Activist group pushes for recreational marijuana use to be on the 2022 ballot

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An activist group is working to add a measure to legalize recreational marijuana use on Florida’s 2022 Florida general election ballot.

Regulate Florida, the group working to add the proposal to the ballot, must obtain over 223,000 signatures to obtain Supreme Court review and another 890,000 valid signatures by January. 

Michael Minardi, a lawyer for Regulate Florida, said the group is seeing a great return from mailers and is still in the process of sorting and counting the signatures.

Trulieve, a statewide cannabis dispensary with two locations in Gainesville, is also working to collect signatures for Regulate Florida.

“We are working diligently trying to get there, and hopefully we will make it, but I can’t really guarantee that at this point,” Minardi said. “Hopefully, with the people that we have on the ground and what’s going on throughout the state with all the stores, we will get there.”

Minardi said he believes the measure will pass in 2022 if the group is successful in getting the proposal on the ballot. 

“I think the people of the state of Florida support legalization,” Minardi said. “Nationwide throughout the country, it is getting passed more and more in states everywhere, and the national trend is that people support this issue, and we don’t think Florida is any different.”

According to a recent Gallup poll, 68% of Americans support the legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana.

The laws governing medicinal and recreational marijuana use in Florida are continuously being amended and discussed in the courts across the country.

Nineteen states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia have currently legalized the use of cannabis for adults and 32 states have decriminalized cannabis. Thirty-six states have comprehensive medical cannabis laws.

In Florida, there have been attempts over the years to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in addition to decriminalizing its use. To date, Florida has only legalized the use of medical marijuana.

In January, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) and Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-Pinellas) introduced a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in Florida. 

The bill would legalize the purchase and consumption of marijuana much like that of alcohol for adults 21 and older.

HB 343, and its companion in the Senate SB 710, died in subcommittees in April. 

In November, Rep. Yvonne Hinson (D-Gainesville) filed HB467, another proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana, that will be heard in Florida’s 2022 legislative session.

“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,” Smith said.

35% of the drug abuse violations relate to marijuana. (Isabella Leandri/WUFT News)

In 2016, the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Amendment 2, was passed. The Amendment supported legalizing medical marijuana for individuals with specific debilitating diseases and medical conditions, which must be determined by a licensed state physician.

Per law, medical marijuana can only be bought and sold in a licensed medical marijuana treatment center.

Medical marijuana in Florida is managed by the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU). Florida statute require an application to be filed to open a medical marijuana dispensary.

The applicant must have had a registered business in the state of Florida for at least five consecutive years. The dispensary must also have the technical abilities to grow and produce marijuana. Additionally, once an application is approved, the applicant must post a $5 million insurance bond.

“A small handful of dispensaries have a monopoly on the market, and they control the supply,” Smith said. “It requires a tremendous number of resources and capital and money, and most people don’t have it.”

Smith said the costs of medical marijuana are terribly expensive and not covered by insurance. 

“100% of costs are on the patient, cash out of pocket,” Smith said.

Tyler King, the owner and founder of Swamp City Gallery Lounge, moved back home to Gainesville after owning a dispensary in California to make his dream of owning a dispensary in his hometown come true.

Owner Tyler King sells CBD products and accessories at his smoke shop in Gainesville. (Isabella Leandri/WUFT News)

Due to the high application fee and the myriad of other dispensary requirements, King was not able to make his dream happen.

“Without saying you have to be a multimillion-dollar corporation, they said it,” King said.

The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act was passed on June 16, 2014, and allows the use of low-THC and high-CBD cannabis from a strain of cannabis named Charlotte’s Web.

King’s business Swamp City Gallery Lounge, located in Gainesville, sells CBD products — the next best alternative to owning his own dispensary and selling medical marijuana.

“We would love to be able to dispense and do what these other dispensaries here are doing, but it would also kind of take away from the fact that we are a family-oriented place,” King said.

Swamp City also houses The Releaf Clinic to help people register for their medical marijuana card once they have received a prescription from a licensed physician. 

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is an organization dedicated to legalizing cannabis.

DeVaughn Ward, the MPP senior legislative counsel, said he thinks Florida is at least four years out from full legalization.

“I think in the interim, getting more diversity in the medical system would be great and decriminalization by expanding the amount of personal possession in Florida,” Ward said.

“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?”

Smith said he believes an important step for the Florida legislature is to decriminalize cannabis possession in the state of Florida to mitigate the harmful impacts on people of color and eliminate costs to taxpayers in the criminal justice system.

In 2019, there were 1.6 million arrests for drug abuse violations in the United States. (Isabella Leandri/WUFT News)

About Isabella Leandri

Isabella is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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