Florida has one of the biggest cannabis markets, and its all medical. Despite different past efforts, recreational cannabis is still illegal throughout the state. In order to push things along, a new initiative is gearing up for a recreational ballot measure in Florida, with signature collection now to do this. How close is Florida, and what will this mean?
Florida signature collection for recreational ballot
Florida is on its way to a recreational cannabis ballot measure. In order for a ballot measure to make it on, the state needs 891,589 validated signatures. If this is achieved, the ballot will be a part of 2024 elections. As of a week ago, there were 635,961 signatures collected. This is over 70% of what’s needed for addition to the ballot. The ballot signatures are maintained and updated by the Florida Division of Elections, which put out this number at the end of March.
This particular ballot measure initiative is spearheaded by Smart & Safe Florida, a non-governmental non-profit which supports “the rights of adults to purchase, possess, and use marijuana within reasonable regulations.” For those living in Florida who want to help the cause, go here to sign the petition.
What would this petition do? It would allow “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.”
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The site continues that this measure “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.” What it doesn’t include, as of now, is the ability for home cultivation. This indicates a desire to push sales from operators, by limiting what people can do on their own. This isn’t shocking either, considering what entity both helped write the initiative, and is the major push behind it. But more on that in a minute.
In order to get a ballot measure fully approved, there must be a sign-off by the Florida Supreme Court, to make sure everything is copacetic legally with all language. To get it in front of the Supreme Court for consideration, the measure required a certain number of signatures, and this number was met in January. It hasn’t officially cleared the Supreme Court yet; so while votes are collected, the ultimate ability of the ballot to gain legal clearance, is still undetermined.
What does the Supreme Court need to do? It’s job is to ensure that the measure doesn’t violate the constitution of the state. This includes not violating the single subject rule, and not being disingenuous to the public. The single subject issue was used to invalidate South Dakota‘s voted-in recreational legalization in 2020. So it is something to be wary of, and something that must be attended to now. Should all work out okay, the ballot will not show up until 2024 elections.
Who is making this happen?
Florida has tried multiple times to get recreational bills passed, and always to no avail. This, however, is different, as a ballot measure gets around legislative laws, and allows the people of the state to make the decision themselves, via a vote. As stated above, the engine for this campaign is Smart & Safe Florida.
That organization, and the overall push, has received a huge amount of help from the industry itself, which is full of enterprises that would like to sell to a wider market. One of the biggest funders of the current campaign is the company Trulieve. Trulieve is the biggest cannabis company in the state currently. Not only did Trulieve supply the original seed money to get this going, but the company has invested upwards of $25 million thus far.
Based out of Tallahasse, the cannabis company got in on it early, helping to write the actual proposal. It also filed a constitutional amendment with Florida’s Division of Elections in August of 2022 for an adult-use market, according to News Service of Florida via MJBizdaily. Said CEO of Trulieve, Kim Rivers to News Service of Florida, “We are at our core about expanding the opportunity for access to safe legal product, which is what this would allow us to continue to do.”
According to state data, Trulieve operated 119 medical cannabis dispensaries as of August of last year. However, this cannabis giant also represents the problems in the industry, conducting layoffs in 2022, like many other enterprises. It seems its Trulieve’s influence that might be the reason for a lack of cultivation attached to this ballot measure, as cannabis companies have had many issues, and self-cultivation doesn’t promote their sales.
Incidentally, this isn’t the only campaign going on at the moment in the state. Another campaign is led by the organization Sensible Florida, also to get a ballot measure into the 2024 elections. This organization had a failed attempt in 2022, and has so far for the current campaign, only collected 23,000 signatures. While it has a weaker showing than Smart & Safe Florida, it does show that there is great push to get legal cannabis approved.
Cannabis in Florida right now
Cannabis is currently legal for medical use in Florida, as of 2016. This happened via voter ballot, in which 71.32% of the voting population voted to pass Amendment 2, comprising 6,518,919 votes. On the ‘no’ end, 2,621,845 votes were cast, making up 28.68% of the voting population. Subsequent legislative measures were passed in the following years; including SB 8A, for regulations related to the industry, and SB 182, which allows marijuana to be smoked, among other provisions.
While specific areas have lessened policies, according to state law, possession of up to 20 grams is a misdemeanor offense. It comes with up to one year in prison, as well as fines up to $1000. This is also accompanied by the suspension of a driver’s license.
Cannabis reform efforts passed in several specific locations. In 2016, Tampa instituted a policy for a civil citation for up to 20 grams, and only fines as repercussion. The fine is $75 for a first offense, followed by $150 and then $300 for following offenses.
Orlando also passed legislation that year which allows for civil citations only; also up to 20 grams for cannabis possession. Fines go from $100 for the first offense, to $200 for a second. However, Orlando allows fines to be substituted with eight hours of community service or drug education classes.
Prior to this in 2015, Miami-Dade county instituted civil citations for up to 20 grams; with $100 in fines for an offense, or alternatively, two days of community service. Broward country also instituted civil citations that year for the same amount limit, with a fine structure that requires $100 for the first offense, $250 for the next, and $500 for a third violation.
The third in 2015, Palm Beach county, instituted civil citations with the same 20 gram max. In this location, both the first and second offense are met with $100 in fines. After that, individuals with infractions can opt for 10 hours of community service.
Other individual locations within Florida to pass decriminalization measure, include: Miami Beach, Hallandale Beach, Key West, and West Palm Beach, which all decriminalized in 2015. Volusia County, Osceola County, Alachua County, and Port Richey, which all decriminalized in 2016. And Cocoa Beach, and Sarasota which decriminalized in 2019.
It certainly looks like Florida is on its way to a recreational legalization via ballot measure. Considering this is how the medical allowance passed, and that it did with such high voter numbers, there’s a great chance for a positive turn out. Though Floridians will have to wait until 2024, its quite likely they’ll have the ability to vote in an adult-use market at that time.
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