Florida activists have collected enough valid signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the 2024 ballot, state officials confirmed on Thursday as the campaign faces a legal challenge from the state attorney general.
The Florida Division of Elections, which updates petition counts on the measure at the end of each month, is reporting that it has verified 967,528 signatures as of the end of May—exceeding the required 891,523 signature threshold.
At the end of January, the measure cleared an initial major hurdle, getting enough signatures to initiate a state Supreme Court review of the measure’s language. That analysis is still pending, at the same time that the court is considering Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s (R) legal challenge against the initiative.
Moody submitted an opinion to the court earlier this month, arguing that it violates the state Constitution’s single subject rule for ballot measures. Proposals are required to be narrowly focused on an individual issue.
Despite the opinion, activists say that they’ve thoroughly vetted the measure and are confident the court will agree that it complies with constitutional requirements.
The attorney general made the same argument against a 2022 legalization measure, and the Supreme Court subsequently invalidated it. Initial briefings on the current case are due to the court by June 12. Subsequent reply briefs will then be required to be submitted by July 5 and 12.
Despite state officials now saying that the campaign has exceeded the minimum number of signatures required for ballot placement, the Division of Election notes that the posted totals “are NOT OFFICAL until the Secretary of State determines the requisite signatures have been obtained and issues a certificate of ballot position.”
In order to get on the ballot, an initiative must have valid signatures from registered voters totaling at least 8 percent of the district-wide vote in the most recent presidential election in at least 14 of the state’s 28 congressional districts—in addition to the statewide number needed. The marijuana campaign has met the threshold in exactly 14 districts, according to the most recent state data.
The cannabis company Trulieve, which is financially backing the Smart & Safe Florida campaign and has contributed more than $38 million to date.
“Our investment demonstrates our firm belief that Floridians are ready to experience the freedom to use cannabis for personal consumption; a freedom which is currently enjoyed by more than half of America’s adults,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said in a press release on Thursday. “With over 965,000 validated signatures from nearly every part of our state, it is clear these voters share that belief. We are thrilled the campaign has made this milestone and look forward to seeing this initiative on the ballot next November.”
Today we, Trulieve, announce that Florida’s Secretary of State has validated over 965,000 signatures for the Smart & Safe FL campaign’s drive to bring adult-use #cannabis to FL! This is more than enough to secure the 2024 General Election ballot placement. https://t.co/DzcUa5PyTQ pic.twitter.com/QTdOj2JjeT
— Trulieve (@Trulieve) June 1, 2023
“We believe the language, as written, comports with the single subject and clarity requirements under Florida law and look forward to a positive ruling from the Court,” she added.
If approved, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow existing medical cannabis companies in the state like Trulieve 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 21 and older 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.
A poll published in March found that 70 percent of Florida voters support legalizing marijuana. Florida voters approved a medical cannabis constitutional amendment in 2016.
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.
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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.”
Should the initiative make the 2024 ballot, at least 60 percent of Florida voters would have to approve the measure for it to be enacted.
An earlier poll released in 2021 found that a majority of Florida voters (59 percent) support legalizing cannabis for adult use, so that’s a slim margin that shows that advocates will have their work cut out for them if the measure qualifies.
Meanwhile, activists that aren’t directly involved in the Smart & Safe Florida campaign said last year that they were exploring plans to have voters decide on what they hope will be a complementary measure permitting adults to grow their own cannabis at home.
Photo courtesy of California State Fair.