures by more than 60 percent.

Ohio, Montana and California voters passed the measure by 57 percent; in Washington State, Michigan and Oregon the figure was 56 percent; in Colorado it was 55 percent; in Nevada and Massachusetts it was 54 percent; Missouri and Alaska were at 53 percent and Maine voters passed the proposal at 50.2 percent.

Red states and weed

In the past two years, voters in six red states have voted on recreational weed. Those measures passed in Ohio and Missouri, but were rejected by voters in Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

In Arkansas, the measure received only 44 percent support in November 2022.

“We were expecting something too quickly when we didn’t do the work,” says John Kelly Roberts, the executive director with Arkansas NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). He says that advocates failed to show “the medical value of the plant” when they made their pitch to voters after the state voted for medical marijuana in 2016.

“You still have a large group that still looks at cannabis as the gateway drug where there’s no medicinal benefits,” he said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has already let it be known that he’s not a fan of the proposed cannabis amendment. Speaking in Broward County on Thursday, the governor said passage of the measure will make Florida “start to smell like marijuana in our cities and counties. It will reduce the quality of life.”

David and Goliath

One significant factor in favor of the amendment’s success is money.

Smart & Safe Florida, the political committee advocating for the cannabis proposal, is expecting to have considerable financial resources.

After spending more than $40 million—nearly all of it from Trulieve, the state’s biggest marijuana operator—to get the required number of verified signatures to qualify to get on the ballot, the group announced this week that they’ve received an influx of $15 million in new funding for the next phase of the campaign.

Major players in Florida’s medical marijuana market include Verano Holdings, Curaleaf Holdings, AYR Wellness, Cresco Labs, Green Thumb Industries and INSA.

“We thought now was the appropriate time to join and throw our support,” said Robert Vanisko, the vice president of public engagement at AYR Wellness, which operators 64 dispensaries in the state.

Verano founder and CEO George Archos said in a statement posted on Verano’s Twitter page: “Florida has a chance to make history, and we’re thrilled to join Smart and Safe to drive positive change in the Sunshine State.”

Luke Niforatos is the executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which opposes the legalization measure. He says while it will “definitely be a David and Goliath thing” in terms of the fundraising arms race between the two camps, he promises that there will be an organized effort to oppose the measure.

“There are multiple different coalitions that are coming together…they’re going to have some heavy hitters that are going to be involved — no way we’ll be able to match the $40 million plus that the industry has already managed to put in, but I think that our coalition can raise enough money and do enough to educate the public to win this ballot measure,” he says. “I don’t know what that final number looks like, but it will definitely be under 60 percent. But I do think that given there are some very influential people in Florida who will be speaking up.  So, I think this will be quite a good fight, but we will be outspent.”

Niforatos didn’t name any of those groups, but he says that they will be coming forward publicly in the next few weeks.

Who else is involved and what about polls?

The Florida Sheriffs Association has not stated yet if they will oppose the amendment.

The group did pass a resolution opposing the medical marijuana ballot measure when that first came before the voters in 2014. Nanette Schimpf, a spokesperson for that organization, said this week that the sheriffs hadn’t had the opportunity to meet as a group yet to discuss the November amendment.

Republican Party of Florida Chair Evan Power said this week that while committees in the state party have passed a resolution opposing the abortion rights constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot, “we have not taken action on weed yet.”

As far as the outlook in Florida, the most recently conducted polls show contrasting results.

The survey from the Florida Chamber of Commerce (who filed a legal brief opposing the measure with the Florida Supreme Court), shows the measure with 57 percent support, shy of the required 60 percent. Another survey from the University of North Florida from last fall shows the measure easily passing with 67 percent support.

A national Pew Research Center poll published last week of 5,140 adults showed that 57 percent of Americans think that cannabis should be legal for both medical and recreational purposes, while 33 percent think it should only be legal for medical use. (But in Florida, the 57 percent wouldn’t work. The state needs more than 60 percent.)  Also, the Pew poll shows a partisan divide: 42 percent of Republicans favor legalizing cannabis for both purposes, compared with 72 precent of Democrats.

This story was first published by Florida Phoenix.

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