The 420 Issue: Joint resolution in Tallahassee could leave cannabis measure up in smoke

Puff puff will it pass?

The 420 Issue: Joint resolution in Tallahassee could leave cannabis measure up in smoke

Supporters in Florida are nearing the signature threshold to get a measure on the 2024 ballot to legalize cannabis for adults 21 and up. But in Tallahassee, a joint resolution (pun still illegal without a medical card) could present a higher hurdle for passing the initiative.

Ballot initiatives amending the state constitution already require a 60 percent supermajority to pass. But if sponsors Rep. Rick Roth and Sen. Joe Gruters have their way, state amendments would require 66.67 percent approval from voters to go into effect. No, that's not a typo. Measure backers would have to garner two-thirds of the electorate to get their initiative passed. Voters could find it nearly impossible to amend the constitution for any reason, including on popular issues like legalizing cannabis.

Oddly enough, Roth says the media is to blame for necessitating this change. "Big tech censorship of opposing views and, in my opinion, the news media is the greatest threat to government by the people in our republic," he said while introducing the legislation at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. "We can protect our constitution today from misleading or vague amendments by putting HJR 129 on the ballot."

On March 14, the committee approved the measure 16-7, with Democrats opposed.

If the legislature approves the resolution, it then would require a "yes" from voters to officially amend the constitution.

Ironically, it would only need to surpass the current 60 percent requirement for approval.

The potential measure might not appear until the 2024 election if it passes in Tallahassee, leaving the cannabis measure unaffected if it, too, gets the signatures necessary to qualify. But language in the resolution specifies that lawmakers could call a special election for the resolution before then.

It's not the first time Republicans have sought to limit citizen initiatives. After a series of defeats at the ballot box — raising the minimum wage, allowing people with felonies to vote, and approval of medical cannabis — lawmakers unwilling to budge on these issues attempted to place a limit on contributions to political committees for initiatives at $3,000. A federal judge blocked that law in 2022. That decision was a relief for future initiative seekers, who spend big bucks to gather signatures.

Florida's recreational cannabis measure is no exception. Smart and Safe Florida is behind the effort, and it's received a big investment from Trulieve, one of the most profitable cannabis companies in the country. Since November 2022, the company has contributed $30.5 million to the campaign. The referendum has more than 635,000 signatures, according to the Florida Division of Elections. It needs 891,523 signatures to qualify.

Trulieve's backing of this measure isn't surprising. Medical cannabis purveyors already operating in the state will likely be the greatest beneficiaries of the measure, as it's written. From the initiative: "Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers ... are allowed to acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute marijuana products and marijuana accessories to adults for personal use." In other words, Trulieve is first in line to capitalize on what could become the second largest adult-use cannabis market in the country.

The initiative allows for other companies to apply for licenses as well. However, Floridians would not be allowed to grow the plant at home, raising the hackles of some advocates. Supporters say the language has been crafted for approval by the state Supreme Court, which is currently reviewing the measure. Indeed, justices have shot down the last two attempts to get adult use measures on the ballot. Home grow wasn't included in the latest effort out of fear it might violate the single-subject rule: Only one topic can be addressed in an initiative before voters.

Attempts to legalize medical cannabis faced their own challenges. Despite receiving support from 57 percent of voters in 2014, the first medical cannabis initiative failed. But the amendment came back with a vengeance in 2016, with 71 percent in favor. Seven years later, more than 800,000 Floridians have a medical cannabis card.

There's other good news for recreational cannabis backers. Even if they need two-thirds of voters, there's some recent evidence they might clear that bar. Seven in 10 Floridians support legalization for adults 21 and up, according to a poll released by the University of North Florida in March.

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