Marijuana activist group Regulate Florida is working hard to get cannabis legalization on the 2022 Florida general election ballot. To add their proposal to the ballot, they must first get more than 223,000 signatures to obtain a Supreme Court review, then an additional 89,000 signatures by January.
The group is still sorting and counting signatures but has seen positive results.
“We are working diligently trying to get there, and hopefully, we will make it,” said Michael Minardi, a lawyer for Regulate Florida. “With the people that we have on the ground and what’s going on throughout the state…we will get there.”
In Florida, many attempts have been made to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. To date, Florida has legalized only the use of medical marijuana, but the laws governing medicinal marijuana use are being amended and discussed in courts across the country almost continuously.
If the group gets the proposal on the 2022 ballot, Minardi is confident the measure will pass. “The national trend is that people support this issue, and we don’t think Florida is any different,” said Minardi.
In the past, though, that hasn’t proved to be true. Florida is often very different from the rest of the nation. Introduced this past January, HB 343 and SB 710 would have legalized the purchase and consumption of marijuana similar to alcohol for adults 21 and older. Both propositions died in subcommittees in April.
“It is way past time for Florida to finally have a legal adult-use cannabis program, and too many people are still being arrested and incarcerated for simple marijuana possession charges, which is unjust, totally unfair and a majority of Floridians support legalization for adult use,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
In 2016, voters passed the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Amendment 2. The Amendment supported medical marijuana for individuals with specific debilitating diseases and medical conditions as determined by a licensed state physician. Plus, only a licensed medical marijuana treatment center can sell medical cannabis.
Smith believes decriminalizing marijuana possession in Florida is crucial for mitigating the harmful impacts on people of color and eliminating taxpayer costs in the criminal justice system. Currently, the steps required to open an approved dispensary are almost perversely and deliberately anti-equity.
An applicant must have had a registered business in the state of Florida for at least five consecutive years. And, the dispensary must have the technical abilities to grow and produce marijuana. Finally, the applicant must post a $5 million insurance bond once an application is approved. These requirements all but officially rule out first-time entrepreneurs. The requirements almost guarantee a market monopoly by a handful of dispensaries controlling supply. That monopoly translates to expensive medical marijuana that isn’t covered by insurance.
“It requires a tremendous number of resources and capital and money, and most people don’t have it,” Smith said. “100% of costs are on the patient, cash out of pocket.”
After owning and successfully running his dispensary in California for many years, Tyler King moved home to Gainesville to fulfill his dream of owning a dispensary in his hometown. The exorbitant application fee and the myriad of other dispensary requirements prevented his dream from coming true.
“Without saying you have to be a multimillion-dollar corporation, they said it,” said King, the owner and founder of Swamp City Gallery Lounge.
Thirty-six states have comprehensive medical cannabis laws. Thirty-two states have decriminalized marijuana. Statewide, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for adults. A recent Gallup poll showed 68% of Americans support the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana, so people’s lives won’t be ruined from taking a toke from a bong.
“On average, 40,000 to 50,000 Floridians are arrested on simple cannabis possession,” Smith said. “Why are we arresting people and ruining their lives because they had a joint at a concert?”