New Petition Would Turn Florida Cannabis Industry Into Monopoly, Critics Say

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Now that a ton of corporate money is being poured into Florida’s petition-gathering process, it’s almost guaranteed the legalization of recreational marijuana will be on the 2020 ballot, where it would need 60 percent approval to become state law.

But that same corporate money is also seeking control over the future of cannabis by funding a petition that does not allow citizens to grow their own weed — a right granted to the residents of almost two dozen other states where marijuana has been legalized.

That fact has many Florida cannabis activists refusing to sign the Make It Legal Florida petition, which is being mailed with prepaid return envelopes to make it easier for Florida voters to sign and send.

“It will make these companies billions, and it will crush the industry for the next ten years,” says Brett Puffenbarger, a hemp and cannabis consultant and partner at Native Hemp Solutions. “I’d rather crush the industry for two years and come back with a real petition in 2022.”

Make It Legal Florida is backed by Surterra Wellness and MedMen, two multistate cannabis companies that have spent more than a million dollars on the initiative. It is one of three active petitions to legalize recreational marijuana in Florida and the one likeliest to end up on the ballot because of the massive funding behind it.

If the ballot item became state law, marijuana would be legalized for adults aged 21 and older. But they would be able to purchase it only from the dispensaries currently selling medical marijuana, which are owned by a handful of state-approved corporate conglomerates operating all aspects of the cannabis business, from seed to sale.

Under state law, the petition must undergo a Florida Supreme Court review before it can even be considered, and that can be done only after 76,632 signatures have been collected. Then 766,200 copies of the petition must be signed by February in order for the item to make it onto the ballot for the November 2020 general election.

Although Make It Legal Florida has not submitted any signed petitions since it launched September 6, the group is confident it will meet the February deadline.

Nick Hansen, who left his job as an adviser for Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes to work at MedMen as the director of government affairs for the Florida region, says the organizers considered adding the home-grow provision to their petition but determined it wouldn’t get Supreme Court review or 60 percent voter approval. (More than 71 percent of the voters supported medical marijuana in 2016.)

“We looked at home grow, and I think it’s something probably for the next chapter of the movement [in] Florida, but at this point, I don’t think it’s something we can get across the finish line at 60-plus [percent],” Hansen says.

The other two active petitions seeking to put recreational marijuana on the 2020 ballot — Regulate Florida and Floridians for Freedom — would allow Floridians to grow cannabis at home.

With more than 91,000 signed petitions, Regulate Florida has surpassed the required number to obtain Supreme Court review, but Hansen believes the petition is too convoluted to receive approval.

The petition favored by Puffenbarger and other cannabis activists is Floridians for Freedom, which has the fewest restrictions regarding cannabis but also the least funding and, therefore, the fewest signatures. Only 23,831 signatures have been collected so far.

Tyler King, who owns the Swamp City Gallery Lounge, a CBD lounge in Gainesville, is offering 15 percent off all products in his store if customers bring in their Make It Legal Florida petition form, allow it to be shredded, and sign the Floridians for Freedom petition instead.

“I think the people of Florida deserve better,” he says, “the farmers, the grow shops, the cultivators, the people who have been waiting patiently to get their foot in the door to get a piece of the pie.

“You’re talking about a billion dollars in revenue. There’s more than enough meat on the bone for everybody to get a piece of the pie, but we’re dealing with corporate greed here.”