The push for recreational cannabis in Florida remains on target for the 2020 election

Nick Hansen, on the right, with staff members at the new MedMen medical cannabis dispensary in Tallahassee. Credit: Lloyd Dunkelberger

With more than 100,000 voter signatures validated by the state, a campaign to let Florida voters decide whether to allow the recreational use of marijuana remains on pace to reach the 2020 ballot.

“It’s a tight window for sure. But we know we can do it,” said Nick Hansen, chairman of the Make It Legal Florida campaign.

As of Tuesday, the proposed state constitutional amendment campaign has collected 100,697 voter signatures, according to the state Division of Elections.

Earlier in the month the campaign passed the signature requirement — about 77,000 — to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of the ballot language.

At that time, the Make It Legal campaign said it had collected nearly 400,000 signatures — but it will take time to have them all processed by local elections supervisors.

Overall, the campaign will need to collect at least 766,200 validated signatures by Feb. 1 in order to qualify for the November 2020 general election ballot.

“Between sending out the mail for folks to sign the petition and get on the ballot and our paid petition-gathers that are out in the field, we look to put in over 1 million petitions by mid-December,” Hansen said as he attended the grand opening of a MedMen medical cannabis dispensary in Tallahassee on Tuesday.

In addition to his role in the campaign, Hansen is the director of governmental affairs in the Southeast for MedMen, a California-based company that holds one of the Florida medical-cannabis licenses. Florida voters approved the use of medical cannabis in 2016.

Hansen said the stricter petition-gathering requirements imposed by the state this year have not hindered the campaign to let voters decide whether Floridians 21 and older can use recreational cannabis.

“As long as we know what the rules are, I think you can work within those confines,” he said.

Hansen said the “biggest obstacle” for the campaign has been computer glitches in the Florida Department of State, where petition-gathers must register under the new regulations.

But Hansen said state officials, who are dealing with multiple ballot initiatives collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures this fall, have “done everything they can to make sure they can implement the law and run smoothly.”

“So far, we’re able to keep our pace,” Hansen said.

The Make It Legal campaign has drawn some criticism because while the measure would allow the adult use of cannabis, it would not legalize home cultivation of the plants.

Hansen said the campaign decided to leave that out because it would have complicated the review by the state Supreme Court, which must determine the ballot language is clear and is restricted to a “single subject.”

“We felt that the home cultivation would not be able to pass the single-subject rule because you have to write an entirely new regulatory scheme for that,” Hansen said.

He said the Make It Legal supporters framed their proposed amendment to allow recreational cannabis in Florida as part of the system that already allows medical cannabis, which is regulated by the state Department of Health.

Hansen said if the Make It Legal measure passes next year, the “next phase” could involve allowing homegrown cannabis, which he said would represent a “small subset” of users.  MedMen has supported homegrown measures in other states that allow recreational marijuana, he said.

He said a future debate over homegrown cannabis is “worth having.”

“I think at the end of the day, the ultimate Holy Grail for cannabis enthusiasts, and for folks who understand the medicinal qualities as well as the wellness qualities, is to have control of it themselves,” Hansen said.

Thus far, MedMen and Parallel, an Atlanta-based company that has a Florida medical cannabis license, have been the prime supporters of the Make It Legal campaign.

The two companies have contributed about $2.8 million for the effort through October, with most of the money aimed at the petition-gathering process, state elections records show.

If the measure gets on the ballot, Hansen said more of the companies involved in the medical cannabis business in Florida will join the campaign.

“I absolutely expect they’re going to get on board when we have a full campaign,” he said.

Citing other recent ballot initiatives, Hansen said the campaign could cost tens of millions of dollars next year. He said the calculation on how much money is needed will be based on polling and the strength of the opposition to the ballot measure.

He said similar measures have drawn “well-funded” opposition in other states.