By Ari Gerstin
The latest statewide poll indicated nearly 90% of Florida voters support legalizing cannabis for medical purposes. This recent poll also reveals Florida voters support relaxing state law to allow adult recreational use, by a margin of 51% in favor to 45% against.
Prospects are extremely bright for modernizing cannabis regulation and enforcement in the Sunshine State in the not-so-distant future. For some, however, waiting another year is simply too long. With the support of local law enforcement, some cities and counties in Florida have already begun to implement reforms to their cannabis enforcement programs.
There are several proposed constitutional amendments currently seeking signatures to appear on Florida’s 2016 ballot. Here’s a brief rundown of the four unique campaigns, each independently working to bring change.
Title: Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions
Sponsor: United for Care
The group behind the 2014 attempt to legalize medical marijuana by an amendment to Florida’s constitution is back at it again, pushing a new petition to get the question on the 2016 ballot. Unlike the last campaign, which was launched only a few months before the deadline for submission of signatures, United for Care mobilized troops early and has already collected more than 300,000 verified signatures.
In addition, United for Care modified some of the language of its proposed amendment to head off criticism levied by opponents in 2014. For instance, the definition of “debilitating medical condition” in the 2016 version eliminates the catch-all language that opponents called overly vague. The 2016 proposal limits the definition to: “epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated.”
The new proposal also addresses critics’ concerns about “protecting drug dealers” by tasking the Florida Department of Health with registering and regulating caregivers. Of the four potential 2016 marijuana-related constitutional amendments, this is the only one that would not allow patients to cultivate their own cannabis, but it’s also the only one that’s received any noticeable support at this point.
Title: Cannabis as a Dietary Supplement for Personal and Medical Use; Funding for Teacher Salaries
Sponsor: Florida Organization of Reform
As its title suggests, this initiative proposes that cannabis be reclassified as a dietary supplement and taxed, with monies going to fund teacher salaries.
Those 21 and older would have the right to possess up to four ounces of cannabis for medical or personal use, and grow no more than 10 flowering plants at a time per home, within the person’s residence. The proposed amendment also opens the potential for licensing and regulation of cannabis dispensing organizations.
A 10% sales tax would be levied on cannabis sales, with “revenue strictly and evenly dispersed amongst public school teacher salaries.” According to state records, only one verified signature has thus far been submitted in support of this initiative.
Title: Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions
Sponsor: Sensible Florida, Inc.
This proposed amendment declares that it is “in the interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes, and individual freedom … that the use of cannabis should be legal” for adults 21 and older. If this proposed amendment succeeds, adults would be permitted to possess, use and purchase up to one ounce of cannabis. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants at their primary residence, provided proper measures are taken and the cannabis is not sold.
As to cannabis businesses, the proposed amendment tasks a state agency with adopting regulations for the issuance and maintenance of licenses for production facilities, testing labs and retail stores. Notably, licensure would be limited to persons who have resided in Florida for the preceding five years, but investors would not be subject to the residency requirement.
The proposal would allow local municipalities to limit licenses and establish regulations governing cannabis operations. Although state records currently indicate that no verified signatures have been submitted in support of this measure, campaign officials recently stated that they are “approaching 30,000 collected signatures.”
Title: Legalization of Medical Cannabis with safe, well-regulated access
Sponsor: Florida Citizens for the Legalization of Medical Cannabis
This proposed amendment would also legalize cannabis use for individuals with a “debilitating medical condition” as determined by a licensed Florida physician. If enacted, the Department of Health would be responsible for issuing identification cards to caregivers, as well as registering and regulating dispensaries and caregivers that produce and distribute cannabis products.
Conditions that would qualify under this legislation include cancer, HIV, severe nausea, seizures and PTSD, among other ailments. As of the time of this writing, state records show that no verified signatures have been submitted in support of this initiative.
Ari H. Gerstin is a lawyer at the national law firm Akerman LLP and a member of the Regulated Substances Task Force. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.