Florida activists announced on Monday that due to restrictive ballot qualification policies in the state, they have decided to pursue a marijuana legalization initiative in 2022, rather than this year as initially planned.
While the campaign Make It Legal Florida said it has already submitted more than 700,000 signatures for their legalization petition, the narrow timeline to get those signatures verified ahead of next month’s deadline will make it impossible for the measure to qualify.
“With the support of over 67 percent of Florida voters, Make it Legal Florida is proud to have gathered more than 700,000 signed petitions in the effort to bring adult-use cannabis to the Sunshine State,” Nick Hansen, the group’s chairman, said in a press release, referring to polling data. “The narrow timeframe to submit and verify those signatures has prompted our committee to shift focus to now gain ballot access in 2022.”
As a midterm year, voter turnout in 2022 is expected to be lower than it would be for this year’s presidential election cycle. Low turnout seemed to be a factor in Florida voters’ narrow rejection of a medical cannabis initiative in 2014. Voters later approved the reform proposal during the 2016 presidential election.
In the meantime, Make It Legal Florida is still going forward with a lawsuit it filed with the state’s Supreme Court last month, alleging that a recently enacted law that imposes restrictions on the signature gathering process is unconstitutional.
Organizers also accused the state of creating a “stealth deadline” by requiring signatures to be verified before the February 1 deadline while giving county election supervisors a 30-day window to validate them.
The group needed to collect 766,200 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot, and so while it seemed to get close to that threshold, it’s unlikely that all of the submitted signatures would be valid. The defeat comes despite the fact that the campaign raised more than $4.8 million in December alone.
If it had qualified and approved by voters, the initiative would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess, use, transport and purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis. Existing medical cannabis dispensaries would have been able to sell recreational marijuana.
A separate campaign in the state that was working to put the question of adult-use legalization before voters announced last month that it was dropping its bid, similarly citing its inability to collect the requisite valid signatures ahead of the deadline.
While activists hoped to put legalization to voters this year, there’s still the possibility of enacting reform legislatively. A bill filed on Monday would legalize cannabis for adult use in Florida, for example. Introduced by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, the legislation would create a recreational cannabis market and also remove the requirement for businesses to be fully vertically integrated, which is currently part of the state’s medical marijuana regulations.
My support for reforming Florida’s draconian cannabis laws is NO secret. I’m proud to partner with reformer @JeffreyBrandes to get this done in a way that:
✔grows our economy
✔wipes out the illicit market
✔promotes public health
✔brings revenue pic.twitter.com/EkPuBdYP91
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) January 13, 2020
Democratic Rep. Carlos Smith has filed a companion bill in the House.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.