Legalization Efforts in Florida Take a Hit
January 16, 2020

It now appears that Floridians will not have the opportunity to legalize marijuana by ballot initiative in the upcoming 2020 election. Make it Legal Florida, the organization attempting to get the issue on the 2020 ballot, announced on Monday that they will not be able to secure enough petition signatures to qualify the issue for the election. Make It Legal’s initiative looked like a promising endeavor when it began its petition drive back in August, and based on the metrics released by the group, it appears the initiative was fairly successful. Just not successful enough to get on the 2020 ballot. Florida election laws required Make It Legal to secure and certify 766,200 signatures by February 1, 2020 for the measure to be put on the ballot. Make It Legal issued a statement indicating that it had secured “more than 700,000 signed petitions” by January 13, which is an impressive feat. It was the certification of those signatures by election supervisors that was ultimately the problem. According to Make It Legal’s website, only 294,403 of the signatures had been certified as of Monday. Ultimately the “narrow timeframe to submit and verify…signatures…prompted our committee to shift focus to now gain ballot access in 2022,” Make It Legal Chairman Nick Hansen said in a statement Monday.

Make It Legal’s revised focus on 2022 is not the only part of this story, however. There are also two pending legal matters: Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s challenge to Make It Legal’s legalization proposal, and Make It Legal’s class action lawsuit challenging recently enacted election laws. As to the former, Moody’s office filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court last week claiming Make It Legal’s proposed ballot measure was invalid because marijuana could never be “permitted” due to its illegality under federal law. “Unlike those prior initiatives, this initiative completely omits the illegality of this conduct under federal law. Given this oversight, the Attorney General’s Office must oppose placement of this new proposed amendment on the ballot,” Moody said.

As for the other pending legal challenge, Make It Legal filed its suit on December 31, 2019 claiming that a new election law was unconstitutional and has been improperly implemented by the Florida Department of State. The suit goes so far as to claim that changes made by the law “lack even a rational, reasonable, or coherent justification or relation to any purported state interest.” The law at issue requires petition gatherers to register with the Florida Department of State and receive petition forms from the agency. The lawsuit takes direct aim at Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, claiming the “actions of the secretary have presented an enormous (if not insurmountable) barrier to the ability of sponsors, such as plaintiff Make It Legal Florida, to collect the requisite number of signatures for petitions and have them reviewed, validated, and verified by the supervisors, and then reviewed and deemed sufficient by the secretary — all by the February 1, 2020 deadline.” The lawsuit further alleges that it “is thus substantially likely, if not certain, that initiative petitions will fail (i.e., they will not make the ballot for vote by electors in the 2020 general election), despite the fact such initiatives would or could have succeeded if not doomed by the impairments caused to petition circulators’ ability to register and timely begin circulating and collecting signatures in support of petitions.”

Make It Legal’s concession regarding the ballot initiative and the ongoing legal battle associated with it are just the latest issues for the legal cannabis market in the Sunshine State that has already seen a district court declare the current licensing scheme for medical marijuana unconstitutional. That decision has been appealed and will ultimately be decided by the Florida Supreme Court, but it appears that all hopes of a vote for legalized recreational marijuana this year are officially up in smoke.

 Stay tuned to our blog for more developments on Florida’s legalization efforts, as well as other issues affecting the industry.

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