A new survey shows a majority of Florida voters are in support of Cannabis legalization. So why isn’t weed legal in the Sunshine State? With time running out, advocacy organizations are still concerned it may not even make the ballot in 2022, reports Fox 13 Tampa Bay.
It’s been nearly a decade since Colorado and Washington, in 2012, become the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana. In today’s world, legalization seems much less of a steep climb. Now, weed is legal in 18 states, including the District of Columbia and Guam. Many hope the Sunshine State is next, with momentum on its side.
“This is not a partisan issue. Across the political spectrum there is a majority of support,” Suncoast NORML Chapter Executive Director Chris Cano said.
A recent survey by Public Policy Polling showed an impressive 59% of Floridians support legalizing recreational marijuana. That compares to just 31% of people who oppose it.
Despite the majority support, Cano says getting an initiative on the ballot still isn’t easy.
“Why is there this disconnect between public policy and what people want? And it really does boil down to the other forces at work that our representative government have at play,” Cano said.
Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Two Initiatives
One could easily conclude that justices on the conservative-dominated Florida Supreme Court aren’t big fans of marijuana.
Earlier this year, the Florida Supreme Court struck down two different ballot initiatives that would have left it up to voters to decide in 2022 if recreational marijuana should be legal. Both times, the high court voted 5-to-2, calling both initiatives “misleading.”
“Here in Florida we have a supermajority of the GOP representing districts in the Florida House and Senate and those Senators and representatives are severely disconnected,” Cano explained.
Federal Legislation In The Works
It’s why organizations like NORML are relying on legalization efforts at the federal level to sway support.
“We are all joining together to release draft legislation to end the federal prohibition on cannabis,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer announced this month. The new bill introduced by Senator Majority Leader Schumer would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances.
Melissa Villar, NORML Tallahassee’s executive director, says new efforts to decriminalize the drug on the federal level would motivate the Florida Legislature in the coming session. Florida might once again be inclined to again follow federal law as it did with hemp, she said.
“I think we are very close,” said Villar, reports ABC Action News. “I think we are on the cusp.”
“Descheduling at the federal level, that opens up the door for legalization in Florida,” she said.
“That takes away that excuse and the crutch of local and state politicians who say it’s still illegal federally,” Suncoast NORML’s Cano said. “So once that’s out of the way then what’s their excuse to deny their constituency this public policy position, which so many people deem as right.”
Rep. Smith Introduces Two Bills
Despite all the support, the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature has been resistant to take up the issue. For years, bipartisan efforts have yet to even be scheduled for a committee hearing.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, has filed at least three bills for adult legalization. He plans to offer a fourth in the coming session.
Decriminalizing cannabis in the United States is a huge deal,” Smith said. “It’s a reminder that we’re moving in the right direction. Even though it might be painfully slow, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Smith expects to again partner with Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to move the bill in both chambers. The lawmakers believe legalization would add millions in new state tax revenue and ease the burden on Florida’s criminal justice system.
In an effort to raise money for the cause, the NORML’s Suncoast Chapter is hosting a fundraising event called “Suncoast NORML Got Talent”. The event is Friday, July 30 at 7 p.m. at the Crowbar in Ybor City.