The people have spoken: They want to smoke weed. In a recent nationwide Gallup Poll, 64 percent of respondents said the use of marijuana should be legalized. That's the highest response rate in favor of legalization Gallup has recorded since 1969. And do you know how many people smoked pot in 1969?
But unfortunately, Floridians will have to wait for their chance to join the nine other states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have legalized recreational weed. Advocates hoped to nab 766,000 signatures by February 1 to get full marijuana legalization on November's ballot, but the organizers tell New Times they came up well short of that goal.
Michael Minardi, a Florida attorney, is the face of Regulate Florida, an organization pushing for cannabis to be legalized in Florida and regulated the same way as alcohol and tobacco. The group spent months gathering signatures, but Minardi says they ended up with only around 40,000 valid John Hancocks.
So the group is now shifting its sights to the 2020 election, which means it has two years to start over and acquire more than three-quarters of a million signatures. His first goal is to gather new signatures. He will have to get 40,000 so that the state Supreme Court would definitely review his petition and state whether it's written in line with the state's constitution. If the group receives prior approval from the highest court, that would be a boost for Minardi's cause for 2020.
"Our main goal right now is to get the Supreme Court review," Minardi says. "That’s the first hurdle that we have to pass in order to get this on the ballot in 2020."
The petition is four pages long and includes subsections devoted to everything from the regulation of cannabis establishments to employer and employee rights; the proposed law would allow the possession and use of cannabis and also its cultivation. Any individual aged 21 years or older would be free to grow up to six flowering plants either indoors or in a locked greenhouse.
Minardi is convinced that the slow start to Florida's medical marijuana program has increased support for Regulate Florida's efforts. Though voters overwhelmingly passed medical pot in 2016 and more than 70,000 statewide have already registered to legally use pot, the state has dragged its feet on implementing the rules and ultimately banned all smokable versions of the drug.
"I can say for sure that it has definitely turned off a lot of people towards the system and what is going on. It has definitely brought more people to support us," Minardi says. "[The state Legislature is] really doing everything they can to prevent people from having this medication that they waited for and wanted, so the more that that occurs, the more people say, ‘Yeah, we need Regulate Florida.’"
Minardi says his group is concentrating on raising awareness about the petition and about the benefits legalization would offer the public and the state. But the group also needs to ramp up fundraising to mount a true statewide campaign for signatures.
Sensible Florida Inc., Minardi's Fort Lauderdale-based political action committee, has received only about $260,000 in contributions since 2015. The medical marijuana campaign, meanwhile, was bankrolled in part by megalawyer John Morgan and spent more than $5 million on its successful fight
Minardi knows that even getting enough signatures by 2020 will be a major challenge. In the 23 months since launching the current petition in March 2016, Regulate Florida barely collected 5 percent of the signatures needed. Increasing 40,000 signees in a two-year period to 766,000 in the next will require far more money and organization.
Still, Minardi is confident.
"Once people know the truth about cannabis and how it’s benefitting other states, especially in the tax-dollar arena, I think it’s a no-brainer for most people, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian, this is smart, sensible policy under all circumstances," he says. "I think we’re going to be like we were with Amendment 2 — we’re going to be in the supermajority by far in passing this."