In this week’s Folio Weed column, our Shelton Hull comments on the fractured state of Florida’s activist community as it attempts to place a recreational marijuana initiative on next year’s ballot. As Shelton notes, no such proposal has ever failed when put to voters on a state-by-state basis. But the language must first be drafted and moved forward through petition. The devil here is in the details.
Although it has its roots in progressive politics, legalization is about as close to a consensus issue as you can get in 21st-century America. On the theoretical plane, the right to use legally and safely appeals to a broad political constituency, from free-market libertarians to hippies and social justice warriors. On the practical tip, the medical marijuana experiment has shown the real-world benefits of cannabis—and it has shown it to folks who might otherwise lean “conservative,” namely older voters and veterans. The more people know about it, the more they realize that the past century’s prohibition on marijuana was unjustified, especially when more dangerous substances are legal and regulated.
The argument will have even more force in 2020, when turnout for the presidential election will affect everything down the ballot. It will likely be a bumper year for the Democratic Party, whose voters will opt overwhelmingly for recreational marijuana. I reckon they’ll be joined by a good half of Republican voters, making for a handy majority.
The only potential hitch? If the petition drive fractures and fizzles out before the February deadline. And this, Shelton reports, is a possibility. There are a handful of “competing” petitions. The latest to enter the fray was authored by Make It Legal. It’s backed by big-money marijuana interests who favor vertical integration, and that has caused controversy. Shortly after Make It Legal’s roll-out, for example, our sister alt-weekly, Miami New Times, ran a story with the headline, “New Petition Would Turn Florida Cannabis Industry into Monopoly, Critics Say.”
“Now that a ton of corporate money is being poured into Florida’s petition-gathering process,” wrote reporter Carlos Miller, “it’s almost guaranteed the legalization of recreational marijuana will be on the 2020 ballot, where it would need 60 percent approval to become state law. But that same corporate money is also seeking control over the future of cannabis by funding a petition that does not allow citizens to grow their own weed—a right granted to the residents of almost two dozen other states where marijuana has been legalized. That fact has many Florida cannabis activists refusing to sign the Make It Legal Florida petition.”
The problem is that legalization is not “almost guaranteed” to make the ballot, and internecine sniping among activists during this crucial phase will depress enthusiasm and doom its prospects. The scenario is reminiscent of our primary contests of late, circular firing squads in which no candidate is elevated, only torn down to the point that nobody cares by the time the general election comes around. And, well, we saw what happened last time. The difference is that here, there’s nothing preventing folks from signing all the petitions. There’s no need to choose a side. And a signature for Make It Legal is not tantamount to selling out; it’s a tactical compromise to start a process that is overdue. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.