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Saturday, 11 January 2020 21:37

Marijuana Industry Challenges New Florida Citizen-Initiative Featured

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Make It Legal Florida (MILF), the well-funded political action committee sponsoring a prospective November 2020 constitutional amendment seeking to legalize recreational marijuana, will spearhead a legal challenge to a new law it claims has unconstitutionally hampered the state’s citizen initiative process.

Restrictions imposed on petition-gatherers by the Republican-led Legislature during the 2019 session that went into effect July 1 “have the intent and effect of impermissibly burdening and impinging the petition rights of plaintiff and Florida voters,” MILF’s lawsuit states. “As a result, the amended law is facially invalid, as an unconstitutional alteration of the initiative petition process.”

MILF’s 57-page class-action filed lawsuit Tuesday in Leon County Circuit Court names Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and all 67 county elections supervisors as defendants, alleging the new restrictions “lack even a rational, reasonable, or coheren­t justification or relation to any purported state interest” other than to prevent issues unpopular with GOP lawmakers from being presented directly to voters.

MILF seeks more time to submit petition signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. State law requires petitioners present the state’s Division of Elections (DOE) with 766,320 validated signatures by Feb. 1 to qualify.

As of mid-day Thursday, 223,897 valid petition signatures had been filed with the DOE by MILF, which did not emerge until last summer and begin its petition signing campaign until the fall.
Petitioners now say, under new state rules, they’ll need at least 1.1 million signatures to ensure 766,320 are verified before Feb. 1.

MILF’s proposed constitutional amendment would allow people 21 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.”

Tampa-based MILF has received $3.8 million in campaign contributions largely from two national marijuana corporations – five-year-old Atlanta-based Surterra, which operates more than 30 medical marijuana dispensaries in Florida with similar operations in Texas, Nevada and Massachusetts totaling $50 million in 2018 revenues, and MedMen, founded in 2010 in Culver City, Calif., which operates nearly 100 retail sites in 12 states, including in Florida, with $39.8 million in revenues last year.

MadMen Southeastern Director of Government Affairs Nick Hansen chairs MILF.

MILF’s lawsuit maintains its initiative campaign also has been hamstrung by repeated administrative issues and technical problems in implementing the additional complexities imposed on the ballot process by House Bill 5, the controversial 2019 bill that essentially extended the state’s voter registration system for absentee ballots to petition-gathering.

Introduced as a raft of 11th hour amendments onto an unrelated bill and adopted in partisan votes by the House and Senate in the waning moments of the session, HB 5 requires every citizen initiative to have its own numbered, serialized petition, bars out-of-state entities from organizing ballot campaigns and prohibits signature gatherers from being paid.

MILF’s lawsuit claims that complying with HB 5 has “presented an enormous (if not insurmountable) barrier to the ability of sponsors, such as plaintiff MILF, to collect the requisite number of signatures for petitions and have them reviewed, validated and verified by the supervisors, and then reviewed and deemed sufficient by the secretary – all by the Feb, 1, 2020 deadline.

“It is thus substantially likely, if not certain, that initiative petitions will fail (i.e., they will not make the ballot for vote by electors in the 2020 general election),” MILF’s complaint continues, “despite the fact such initiatives would or could have succeeded if not doomed by the impairments caused to petition circulators’ ability to register and timely begin circulating and collecting signatures in support of petitions.”

MILF’s measure is one of two petition initiatives seeking to legalize adult marijuana use, and one of 26 overall, listed as “active” on the DOE’s website.

Sensible Florida, which launched its "Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol" petition campaign in 2016 and had only 92,566 signatures as of Thursday, has already announced it will not qualify for the 2020 ballot.

At least four measures will, however, meet the signature requirement to qualify for November’s election, including Florida For A Fair Wage’s “Fight For $15” proposal seeking to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

The others are a measure that would allow all registered voters to cast ballots in “open” primary elections for state Legislature, Governor and Cabinet, regardless of political party membership; a constitutional amendment stipulating “only,” rather than “any,” U.S. citizen can legally vote; and a proposal to allow individual customers choose energy providers or produce their own.

John Haughey
The Center Square

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