A campaign group seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in Florida has filed a lawsuit seeking more time to secure signatures for its petition.
Make It Legal Florida needs to gather 766,200 valid petition signatures by Feb. 2 in order to get a public vote on legalization on the November ballot. However, there is a stealth deadline of Jan. 2 because of a 30-day window for verification and reporting of signatures.
The group claims a law passed in the spring of 2019 – HB 5 – is unconstitutional and it has filed a 57-page lawsuit in Leon County circuit court asking for an extension to Feb. 1 to gather signatures. It wants the deadline for verification to be extended by a month too.
HB 5 places various restrictions on the petition-gathering process, including a prohibition on paying gatherers per signature. Sponsors said it was needed to prevent fraud and to stop out-of-state interests manipulating the Florida constitution for their own gains.
However, critics argue that it eviscerates the democratic process by making it harder to introduce ballot initiatives. Make It Legal Florida believes it violates people’s right to vote and it violates the sponsor’s ability to collect signatures.
It said this new law has been significantly detrimental to its ability to gather the signatures it needs to introduce a referendum on legalization in November. The petition has gathered fewer than 250,000 signatures right now and it will not be able to hit the threshold by tomorrow’s stealth deadline.
Make It Legal Florida also argued that nearly two months of glitches that came with a newly created state web portal to register paid petition gatherers – who must now be paid a wage rather than remunerated on a per signature basis – was detrimental to the petition effort.
Nick Hansen, a lobbyist for medical marijuana firm MedMen, chairs the campaign group, which has spent almost $1 million on mailers. It believes it can still secure the requisite number of signatures if the deadline is pushed back to Feb 1, and it is turning to mail-in petitions for one last signature push.
A new poll from St. Leo University suggests that 60% of Floridians now favour legalization of adult-use cannabis, compared to 31% that oppose it. That would be enough to see it legalized if it goes on the ballot, hence the group’s determination to succeed with its class-action lawsuit.