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The heat is on: “5 Questions” on getting a recreational pot amendment on 2020 ballot

Florida Politics

With the language now filed for a recreational, or “adult-use,” marijuana amendment for the Florida Constitution, the pressure is on to get it on the 2020 ballot — a little more than 14 months away.

But they’ll have less time than that to gather the signatures needed: 76,632 statewide for “judicial and financial impact review” and a daunting 766,200 to make ballot position.

A new political committee, “Make It Legal Florida,” registered with the state to push the amendment. That panel has ties to powerful lobbyists and Republicans.

It’s chaired by Nick Hansen, a veteran operative who has worked on campaigns at all levels and is a former longtime adviser to GOP state Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg.

Hansen is now Southeastern Director of Government Affairs for MedMen, the Los Angeles-based medical cannabis chain with locations and delivery service in Florida.

Facing what is essentially a Feb. 1, 2020 deadline – five months away – for their task, Florida Politics publisher Peter Schorsch spoke with Hansen for a “Five Questions” interview about the near future.

Florida Politics: Is your organization really serious about getting on the 2020 ballot? How will you overcome the tight timeframe and resources needed to succeed?

Hansen: Yes – we are targeting the 2020 ballot and look forward to giving the voters a chance to have their voices heard on adult use marijuana in Florida. We understand it will require significant resources, and we are very confident we will have the needed resources to succeed.

According to both public and private polling, 2 out of every 3 voters in Florida support the passage of safe and legal adult use. Public opinion supports a movement now in a way that wasn’t seen years ago. The momentum to act is definitely on our side.

FP: Are you considering pushing for legislation during the 2020 Legislative Session that would legalize adult use cannabis in Florida? 

Hansen: Our focus is on the 2020 ballot, but if the legislature shows a sincere interest in the issue, we are happy to engage them and show them just how much Florida voters are “all-in” on this issue.

There are already examples of states that have done this statutorily— just look at Illinois. Safe and legal adult use grew in popularity so much that Illinois successfully passed a bi-partisan effort to implement the law statutorily. We would certainly welcome the same conversations with Florida’s leadership.

FP: Many advocates in the marijuana arena say your amendment language does not go far enough and call it a missed opportunity with respect to decriminalization and related issues – how do you respond? 

Hansen:  Unlike many of the other states that have considered this issue, Florida has strict rules on ballot language requiring an amendment to focus only on a “single subject.” It was important for us to craft language with one clear goal – safe, legal adult use of marijuana in Florida.

While we understand there are many related issues surrounding this topic, we also know that what Florida voters overwhelmingly support is having access to safe and legal adult use. To get Florida to the finish line, we know this battle requires a singular focus and requires language that specifically addresses that focus.

FP: What about local control — does your language address a city or county’s ability to regulate dispensaries as they see fit?  

Hansen: The great thing about our ballot language is that it doesn’t have to. The Florida law that allows local cities and counties to regulate dispensaries will still be in effect. This amendment doesn’t impact that piece of Florida legislation and allows cities and counties to continue to regulate under the existing law.

FP: Why does your proposal limit the sale and distribution of legal adult use marijuana to Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs)? 

Hansen: The amendment adopted by Florida voters in 2016 makes it very clear that Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers are the entities allowed to sell and distribute medical marijuana. For the purpose of clarity and consistency for all involved, it makes sense to use the Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers for this purpose. They have worked well in Florida and there is no reason to change that now.

We also wanted to ensure we aligned with current distribution channels and kept the Department of Health as the regulatory body providing oversight. We feel that the Department has the history and experience to safely regulate not just medical marijuana, but also adult use.

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