When it comes to expressing the sainted “will of the people,” politicians lie all the time; the numbers do not. A majority of states in this country have already chosen to sanction the use of medical marijuana, to scale back criminal penalties for its possession, or to just legalize the stuff altogether. Some have made these moves at the behest of their governors and legislatures—rare cases in which unilateral action marches in step with popular opinion—but most did it directly through the ballot, which always represents democracy in its most diluted form.
Indeed, no state has yet seen its voters reject any such proposal when it was presented to them. More will follow suit in the days, weeks and months to come, heading into a super-election cycle that will decide the nation’s future for a generation to come (or to go, depending on your perspective). Any state that hasn’t legalized it yet has at least a handful of activists working as we speak to push, pull or prod that particular plebiscite onto the November 2020 ballot, and those who clear that hurdle can bet the farm (literally, in some cases) on a cakewalk to the finish line.
Florida is one of those states. The deadline to get petitions certified for the November 2020 ballot is Feb. 1, and the magic number for doing so is exactly 766,000, or roughly 3.5 percent of the state’s population. The task at hand sounds less daunting if you explain it that way, but let’s put it this way: Super Bowl LIV occurs the day after all signed petitions are due, and the odds of our Jacksonville Jaguars winning that game are currently about 300 to 1. If you’re a gambler (and this is Florida, so you probably are), your money would be better spent wagering on that proposition than betting on legal weed in 2021.
Actually, your money would be best spent donated to one of the organizations trying to get these petitions signed. These groups are way underfunded, and so far they are so far behind anything approaching an ideal pace that even if they all started mainlining whatever they keep giving those poor horses at Santa Anita, it would still be nigh (or neigh) impossible to catch up at this point.
Note that frequent use of plural forms, because that is the main issue undermining their chances. Voters have expressed confusion over the competing ballot initiatives, and that sentiment has been echoed by our political leaders. Hell, I’m confused myself, and I’m an expert! That’s not good at all. This confusion would be readily exploited by opponents of legalization, if it were necessary for them to make any effort in that regard. But it is not, and that is the real story here. The rival camps, and the campers within, are separated by the single most dangerous force in American politics today: minor disputes over nuances in policy. These nuances reflect differences not just in ideology, but also in the financial interests of the big players in what the smart-marks call Cannabiz.
The Make It Legal group has raised about $1.6 million so far, driven mainly by contributions from the major dispensary companies. This faction claims to have raised more than 100,000 signatures in less than a month of action, but only a thousand have been verified by the state. By contrast, Regulate Florida, which launched its drive months ago, trails badly in fundraising. Only about $200,000 sits in the coffer, comprising mostly individual contributions. But its petition has more than 90,000 verified signatures.
Both petitions would legalize the stuff and regulate it in similar fashion to alcohol. The divide between the two plebiscites relates mainly to the question of home grow, which would allow individuals to cultivate their own crop. Regulate Florida favors it, whereas Make It Legal omits such language, presumably because that clause would cut deeply into the profits of the major firms supporting them. With Gov. Ron DeSantis advocating the end of vertical integration protocols, it might be a moot point in practical terms. The voters themselves generally find it impossible to distinguish between the two initiatives, and they probably won’t even have to try, the way things are going. Indeed, most voters have no idea that there are two petitions; many have no idea that there is even one, because this slapdash, split-squad approach has squandered what limited resources are currently available to supply a petition drive that started way too early to begin with. As a result, neither petition has gotten even one-fifth of the necessary signatures yet, although the recent spike in fundraising means that both groups will likely see a proportional spike in signatures between now and the end of the year.
Even if it was just one petition, and that one had a full quarter-million signatures already, and they had all hands on deck and unlimited resources (human and financial), their odds of success would still be lower than the average nerd’s chances of scoring on prom night.
The good news, though, is that if either group is able to get a proposal on the ballot, its odds of passage are pretty good. The threshold for passage is 60 percent, which is more than doable. Amendment 2, which opened the door for medical marijuana, hit that mark with an extra nine points to spare, and most polls taken so far see voters assenting by a similar margin.
Many cities in Florida are already taking the initiative to pursue decriminalization measures independently of state action. DeSantis has taken a mostly laissez-faire approach, delegating most of the details to Nikki Fried, and there’s been no real indication of any interference on his part. Even the president has signaled a willingness to at least consider a legalization bill if it were presented to him, although that will probably not happen unless Democrats can take control of the Senate. Which, come to think of it, is entirely possible. With some studies suggesting a potential economic impact in the billions, legalization in Florida could be a game-changer, and that much free money is hard for even hardliners to dismiss entirely.
For decades, cannabis was the closest thing to a perpetual third-rail in American politics this side of the AIPAC donor list, but all of that has changed about as fast as it takes for THC gummies to kick in. As these nominally nontoxic avengers proceed toward their own endgame, it may well turn out that the real villains of this story are actually the heroes themselves. Speaking of heroes, it was Jesus Christ who said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand”. As always, it would be nice if folks took his advice sometimes.