Orlando Sentinel

Supporters have high hopes for recreational marijuana in Florida as petition drive kicks off

Onward News

A new petition drive to legalize recreational marijuana has gathered 100,000 signatures in its first 20 days, giving supporters high hopes that Florida could be on its way to joining other states in ending the prohibition of cannabis.

The goal is to put the legalization question before Florida voters in next year’s election, said Nick Hansen, chairman of Make It Legal Florida, the group circulating the petition.

“The response has been absolutely tremendous,” said Hansen, who has worked in politics for more than a decade. “I have never seen this level of interest from this number of voters across the state this quickly.”

Make It Legal Florida will need to collect 766,200 signatures from registered voters and pass a Florida Supreme Court review for the item to be placed on the 2020 ballot. Then at least 60% voters would have to support the amendment for pot to be legalized for recreational use in Florida.

Make It Legal Florida’s political committee received state approval on Sept. 6. The signatures collected so far still must be verified by county election offices to officially count. Once 76,632 signatures are verified, a Supreme Court review will be triggered.

A key part of Make It Legal’s strategy has been a mailing campaign. Voters are being sent petitions to complete and return by mail. Paid signature gatherers are also staking out concerts, sporting contests and other events.

The amendment would allow adults 21 and older in Florida to purchase cannabis for any reason from licensed medical marijuana treatment centers as long as it is in childproof packaging and not advertised to anyone younger than 21.

A group called Regulate Florida is also circulating a petition that would legalize marijuana. Unlike Make It Legal Florida’s proposal, Regulate Florida would allow Floridians to grow their own marijuana.

“Our whole goal is to give this plant back to the people,” said Michael Minardi, an attorney who is leading the Regulate Florida effort.

Regulate Florida received state approval in March 2016 and has secured 91,236 verified signatures. Attorney General Ashley Moody is challenging Regulate Florida’s initiative, arguing that its ballot summary is too long and will mislead voters. Minardi said he thinks the description is sufficient and will pass legal review.

Regulate Florida isn’t as well funded as the Make It Legal campaign. Regulate Florida has raised $177,883, primarily from small donors. Two medical marijuana providers are bankrolling Make It Legal Florida. M.M. Enterprises LLC, doing business as MedMen, has contributed $649,500, Surterra Wellness has chipped in another $545,000.

About 71% Florida voters approved medical marijuana in 2016. About 65 percent of Florida voters support legal recreational pot, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released in June.

Pollsters called it “an all-time high” in the state.

Skyler Swisher can be reached at sswisher@sunsentinel.com, 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher.

By Skyler Swisher. Originally posted on Orlando Sentinel.