Florida’s biggest medical marijuana company recently launched a push to put marijuana legalization measure on the state’s 2024 ballot. And at the same time, other advocates are exploring plans to have voters decide on what they hope will be a complementary measure permitting adults to grow their own cannabis at home.
The industry-backed legalization campaign filed their measure with the state earlier this month. But in what they say is an effort to avoid a legal challenge over single-subject ballot rules, the initiative is relatively limited in scope, lacking provisions to allow home grow or promote social equity, for example. That has rankled some observers who see the measure as largely self-serving in that it would, at least initially, simply allow existing medical cannabis companies to start selling to the adult-use market.
To fill that gap, Moriah Barnhart, an activists with the Women’s Initiative for a Safe and Equitable Florida tells Marijuana Moment that she’s in the process of forming a separate political action committee to get a home cultivation initiative on the ballot as well.
“With an adult use initiative launching with $5 million backing, it only makes sense to file home grow parallel to it,” Barnhart said, referring to the Smart & Safe Florida campaign that’s received seed funding from the major cannabis company Trulieve.
“I’ve been asking for six years if I had any support in that endeavor,” she said. “I have always felt, in the state of Florida, that that was our best bet for a myriad of reasons.”
One of the top reasons to split the reforms into two measures is the fact that the Florida Supreme Court has represented a barrier to citizen-led reform efforts in the state, and so they want to avoid pursuing any one initiative that could be jeopardized by a legal challenge over language or single-subject rules.
“Based on the current political climate of our state—and the rules and guidelines that we’re under—I have always felt that it would be best to file two separate amendments side-by-side and run them parallel, where the resources can be strategically tapped,” Barnhart said. “Whether they’re actually related or not is really neither here nor there.”
In this case, the home grow PAC hasn’t been formed yet and there are no major funding commitments at this point that Barnhart could reveal, but she says she’s actively consulting with attorneys about possible language for the measure. In a “perfect world,” she said the proposal would allow adults to grow a certain number of plants for personal use, with an option to grow more than the base limit with a doctor’s recommendation.
Making the ballot in Florida is an especially resource-intensive endeavor. Case in point: the legalization campaign is starting off with several million dollars in funding from Trulieve, but that’s just to get it off the ground. Successfully placing a measure on the 2024 ballot will require the collection of 891,589 valid signatures from registered voters. Even more resources would be needed to mount a successful campaign to advocate for its passage in the state’s multiple media markets.
Trulieve spokesperson Steve Vancore told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview last week that the company is giving a “big thumbs up” to Barnhart’s initiative in theory and they’ve “liked the idea” of letting voters decide on a home grow option.
However, it’s Trulieve’s understanding that attorneys are “struggling” to nail down the language, so he said it would be premature to comment on the extent to which the business might be willing to financially support any campaign that comes come about.
“Yes, we will support it. When and to what extent still remains unknown because she’s still drafting it. You can’t commit to something sight unseen,” Vancore said. “But we liked the idea, and we want to support something like that as well.”
Barnhart, for her part, said she’s “very hopeful” that cannabis industry stakeholders “are going to come to the table to support the homegrown initiative,” suggesting that the industry-backed paid petitioning effort could let the personal cultivation campaign “tap into” its resources by having workers collect signatures for both measures at the same time.
“They have the opportunity to prove their dedication to home grow, which they have been publicly supportive of,” she said. “It costs them absolutely nothing, if they’re placing their initiative for signatures, to place ours side by side with it.”
While Florida voters approved a medical cannabis constitutional amendment in 2016, subsequent attempts to place broader legalization on the ballot have been rejected by the state Supreme Court, which has ruled that the language of proposed measures by Make It Legal Florida and Sensible Florida were misleading, invalidating them.
The legalization measure that’s been filed for 2024 by Smart & Safe Florida isn’t just limited by the lack of home grow or equity provisions favored by many advocates, it’s also deferential to the legislature on key issues like expanding licensing beyond the existing dispensaries in the state’s medical cannabis program.
There are currently about 450 medical marijuana shops owned by about two dozen operators—more than 100 of which are owned by Trulieve. Without legislative action on additional licensing, that consolidation could persist, which could raise equity concerns. Many advocates have pushed for reform legislation that gives specific licensing priority to people from communities that have been most impacted by the drug war.
It’s not clear whether Sensible Florida, one of the campaigns whose legalization initiative was invalidated by the court in April 2021, will continue its push for a separate 2024 ballot measure, or if it will join forces with the industry-backed committee. Trulieve previously contributed $250,000 to the Sensible Floria effort.
Should any cannabis reform measure make the 2024 ballot, at least 60 percent of Florida voters would have to approve it for it to be enacted.
With respect to timing for the home grow campaign, Barnhart said that she’s prepared to file the PAC paperwork to form what’s expected to be called Wise & Free at any point, which she first spoke about with Miami New Times, and that ballot language could come soon as well.
“We’re confident in saying that in the next few weeks, we will have something to file,” she told Marijuana Moment.
Recent polling shows that a majority of Florida voters (59 percent) support legalizing cannabis for adult use, so that’s a slim margin that shows that advocates will have their work cut out for them if the measure qualifies.
A separate poll released in February found that three-fourths of Florida voters support legalizing marijuana possession for adult use, including strong bipartisan majorities. The survey didn’t ask about where voters stood on creating a regulated system of cannabis sales, but 76 percent said they either strongly or somewhat support allowing adults to “legally possess small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.”
Looking ahead to 2024 rather than this year may leave advocates better positioned to earn the needed supermajority level of support, as demographic groups more likely to favor legalization tend to turn out in higher rates during presidential, rather than midterm, election years.
Florida isn’t the only state where activists are turning their attention to the presidential election year for drug policy reform at the ballot.
For example, Idaho advocates filed the initial paperwork for a 2024 medical cannabis legalization initiative on Tuesday.
In Wyoming, activists behind proposed decriminalization and medical marijuana reforms said in January that they would focus their energy on 2024 after failing to collect enough signatures for this year’s ballot amid weather conditions, procedural delays and the ongoing pandemic.
In Ohio, an effort to put adult-use legalization on the statewide ballot fizzled out this year, but the campaign did secure a procedural legal win that will allow them to hit the ground running for a planned 2023 reform initiative.
Meanwhile, several states are set to vote on marijuana and drug policy reform ballot measures this November.
North Dakota voters will have the chance to decide on marijuana legalization at the ballot this November, the secretary of state’s office confirmed.
In neighboring South Dakota, a marijuana legalization initiative has again qualified for the ballot.
The Arkansas Supreme Court recently ordered the secretary of state’s office to certify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot—but there’s a chance that the votes will not end up being counted, depending on the final outcome of a pending legal challenge.
Maryland elections officials have finalized the language for a marijuana legalization referendum that lawmakers placed on the November ballot, and have issued a formal summary of the reform proposal.
Missouri’s secretary of state certified that activists turned in more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November ballot.
Colorado voters will have the chance to decide on a historic ballot initiative this November to legalize psychedelics and create licensed psilocybin “healing centers” where people can use the substance for therapeutic purposes.
The Oklahoma attorney general revised the ballot title of a marijuana legalization initiative that activists hope will be certified to go before the state’s voters, making mostly technical changes that the campaign views as satisfactory.
Nebraska advocates recently submitted signatures for a pair of medical cannabis legalization initiatives. The campaign has faced several challenges along the way, including the loss of critical funding after a key donor passed away and a court battle of the state’s geographic requirements for ballot petitions.
Michigan activists announced in June that they will no longer be pursuing a statewide psychedelics legalization ballot initiative for this year’s election and will instead focus on qualifying the measure to go before voters in 2024.
The campaign behind an effort to decriminalize drugs and expand treatment and recovery services in Washington State said in June that it has halted its push to qualify an initiative for November’s ballot.
In March, California activists announced that they came up short on collecting enough signatures to qualify a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for the state’s November ballot, though they aren’t giving up on a future election cycle bid.
Wisconsin voters in at least half a dozen cities and counties will be asked on November’s ballot whether they support legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. Those advisory questions will be non-binding, however, and are intended to take the temperature of voters and send a message to lawmakers about where their constituents stand.