Florida Initiative To Legalize Medical Marijuana Home Cultivation Won’t Appear On 2024 Ballot - Read of Green
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Florida Initiative To Legalize Medical Marijuana Home Cultivation Won’t Appear On 2024 Ballot

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The organizer of a prospective Florida ballot initiative to legalize home cultivation of medical marijuana by patients has withdrawn the proposal, explaining that the campaign raised barely more than $4,000 and couldn’t cover costs associated with trying to qualify the measure.

Moriah Barnhart told Marijuana Moment this week that despite some volunteer signature gathering efforts, including at some state-licensed dispensaries, she would be unable to pay the necessary fees to have those signatures validated by state officials.

“What happened was we got an influx of signatures that were going to be late, which is $50 to $500 if you look at Florida law,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I was looking at owing millions of dollars to the government.”

While the campaign had applied for a waiver, Barnhart said, the delay while that request was pending created further complications.

“We had to wait and wait and wait to get our affidavit of undue burden so that we didn’t have to pay for the signature verifications,” Barnhart said, “but in the time that we had to wait for that, we lost months.”

Meanwhile, some volunteers were still gathering signatures, and when they went to turn those signatures in, Barnhart said she was expected to pay the fees, as the campaign hadn’t raised enough money to cover those costs.

“This thing’s not going to go anywhere unless people pay for it to go somewhere,” she said.

Barnhart announced the homegrow measure nearly a year and a half ago, explaining that it was intended to “run parallel” to an industry-backed initiative to legalize marijuana for adults. Home cultivation would remain illegal under that proposal, which submitted more than a million voter signatures and could make the 2024 general election ballot despite ongoing legal wrangling.

Proponents of the medical homegrow measure were largely relying on volunteers at clinics, dispensaries and other sympathetic businesses to gather signatures, Barnhart told Marijuana Moment in September, shortly after the signature gathering campaign began.

“By January, we hope to get a million signatures in,” she said at the time. “That’s the big goal.”

“If we have 200 locations statewide, getting 1,000 signatures a month,” she added, “we’ll have a million by the end of the year.”

According to the most recent fundraising numbers, however, the campaign has collected $4,060—an amount that hasn’t increased since September.

Meanwhile the adult-use legalization ballot effort, which which is being funded by the multi-state cannabis operator (MSO) Trulieve, has spent more than $39.5 million. Trulieve is believed to be the nation’s second-largest MSO.

More than a year ago, a Trulieve spokesperson told Marijuana Moment that the company was giving a “big thumbs up” to Barnhart’s initiative and that it “liked the idea” of letting voters decide on a homegrow option.

But the company did not donate any money to the campaign, according to state records.

Barnhart said previously that Trulieve had indicated to the campaign, Wise and Free Florida, that the company would carry the homegrow petition in its dispensaries. But it’s not clear whether that actually happened. The company did not reply to multiple messages from Marijuana Moment at the time, nor did it respond to another emailed request for comment this week.

In a story published this week in the Miami New Times, Barnhart said Florida’s high bar for qualifying a ballot measure—campaigns are required to collect more than 891,523 verified signatures from registered voters—means most grassroots medical marijuana efforts lack the necessary resources to call for change.

“Billion-dollar companies and conglomerates are the only people who can have a say in Florida law,” Barnhart told the paper. She added that she hopes Trulieve or another company will sponsor a homegrow initiative for 2026 as a gesture of goodwill to patients.

In comments to Marijuana Moment this week, she insisted she remains optimistic. If the measure is refiled in 2024, she said, it could ultimately appear before voters in 2026.

“2024 will be the year that we raise the funds to refile the initiative,” she said, “but the funds have to come first.”

At this point, she added, the measure is too far along to give up on.

“We have gold in our hand. All of the hard work has been done,” she said. “We have found a CPA who was willing to take on this massive liability. We have found an attorney who was willing to argue this in front of the Supreme Court, who he himself sat on the Supreme Court and knows how to ask these petitions. We’ve done the legwork. We’ve gotten the petition written. Now people have seen that we can’t put the cart before the horse.”

“So let’s get that money raised to get the petition refiled,” she continued, “and pass it this time.”

Meanwhile, the Trulieve-backed recreational legalization ballot effort is being reviewed by the state Supreme Court.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) filed a challenge at the high court, arguing that the would-be ballot initiative is misleading. In part, her office argues, that’s because voters would not be able to understand from the summary that marijuana would remain federally illegal.

Moody made the same argument about misleading ballot language with respect to a 2022 legalization measure, and the Supreme Court subsequently invalidated it.

Moody’s office has also accused Trulieve of supporting the latest legalization measure in order to have a “monopolistic stranglehold” on the state’s cannabis market.

For its part, the Smart & Safe Florida campaign, which is behind the proposed reform, has said it “strains credulity well past the breaking point to think that the average voter is unaware that marijuana is illegal at the federal level.”

If approved, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow existing medical cannabis companies like Trulieve in the state to begin selling marijuana to all adults over 21. It contains a provision that would allow—but not require—lawmakers to take steps toward the approval of additional businesses. Home cultivation by consumers would not be allowed under the proposal as drafted.

Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, only five grams of which could be marijuana concentrate products. The three-page measure also omits equity provisions favored by advocates such as expungements or other relief for people with prior cannabis convictions.

Separately, economic analysts from the Florida legislature and the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) estimate that the marijuana legalization initiative would generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million in new sales tax revenue annually if voters enact it. And those figures could increase considerably if lawmakers opted to impose an additional excise tax on cannabis transactions that’s similar to the ones in place in other legalized states.

A poll released last month found that nearly seven out of ten registered Florida voters say they support the marijuana legalization initiative, with majorities of every demographic surveyed in favor of the reform.

The legalization campaign shouldn’t expect to receive support from Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican 2024 presidential candidate, who has affirmed that he would not move to federally decriminalize cannabis if elected.

DeSantis signed a bill that took effect over the summer that added restrictions to medical marijuana advertising and manufacturing, prohibiting any products or messages that promote “recreational” cannabis use, while adding more stringent eligibility requirements for workers in the industry.

He also signed legislation in July banning sales of any consumable hemp products—including cannabis “chewing gum”—to people under 21, an expansion of an existing prohibition on young people being able to purchase smokable hemp.

Additionally, the governor approved a bill in June that expressly prohibits sober living facilities from allowing residents to possess or use medical marijuana, even if the patient is certified by a doctor to legally use cannabis therapeutically in accordance with state law. All other doctor-prescribed pharmaceutical medications may be permitted, however.

This week, a Florida Republican senator filed a a bill to allow licensed medical marijuana businesses to take state tax deductions that they are barred from claiming at the federal level under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

Source: Marijuana Moment

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