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Florida Campaign To Get Marijuana Legalization On Ballot Clears First Hurdle

A cannabis industry-backed effort to get the issue of legal recreational marijuana back in front of Florida voters has passed its first test on the way to the ballot.

As of Thursday, the "Smart & Safe Florida" political committee had submitted 294,037 valid petition signatures for the adult-use marijuana legalization initiative it began last August, according to CBS News Miami. The committee, which is almost entirely funded by the multistate cannabis operator Trulieve, needed at least 222,898 signatures to prompt a Florida Supreme Court review of the measure's proposed legal wording for voters to consider.


Trulieve is Florida's largest medical marijuana operator and has contributed over $20 million to this most recent campaign. As of December 31, 2022, the committee has spent close to $19 million, most of the money going to petition gathering and verification.


The "Adult Personal Use of Marijuana" proposal, if approved by voters, would add an amendment to the Florida State Constitution allowing people 21 or older "to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products and marijuana accessories for non-medical personal consumption by smoking, ingestion, or otherwise."


Additionally, the measure would allow any of the current 22 medical marijuana companies in Florida, like Trulieve, to begin selling cannabis to all adults over the age of 21. It also contains a provision enabling lawmakers to take steps toward approving additional businesses as potential sellers but does not require it. Finally, the proposed amendment would prohibit individuals from growing cannabis plants for personal use.


Now that it has made it before the Florida Supreme Court for review, the justices will be examining the precise wording of the proposal to ensure that it does not violate the Constitution's single-subject rule and is not misleading voters.


If the judges rule that the measure meets all legal requirements, the committee would then need to amass a total of at least 891,059 verified signatures to get on the ballot in 2024, with a pre-determined number of those signatures required to come from at least half of the congressional districts in the state.


This attempt would be the third time a legalization ballot initiative went before the court for approval in two years. Two proposed measures submitted by Make It Legal Florida and Sensible Florida in 2021 failed to meet the criteria for the court and were rejected. Furthermore, if the proposal does make it to the ballot box, it will require approval from 60% of voters to become an amendment to the Constitution.


That is a key number considering that a poll taken in 2021 found that 59% of Florida voters support legalizing recreational marijuana for adults, leaving almost no margin for error for those advocating for the new measure.


Activists and industry stakeholders also point to the lack of social equity provisions, including expungements and similar legal relief for individuals with prior marijuana convictions, as unacceptable, considering the proposal would become a permanent part of the state Constitution.


Of course, there is also the issue of the 800-pound gorilla in the ballot box. Suppose the Supreme Court signs off on the language of the measure. In that case, the campaign would then need to gather the necessary signatures to get it on the ballot. If that occurs and 60% of Florida voters approve it as a new amendment, the most significant financial beneficiaries of the new law would be companies like Trulieve, which bankrolled the proposal from the start.


This Florida case is the same scenario voters in states like Arkansas faced this past election cycle when a similar constitutional amendment initiative went on the ballot. In the case of Arkansas, a groundswell of opposition to the proposal ultimately defeated efforts on the part of that state's medical marijuana establishment to create a system very similar to the one offered by Trulieve's funded campaign.


It is now in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court to determine if this latest ballot proposal to legalize adult-use marijuana in Florida will make it to the next critical step in the intentionally difficult process of amending the Constitution. It has many more obstacles to overcome before it ultimately goes before voters. Let's hope that fair market-minded heads prevail between now and election day 2024.


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