Floridians will be denied the opportunity to vote on recreational cannabis legalization this year after the campaign group pushing for the constitutional amendment admitted defeat.

Make It Legal Florida has been lavishly bankrolled by various marijuana producers that want to see the market open up in the Sunshine State.

It needed to gather 766,200 valid petition signatures by Feb. 2 in order to place a public vote on legalization on the November ballot. However, there was a stealth deadline of January 2, due to a 30-day window required for verification and reporting of signatures.

It had not managed to whip up the required support by that deadline, and it filed a lawsuit seeking more time, arguing that a 2019 law placing various restrictions on the petition-gathering process is unconstitutional.

It has now abandoned hope of getting the vote on the November ballot and decided to train its focus on the 2022 ballot instead. “The narrow timeframe to submit and verify those signatures has prompted our committee to shift focus to now gain ballot access in 2022,” said Nick Hansen, chairman of the committee and a representative of California-based producer MedMen, in a statement to the press.

The state had verified just 295,072 signed petitions calling for a vote on the constitutional amendment, according to the Division of Elections website. That represents only 38% of the total signatures needed.

Hansen said the group had gathered 700,000 signed petitions for the effort, but they could not be verified by the deadline. Efforts have been weighed down by HB 5, a controversial law passed last spring that includes a prohibition on paying gatherers per signature.

Make It Legal Florida said its efforts also suffered due to “nearly two months of glitches” that came with a newly created state web portal to register paid petition gatherers, which proved detrimental to the efforts. It filed a 57-page lawsuit requesting an extension in Leon County circuit court, but it has now abandoned this.

The proposal seeks to allow Floridians aged 21 or older to possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use. The political committee had raised more than $8.6 million in contributions as of Dec. 31.

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, but they will have to wait until at least 2022 to vote.

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