No pot vote this year

Group push­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana will drop bid to get pro­posal on bal­lot

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Mar­cia Her­oux Pounds

De­spite strong sup­port, Florida vot­ers won’t get to de­cide this year whether to make recre­ational mar­i­juana le­gal.

A group push­ing a con­sti­tu­tional amendment said Mon­day that it will drop its bid to get the pro­posal on this year’s bal­lot and in­stead will fo­cus on 2022.

The de­ci­sion means Florid­i­ans, for now, could be left out of a mar­i­juana move­ment that is sweep­ing the na­tion. Recre­ational mar­i­juana is now le­gal in 10 states: Colorado, Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton, Ne­vada, Michi­gan, Ver­mont, Maine, Cal­i­for­nia, Alaska and, most re­cent, Illi­nois, which be­gan sales Jan. 1.

Le­gal pot could be on the bal­lot this year in eight more states: Ari­zona, Arkansas, Idaho, Mis­sis­sippi, Ne­braska, New Jer­sey, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Thirty-three states, in­clud­ing Florida in 2016, have le­gal­ized med­i­cal mar­i­juana for cer­tain health con­di­tions. This year, two groups were look­ing to get pro­pos­als on the bal­lot that would have taken the next step in Florida.

The cam­paign post­poned Mon­day, known as Make It Le­gal

Florida, was con­sid­ered the strong­est bid be­cause ma­jor med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries in the state backed it.

Nick Hansen, chair­man of Make it Le­gal Florida, said the bal­lot ini­tia­tive gath­ered more than 700,000 sig­na­tures to bring recre­ational cannabis to the state, but the nar­row time frame to sub­mit and ver­ify the sig­na­tures prompted the com­mit­tee to shift its fo­cus to the 2022 bal­lot.

The cam­paign had raised more than $8.6 mil­lion to sup­port the pe­ti­tion drive, ac­cord­ing to Florida’s Di­vi­sion of Elec­tions. Its signed pe­ti­tions are valid for two years, so they can put them toward the 2022 bal­lot ef­fort.

The other group, Reg­u­late Florida, an­nounced ear­lier that it lacked enough sig­na­tures for the 2020 bal­lot. That amendment would have al­lowed Florid­i­ans to grow their own mar­i­juana.

To make the bal­lot, an ini­tia­tive must gather 766,200 sig­na­tures by Feb. 1. The bal­lot lan­guage then has to be ap­proved by the state Supreme Court, and the amendment would need 60 per­cent of the vote to be­come law.

A Quin­nip­iac Uni­ver­sity Poll in June found that 61% of Florida vot­ers sup­ported the sale of le­gal mar­i­juana in their com­mu­ni­ties. Six­ty­five per­cent said adults should be al­lowed to pos­sess small amounts of mar­i­juana for per­sonal use.

Even with­out bal­lot in­ti­tia­tives, leg­is­la­tors have the power to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana, as they did in Illi­nois.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Peters­burg, filed a bill Mon­day that would le­gal­ize mar­i­juana for adult use and re­struc­ture Florida’s mar­i­juana in­dus­try, which now re­quires com­pa­nies to grow, cul­ti­vate and sell med­i­cal mar­i­juana sold in the state. It would al­low grow­ers to con­tract with pro­ces­sors and re­tail­ers. Rep. Car­los Guillermo Smith, D-Or­lando, filed a com­pan­ion bill in the Florida House.

Both con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments met op­po­si­tion from the Florida at­tor­ney gen­eral, as well as state House and Se­nate lead­ers, who asked the Florida Supreme Court to re­ject the pro­pos­als.

In briefs filed with the court, they con­tended that word­ing of the pe­ti­tions would be mis­lead­ing be­cause they wouldn’t fully in­form vot­ers that mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law.

The Make It Le­gal ef­fort was led by med­i­cal mar­i­juana com­pa­nies with dis­pen­saries in Florida.

MedMen, a dis­pen­sary based in Cal­i­for­nia, led the cam­paign. MedMen has a dis­pen­sary in West Palm Beach and nine other lo­ca­tions in Florida. Com­mit­tee chair­man Hansen joined MedMen in 2018 as di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment af­fairs in the south­east­ern United States.

Make It Le­gal also was backed by Par­al­lel, the new cor­po­rate name of Surterra Well­ness, which has 37 dis­pen­saries through­out South Florida and the state.

Singer Jimmy Buf­fett had en­dorsed Make It Le­gal Florida.

COUR­TESY

Make It Le­gal, the ini­tia­tive to make mar­i­juana widely le­gal in Florida, an­nounced Mon­day it will drop its bid to get on this year’s bal­lot.

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