NEWS

Advocacy Group Continues Push to Make Recreational Marijuana Legal in Florida

Bay News 9

Stymied in their efforts to put a recreational marijuana legalization amendment on Florida's 2020 ballot, advocates are now redoubling their efforts with an eye to the 2022 election.

The group behind the amendment, Make It Legal Florida, failed to collect the 766,000 registered voter signatures required to make this year's ballot. Verified signatures are valid for two years from the date they were collected, however, meaning organizers only need to gather slightly more than 200,000 additional signatures in order to qualify for the 2022 ballot. The deadline isn't for another 14 months.

The measure would allow Floridians over 21 years old to "possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason," significantly expanding the universe of legal cannabis users in Florida.

In 2016, voters approved legalizing medical marijuana. Four years on, more than 400,000 patients with qualifying conditions have registered as medical marijuana patients. Well over a million ounces of medical cannabis has been purchased by Florida patients since the start of this year.

That experience, advocates argue, is moving public opinion decisively toward recreational marijuana legalization.

"People understand that this is a sophisticated business," said Taylor Biehl, the policy director of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. "It's a medical business, and people who don't have underlying qualifying conditions and are seeking relief for other common, more common ailments are finding extreme benefits. It's really a miracle drug."

But the drug remains federally illegal, a point Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody says isn't underscored in the recreational marijuana amendment's text and therefore makes it invalid. She's filed a brief urging the Florida Supreme Court to declare the measure unconstitutional.

The Florida Legislature's Republican leaders have also remained steadfastly opposed to legalizing recreational use of marijuana, blocking legislation that would accomplish what the amendment seeks to do. After it became clear Make It Legal wouldn't have the signatures it needed to make the 2020 ballot, lawyers for the Republican-controlled Florida Senate asked the Supreme Court to halt its constitutionally-mandated amendment review process.

In legislative hearings on the issue, some Republican lawmakers questioned whether legal marijuana use by the broader public would represent a gateway to other vices.

"Have you noticed that those that are using THC are also increasing in the other illicit drugs that they're using?​" then-state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan (R-Eustis) asked a witness testifying about Colorado's legalization of recreational marijuana during a meeting by a House health panel late last year.

But, in the wake of this year's election, 15 states and the District of Columbia have now legalized recreational marijuana, and advocates say there has been little practical evidence to suggest widespread misuse of the drug. They also predict Florida voters will have a say in two years.

"They will speak in 2022, and undoubtedly, this will pass," Biehl declared.

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