Organizers of a medical marijuana ballot initiative announced last week that medical marijuana would officially appear on the 2016 ballot, but efforts to get recreational marijuana on this year's Florida ballot are struggling significantly.
Three groups originally filed recreational marijuana ballot initiatives in Florida, and two have now withdrawn. The only one remaining, pushed by a group called Floridians for Freedom, has its roots with Parrish couple Cathy and Bob Jordan, who have been advocating for medical use of cannabis for 20 years. Cathy Jordan was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in the 1980s and told she only had three years to live, but credits the fact that she's still living to her use of cannabis.
That initiative has extremely simple language, allowing anyone 21 years or older in Florida to use, cultivate and possess all parts of the marijuana plant. It would leave regulatory processes up to the Legislature.
But that proposed Constitutional amendment is struggling, with only 4,189 validated signatures, according to the Florida Division of Elections. It needs 683,149 to get on the 2016 ballot and 10 percent of that to qualify for a review by the attorney general.
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Bob Jordan says they'll
continue their efforts and aren't letting the process deter them.
"We're going to keep pursuing it," Bob Jordan said. "We're like the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare. We're not flashy, but we're persistent as hell."
Jodi K. James, chairwoman for the initiative, said they've struggled to raise money, only raising somewhere between $14,000 and $20,000 since they filed the initiative in August 2015.
"All we need is one big backer," Bob Jordan said.
Regulate Florida had more backers for their proposed Constitutional amendment, which sought to regulate marijuana in the same way as alcohol. But group officials decided to withdraw the amendment in December, saying they didn't get into the process early enough. They also filed in August 2015.
"We had well over 15,000 signatures, and none of those were paid petitioners," said Hiedi Handford, spokeswoman for the campaign.
Instead, the group decided to withdraw and refile in March to push the initiative on the 2018 ballot. Handford said that effort was definitely happening, with some possible tweaks to the proposed amendment's language. Michael Minardi, chairman of Regulate Florida, said tweaks included increasing the number of mature plants someone could personally own to six from four and decreasing the residency requirement for selling marijuana from two years to six months.
"Our focus is providing safe access to adults and protecting our children," Minardi said. "We also need to think about increasing tourism to our state, and allowing more people to get involved out of state."
The earliest groups can file ballot initiatives for the 2018 ballot is Monday.
Meanwhile, United for Care, the campaign financed by prominent Florida attorney John Morgan, has surpassed the needed signatures to get on the 2016 ballot. It needs 60 percent of the vote to pass in November, and a nearly identical initiative received about 58 percent of the vote in 2014. Both supporters and opponents have said they expect the amendment to be more difficult to defeat in 2016 since it is a presidential election year, attracting younger voters who are more likely to support the measure.
That amendment would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for debilitating medical conditions, with a list of specific diseases, and if the doctor believes the use of marijuana to treat a condition would outweigh the risks.
James said members of Floridians for Freedom believe that initiative doesn't go far enough. She said doctors should be able to consider marijuana as a treatment in any medical case, not just when the condition is debilitating. The best way to accomplish that was to make the plant legal in general. The amendment does not require a doctor's permission to have legal access to the plant.
"It's about giving the plant back to the people," James said. "Will people use it recreationally? Well, people use it recreationally right now."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby