It’s only been eight weeks since an amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida failed at the polls, but already supporters are vowing to put a new amendment on the ballot in 2016.
The signature gathering for the new ballot initiative could begin as early as next month, and this time it appears lawmakers are taking note.
Medical marijuana was a big issue on the 2014 ballot, driven by big money and big personalities.
In the end, Amendment 2 fell two points short of the 60 percent needed to pass.
However, the amendment also got more votes than any politician on the ballot, which is a big reason organizers are preparing for round two. Their New Years resolution: a petition drive for another amendment in 2016.
Medical marijuana lobbyist Jeff Sharkey says the talk is real.
“Fifty-eight percent of positive voters clearly sends a signal to them that there’s strong interest,” said Sharkey, who is with the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. “I think they feel that in a presidential election year a lot more younger folks would come out, probably push that over the 60 percent, but I think they’re also, at the same time, interested in seeing what the Florida Legislature might do.”
Lawmakers may be home for the holidays, but come March, they’ll be back at the Capitol. With the drive for a new medical marijuana amendment gaining traction, many of them may arrive prepared to compromise.
For years, Tallahassee’s majority Republicans have refused to hold even a hearing on broadly legalizing medical marijuana. But privately many of them admit a new amendment does stand a better chance of passing, and that could take away some of the state’s power to tax and regulate pot.
That’s why some lawmakers say it makes more sense for them to legalize marijuana now than leave it up to the voters in 2016.
Not everyone agrees with this. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was one of the amendment’s more outspoken opponents.
“I see the challenges,” he said. “I see the guy that’s up all night with a baby that’s screaming, so he smokes him a blunt and a half and he thinks that’ll help and ends up bouncing the baby off the wall.”
But with a new campaign comes new pressure, and the fate of medical marijuana could rest not at the ballot box, but at the Capitol.
The group United for Care will launch a medical marijuana petition drive in January. That will give the group 13 months to collect the signatures needed to put a new amendment on the 2016 ballot.