As a voice in the Florida Cannabis community, I’ve been quite active over the last week or two in sharing my displeasure about the Make It Legal Florida campaign. Referred to as MILF, the Make It Legal Florida campaign showed up in mailboxes across the State, propelling the cannabis legalization argument to the mainstream. While no cannabis legalization initiatives have yet made it to the general election ballot, there’s been a lot of confusion over what each Florida cannabis petition does and the impacts they would have on the Florida landscape. My hope with this post is to provide some clarity on your options, as well as encourage you to make the choice that’s best for all citizens over the long term.
Some Things to Know:
To make it to the Florida 2020 general election, a petition must secure 766,200 valid signatures by Feb. 2, 2020. There is only one petition likely to gain enough signatures for this requirement, Make it Legal Florida. This is not a good thing for access, affordability, patients rights, or small business.
An amendment can be further defined via an implementation bill passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor, as long as those rules abide by the rights outlined in the amendment…sort of. We saw this happen with Florida’s Medical Marijuana initiative, Amendment 2. Until an implementation bill was passed, the medical program functioned under the rules of the high CBD/low THC program already in place. In June 2017, during a special session, an implementation bill was passed that further defined the Florida Medical program and set operating rules. It was this bill that prohibited patients from having smokable flower, despite the original amendment stating that patient’s had a right to cannabis in all forms. It took nearly two years of lawsuits and advocacy to amend the State constitution to allow smokable/whole flower for patients after this implementation bill. This shows how important it is to get the RIGHT legislation passed from the start. Settling for something over nothing can be dangerous for future growth. Things are incredibly difficult and slow to change, especially in a multi billion dollar industry set up for an elite few. Accepting the flaws in MILF now, thinking we can change them in the future, will only bite us in the ass.
Cannabis arrests continue with many legalization efforts. Black markets flourish with poor regulation and over regulation. We need to keep this in mind when voting. The MILF campaign only allows citizens to possess cannabis purchased from a licensed MMTC.
Medical patients often suffer at the hands of a money driven recreational market. Medical geared products become harder to find and prices inflate. I’ve seen this first hand time and time again in my coaching work with patients around the country. My clients in California have more difficulty sourcing for their needs than anywhere else.
Patient needs and safety will always be my number one priority, and while I don’t think anyone should be in jail for this plant, my concerns for patients absolutely guides my thoughts on the legalization issue. I personally think we need to create and implement a functioning medical program that serves the people before attempting to regulate a recreational market. My ideal world would be to decriminalize personal possession and use, while only regulating a medical market and program. Once the medical landscape is functioning and serving the people, then and only then regulate a recreational market.
I never in my life thought I would be faced with a decision to vote AGAINST a cannabis legalization initiative, but after a few years working in the industry you couldn’t do anything to convince me to sign the MILF petition or vote for it if it makes the general election. Instead of settling for corporate greed to have it now, I rather wait a few years and see legalization done in a way to serve the people.
Florida’s Current Cannabis Legalization Petitions
There are currently three ballot petitions circulating for a chance to be on the ballot in the November 2020 election.
Make It Legal Florida
Permits adults 21 years or older to possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason. Permits Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers to sell, distribute, or dispense marijuana and marijuana accessories if clearly labeled and in childproof packaging to adults. Prohibits advertising or marketing targeted to persons under 21. Prohibits marijuana use in defined public places. Maintains limitations on marijuana use in defined circumstances.
MILF is the big pharma meets big alcohol version of cannabis legalization. It has the money necessary to make the ballot, but it does NOT serve the people.
Raising over a collective $1 million from Surterra and MedMen shortly after conception, Make It Legal Florida is the most likely of the Florida legalization initiatives to make it to the Florida 2020 election ballot. It’s also the most concerning. MILF allows any adult 21 or older to possess and consume cannabis in private settings. The initiative DOES NOT allow for home cultivation, instead charging Florida’s current Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs) with cultivation and distribution.
Florida’s Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers
Florida’s MMTC system operates under vertical integration, which means MMTCs perform all aspects of cultivation and distribution, from seed to sale. There is a very limited number of licenses available, restricting development and growth to consumers while inflating the value of a MMTC license. This has created what’s referred to as the “Florida Cartel,” with a select few large corporations operating the entire cannabis program in Florida. Florida MMTC licenses have sold for over $50 million, with this value only set to escalate if the vertical system is preserved for the multi billion dollar recreational market.
Why We Can’t Vote for a Vertical System
Florida is predicted to be one of the largest recreational cannabis markets in the country. Under the current Florida vertical system, medical patients regularly experience cannabis shortages, dispensary deserts, and inflated prices. Each MMTC is limited by the amount of cannabis they can personally grow and produce. Unlike other recreational and medical markets, independent growers and brands are not allowed to sell their products to dispensaries for distribution, nor are they allowed to open their own legal stores. In Florida, they just aren’t allowed - at all. This amendment is anti-small business.
With a set number of locations allowed per MMTC, less populated areas like the Florida panhandle have very few operating MMTC’s while metropolitan areas are packed full. These dispensary deserts are likely to continue under MILF as there is no incentive to serve these lower populated areas. MILF’s vertical integration prevents locally owned and invested cannabis businesses from serving their communities, instead relying on corporate run MMTCs to fill the need.
The Wrong Regulation Results in Continued Arrests
One of the arguments I’ve heard for signing MILF despite it’s flaws, were the unnecessary and life changing arrests that continue as a result of cannabis prohibition. I agree - these arrests are an atrocity, but MILF certainly isn’t going to fix it. Other markets, and arrests of law abiding medical cannabis patients here in Florida, will show you that cannabis laws DO NOT prevent arrests, especially the wrong cannabis laws. I don’t believe anyone should go to jail for possessing cannabis - which is why I don’t think we should be forced into an expensive over regulated greed driven market. MILF does not give citizens an inalienable right to posses the cannabis plant, it gives them the right to purchase from MMTCs. This is a huge difference.
Regulate Florida Similar to Alcohol
Financially Backed By: Primarily fundraising efforts by Sensible Florida, NORML, Sunshine Cannabis/Christopher Williams, Michael Minardi PA; minimal financial support from Trulieve and Liberty Health Sciences. See funding information.
Regulate Florida Website
Regulates marijuana (hereinafter "cannabis") for limited use and growing by persons twenty-one years of age or older. State shall adopt regulations to issue, renew, suspend, and revoke licenses for cannabis cultivation, product manufacturing, testing and retail facilities. Local governments may regulate facilities’ time, place and manner and, if state fails to timely act, may license facilities. Does not affect compassionate use of low-THC cannabis, nor immunize federal law violations.
Ballot Language Misses the Mark
Regulate Florida has been around since March 2016, but has struggled to gain the signatures and funding necessary to make the ballot. While it has some industry backing, overall support has been marginal, likely due to it’s uphill legal battle, campaign optics, and confusing language. Truth be told it took me 2 years and writing this article to read the full text - it’s that long.
Regulate Florida has the benefits of allowing Home Grow and encourages small business as it allows for a horizontal market, but the long and confusing language makes it an unrealistic effort. RF will likely never make it to Florida voters. Clocking in at 10 pages, Regulate Florida is excessively long making it unlikely to pass through the required approval process. Florida Attorney General, Ashley Moody, already challenged the proposed amendment stating, "There is no way 10 pages of the law can be summarized clearly in 75 words or less and would adequately convey to the voters what exactly they will be voting on.” An accurate and exhaustive summary is required for the election ballot.
Floridian’s for Freedom: Rights of Adults to Cannabis
Financially Back By: The citizens of Florida. This is a grassroots initiative with very little funding other than what has been raised by the amendment’s cannabis advocates. See funding information.
This amendment guarantees the right of persons over twenty-one years of age to possess, use, and cultivate cannabis (commonly referred to as marijuana), reserving to the State the power to regulate its purchase and sale in the interest of health and safety. This amendment applies only to Florida law and state action, and does not immunize violations of federal law.
No one is funding or talking about it.
If you support cannabis legalization, Floridian’s for Freedom is the only Adult Use petition that protects the right’s of the people while enhancing, not restricting, access. It gives all persons over twenty-one the right to possess, use, and cultivate cannabis; while simultaneously allowing the State to regulate purchase and sale for public safety. This is the only ballot initiative that ensures protection from cannabis related arrests. It opens the door for the development of small business and caregiving programs. Of all Adult Use petitions, FFF’s Rights of Adults to Use Cannabis petition is the most likely to increase access and affordability to all persons - not just those with corporate interests. Unfortunately, it has been around for a few years with very little backing, support, and recognition.
What Does This All Mean ?
Your signature, even just on a ballot initiative, matters. Do your due diligence before signing a cannabis initiative. Know the implications and think about the big picture. Talk to your friends and spread the word. If MILF makes the Florida ballot it will likely pass, protecting corporate interests and destroying the Florida cannabis market for years to come. If we want to protect cannabis in Florida we need to come together as a community against MILF, while working together towards a greater good - Floridians for Freedom.