Floridians will not have the opportunity to vote on recreational cannabis in November 2020. Make It Legal Florida, the organization behind a massive push to put adult-use cannabis on Florida's ballot, announced it will instead "shift focus" to the 2022 midterms after organizers failed to collect enough signatures.
"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. The narrow timeframe to submit and verify those signatures has prompted our committee to shift focus to now gain ballot access in 2022," Nick Hansen, Make it Legal Florida chairman said in a statement on Monday.
Florida's constitution requires that petitions be signed by 766,200 voters, according to the state's 2018 Initiative Petition Handbook. As of Monday, the Florida Division of Elections reported it had tallied 295,488 signatures toward the cause.
The announcement followed a contentious month for cannabis activists. In mid-December, Sensible Florida suspended a separate effort that aimed to have the state regulate cannabis like alcohol, according to Miami New Times.
Shortly thereafter, Make It Legal Florida ran up against a tight deadline for signature submissions and tallying. New, stricter laws governing constitutional amendment petitions went into effect in the spring, following passage of a controversial law that imposed additional barriers and regulations on Florida's initiative process. Make It Legal Florida argued in its lawsuit, as published by Marijuana Moment, that the law is unconstitutional and poses an "enormous (if not insurmountable barrier)" for organizations attempting to collect signatures. The group said on Monday it will move forward with the suit.
"We're looking forward to Supreme Court review of our efforts and working in collaboration with state leaders to ensure the supermajority of Floridians' voices are heard," Hansen said in a statement.
Despite the campaign's setback, there may yet be paths forward for recreational cannabis in 2020. The same day that Make It Legal Florida stepped back, Republican State Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill that proposes legalizing cannabis in the Sunshine State.
“For me this is a liberty issue. We should give adult Floridians the freedom to make their own choices when it comes to cannabis,” stated Brandes. “It’s not a matter of if, but when, Floridians will have access to adult-use marijuana. This bill allows the legislature to lead on an issue a super majority of Floridians support," Brandes said in a statement.
Hansen, a former advisor to Brandes, called the timing of the bill "pure coincidence," but said Make It Legal Florida supports anything that expands the current program. Brandes' bill proposes a "robust and free-market regulatory approach" to cannabis legalization that establishes a commercial framework for sales to anyone 21 and up through access to Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, eliminates vertical integration by permitting wholesaling, establishes multiple license categories, and allows eligible individuals to petition the court for expungement and resentencing of cannabis convictions.
The language of Make It Legal Florida's proposed ballot question, on the other hand, makes no mention of vertical integration, but permits adults 21 and up to "purchase, display, and transport" up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and accessories, and permits Florida's Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers to sell product.
In Florida, petition signatures are valid for up to two years. So in the event that Brandes' bill fails, voters may have another chance to vote on adult-use cannabis in 2022. And according to a poll from St. Leo University Polling Institute, the issue has a solid shot. Nearly 60 percent of Floridians approve of legalization ー which is just the margin needed to pass a ballot measure. Activists were pushing to get adult-use cannabis on the 2020 ballot, because general elections ー especially divisive ones, like 2020 is shaping up to be ー draw substantially more voters to polling place than midterm elections.
Florida's medical marijuana program has expanded tremendously since the state legalized in 2016, growing almost 500 percent in 2018 alone, according to market research firm Brightfield Group. That growth, in combination with the state's massive population and the program's limited licensing, have made the southern state a hot commodity for cannabis companies looking to cash in on what Brightfield projects could be a $812 million medical industry by 2023, and, ultimately, an even bigger recreational market.