Recreational marijuana may be on Florida ballot; here's why leading pot advocate isn't happy

James Call
Tallahassee Democrat

A leader in the Florida cannabis community fears a proposed recreational marijuana initiative may be doomed because it offers little change for consumers, but provides a bigger market for the medical marijuana giant backing the proposal. 

The Adult Personal Use of Marijuana proposed ballot measure would legalize marijuana for nonmedical use and has submitted the required number of signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot. 

But the executive director of the Suncoast NORML chapter is not celebrating the milestone.  

The Adult Personal Use of Marijuana proposed constitutional amendment allows the recreational use of marijuna and awaits Supreme Court review for ballot placement in the 2024 election.

Chris Cano said his review of the intiative finds people and consumers were afterthoughts in how it is written, while the interest of current marijuana industry players will benefit if the proposal becomes law.

“The amendment itself does nothing to expand the cannabis industry. It essentially allows the existing limited cartel structure of license holders to start selling over the counter adult use cannabis for a higher price,” said Cano, discussing the proposal last month. 

Cano sits on NORML’s national board of directors. The 53-year-old advocacy group is the oldest and largest marijuana legalization organization in the country and lobbies for the legalization of marijuana at the state and federal levels. 

In 2016, 71% of voters supported a constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis in Florida.

Now, Truelieve Inc., based in Quincy, is bankrolling the Smart & Safe committee, promoters of a recreational marijuana amendment for the 2024 election.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody tells the Supreme Court she will challenge the ballot language for the Adult Personal Use of Marijuana initiative.

The company has 186 retail dispensaries across 11 states and has provided Smart & Safe with $38.5 million to collect the 965,000 signatures needed for the ballot language to be reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

“Our investment demonstrates our firm belief that Floridians are ready to experience the freedom to use cannabis for personal consumption, a freedom which is currently enjoyed by more than half of America’s adults,” said Kim Rivers, Truelieve CEO, in a prepared statement. 

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers. The company has spent more than $38 million to collect signatures for a recreational marijuana amendment.

Twenty-one states have legalized recreational marijuana use, which remains illegal at the federal level. 

Citizens initiatives to amend the constitution must receive 60% of the vote to be adopted.

While most published polls show the proposal is supported by 65% of respondents, Cano wonders how solid that support is. 

Consumers complain that the proposal solidifies the status quo with retention of a vertical-integrated industry where licensees cultivate, produce, and market marijuana from seed to sale. 

Medical marijuana advocates fault the amendment for failure to allow home cultivation. 

Cano questions if the proposal will generate the excitement needed to turn out the votes to win approval.  

Marijuana proponents are dismayed that the recreational marijuana ballot does not include home cultivation.

“It’s not like opponents have to actually win to defeat it. They just need to make sure Smart & Safe is denied 40.1% of the vote, because it can’t pass with 59.9%,” said Cano.

The amendment directs the Florida Legislature to create a regulatory framework that could address the criticisms raised. Lawmakers would have the authority to increase the number of licensees serving the public, and to allow home cultivation. 

A Smart & Safe spokesperson said their challenge was to design a proposal the public would support within the guidelines the court has imposed.

“The language was written with two critical things in mind. First is public opinion. As such, polling consistently shows near 70% support from voters … And second, it also considers, as it must, the legal requirements that are required to pass muster with the Florida Supreme Court, “said Steve Vancore, a Smart & Safe spokesperson. 

The proposal is now before the Supreme Court.  

Attorney General Ashley Moody told the Court May 15 she intends to challenge the initiative for unclear ballot language and failure to adhere to a single subject requirement. 

Cano finds Moody’s opposition ironic given that Smart & Safe hired the same public relations firm, Axiom Strategies, that is favored among Republican politicians including Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. 

“Really, it is just Republicans fighting against Republicans at this point. The fact is, people are an afterthought in this whole thing,” said Cano about the upcoming court hearing. 

Rivers said she is confident the proposal meets the legal requirements and looks forward to a positive ruling from the court. 

The Florida Supreme Court schedule gives Moody and opponents until June 12 to submit briefs to block the Personal Use of Marijuana amendment. 

Smart & Safe Florida and its supporters have until July 5 to respond.  

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahasse