Folio Weed

Folio Weed

Words by Shelton Hull


Last year was an election year, so you may have seen people collecting petitions for all types of causes here and there. We still have local elections in March, but all the statewide and national action is over until 2024, which promises a Superelection that promises plenty of violence and results that are unlikely to satisfy anyone but the extremists on either side of the aisle. Until then, the only petitions being collected are to fully legalize cannabis in Florida. 


We’ve been around this block before, like stray dogs with OCD, constantly coming back around and sniffing for the scent of something we think is so close, yet so far. We are now in the third consecutive election cycle where the possibility of legalization has been raised, but there is currently no reason to expect this round to go any better than the previous two. 


I had forgotten about the current petition drive, but only through deliberate effort. I would love to see it legalized, but I doubt that it ever will. Why? Because the industry is feckless and fickle, and the preexisting personal issues between doctors, dispensaries and the activist community ensure that any talk of real collaborative action on this subject is now and will always be just talk. They’re doing just enough to look like they’re trying, but they’re really not. They never were. 


This is no fault of the petition collectors themselves, most of whom are contract workers imported from elsewhere. You will rarely see someone collecting petitions who actually lives in the city they’re working in, and that’s one glaring flaw in the business model, such as it is: These folks are walking around in areas they don’t know, trying to engage people they’ve never met. They are friendly but distant. They always make sure to note that they’re not from here, and they are reluctant to engage in any conversation about anything other than the petitions. 


There is a palpable lack of urgency, and no clear leadership, no talking-points, no details. Sometimes you’ll see the same people working the same block, independently of each other, overlapping clientele that just wastes time and money. This also leads to redundancy among the signatures, many of which will be thrown out later, and it does nothing to inspire any passion among voters who are mostly over it. If they hired from within the local communities, they would have people who knew where to go and when to go there. They would know how to sell the gimmick to their people, and they could leverage their own personal connections to help grow the numbers faster. Again, nice people. I’ve met a bunch of them over the years. But they’ve been set up to fail.


The process is convoluted, which reflects the anti-democratic (or anti-Democrat) slant of a state government that has spent the last five years or so trying to make the petition process as difficult as possible. At this point, it’s almost impossible, even if you have millions to spend on it, as we’ve seen with the cannabis stuff. I’d guess that most of the ballot initiatives of recent years, such as the restoration of voting rights to felons, as well as medical marijuana itself, would have never happened under the current rules, and we’ll see if that’s the case here. 


As I’ve said before, the time to do this was 2020, when the Blue Wave was still a thing and decriminalization was still trendy. The “home grow” provision was virtually meaningless to the majority of customers in this state, yet the dispensaries saw it as a Trojan Horse bringing death and destruction to their carefully cultivated fiefdom of vertically-integrated monopolies. And that was the ballgame. Committed cannabisseurs are now stuck playing catch-up in a political environment that grows increasingly hostile by the day. 


Say you did want to sign a petition, and I really hope you do. What’s the process? Well, first you have to fill out the form, which means giving your address to a stranger, and I’ve seen how that’s a specific deal-breaker for a lot of you out there. That takes about 30 seconds. While you’re doing that, you give the petitioner your phone number, which they use to text you a link to the website where you verify your signature. That’s another 15 to 30 seconds. Then, you click the link you were texted, go to the site and verify your identity. That’s another 30 seconds, but the site doesn’t even detect a redundant signature. It’s just extra work that makes the process take longer, which means fewer signatures in the long-run. It does generate a unique number, presumably corresponding to the total number of signatures.


As it stands, activists need at least 891,589 signatures to get legalization onto the next statewide ballot, which is in November 2024. We currently have 148,418, according to Smart & Safe Florida, the group funded by Trulieve, to the tune of $5 million. With signatures not due until February 2024, it is entirely possible, but I’ll believe it when I see it. 


About Shelton Hull

Shelton Hull has been writing for Folio Weekly since 1997, but his resume goes back even further. He has written for almost every newspaper, magazine and zine in Northeast Florida, as well as publications like Orlando Weekly, Narrow GNV, Creative Loafing Tampa, Charleston City Paper, Ink19 and The Atlantic. He currently writes the "Folio Weed" column, which he created in 2018; he remains one of the widest-read and most influential cannabis writers in the world today. He also compiles material for "Weird Wild Stuff" column, and he previously wrote the legendary "Money Jungle" column for Folio Weekly from 1999 to 2009. He is a regular contributor to "First Coast Connect" on WJCT, as well as the Jacksonville Music Experience. He is a co-host of "The Contrast Project" and the "Bold City Civics" podcast. He is also a co-founder of the record label Bold City Music Productions. He can be reached at [email protected]