Organizers behind an effort to place a marijuana legalization measure before Florida voters this November are suing the state over what they say are unconstitutional hurdles in the way of ballot access.
It is “substantially likely, if not certain, that initiative petitions will fail (i.e., they will not make the ballot for vote by electors in the 2020 general election),” the lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by Make It Legal Florida, says.
That’s “despite the fact such initiatives would or could have succeeded if not doomed by the impairments caused to petition circulators’ ability to register and timely begin circulating and collecting signatures in support of petitions,” the group claimed.
At the center of the dispute is a controversial new law the legislature enacted last year that places additional restrictions on the signature gathering process that the campaign says pose “an enormous (if not insurmountable) barrier to the ability of sponsors.”
For example, paid petition gatherers are now required to register with the state. The lawsuit alleges that those registration databases have experienced problems that have created “substantial delays and hindrances.”
The new policies “lack even a rational, reasonable, or coherent justification or relation to any purported State interest,” the suit contends.
Further complicating the matter, petitioners must submit signatures ahead of a February 1 deadline—but those signatures must have been validated by county election supervisors, which have a 30 day window upon receiving the forms to verify them. With that, the campaign said Florida has effectively imposed a “stealth deadline of January 2, 2020 (i.e., 30 days prior to February 1, 2020), to gather and submit all of the requisite signatures.”
“Across the board, Floridians support Make it Legal Florida’s effort to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older,” Nick Hansen, chairman of Make it Legal Florida, told Marijuana Moment. “Our request is that Florida’s Secretary of State, who has worked hard to ensure processes and rules are followed to the letter, count every signed petition submitted by January 31 toward the 2020 ballot, regardless of when it’s validated.”
“Florida voters deserve to have their voices heard and we remain confident that they will have the opportunity to vote on adult-use cannabis in the fall,” he said.
If the measure does qualify for the ballot—and voters go on to approve it—adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, use, transport and purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis, and existing medical dispensaries would be allowed to sell recreational marijuana. The proposal doesn’t specify a licensing scheme for additional retailers, but that’s something the legislature would presumably take up upon passage. The initiative also doesn’t address home cultivation.
Make It Legal Florida needs to collect 766,200 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot. As of Wednesday afternoon, the state Division of Elections has so far validated only 221,281 signatures.
A separate campaign in the state that was working to put the question of adult-use legalization before voters in November announced last month that it was dropping its bid, citing its inability to collect the requisite valid signatures ahead of the deadline.
Other measures have already qualified for the state’s November ballot, including ones aimed at raising the minimum wage, overhauling primary elections and making it so only “citizens” can vote.
Florida voters approved medical cannabis on the ballot in 2016.
Read the full Make It Legal Florida lawsuit below: