Florida adult-use cannabis legalization might face well-funded opposition

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Image of a pile of cash sitting in front of the Florida state flag

(Illustration by Onur/stock.adobe.com)

The campaign to legalize adult-use cannabis in Florida during the November general election might encounter an unfamiliar obstacle: well-funded opposition.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis recently formed the Florida Freedom Fund in a move that allows him to accept unlimited contributions toward the new entity’s stated goals.

One of the fund’s goals is defeating Amendment 3, which would legalize adult use and allow sales at existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

If DeSantis can attract national attention to the cause, it could lead to one of the first instances in recent memory where a legalization initiative does not enjoy a significant campaign cash advantage.

In a statement to MJBizDaily, Morgan Hill, a spokesperson for Smart & Safe Florida, the multistate operator-backed campaign to pass Amendment 3, noted a recent poll that showed 66% of likely voters in favor of the ballot initiative’s passage.

“It’s clear Floridians are more ready than ever to legalize recreational adult-use marijuana,” Hill said via email.

Legalization supporters

At least 60% of voters must back a constitutional amendment for it to pass in Florida, a notably high bar.

Last fall in Ohio, where recreational marijuana was approved by more than 57% of the vote, an opposition campaign collected only $927,900 in contributions, compared with more than $6.7 million in support of legalization.

That’s generally been the case with recent marijuana legalization ballot initiatives, which have enjoyed support from legacy advocacy organizations such as the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project and, more recently, cannabis business interests.

The latter are heavily invested in Florida, which is considered to be the largest domestic medical marijuana market and where state law limits the number of players allowed to participate.

Presidential election year

But the stakes are considered to be higher in Florida, a presidential bellwether state where legalization will appear on the same ballot as President Joe Biden and presumptive Republican nominee and Florida resident Donald Trump.

Biden, whose October 2022 executive order culminated in a U.S. Department of Justice-approved proposal to reschedule marijuana under federal law, is expected to campaign at least in part on cannabis reform in order to boost flagging poll numbers among young voters.

Trump has yet to stake out a position on adult-use legalization in Florida, but DeSantis – a onetime challenger for the presidential nomination – has come out squarely against it.

More than marijuana

In addition to foiling marijuana legalization in Florida, the Freedom Fund is also aimed at defeating a measure that would undo a DeSantis-signed ban on most abortion procedures after six weeks of pregnancy.

DeSantis opposes both measures, calling them “very, very extreme.”

A DeSantis spokesperson told Politico that the fund is “committed to preserving Floridians’ freedom.”

As of Wednesday, the Freedom Fund had yet to report any campaign contributions.

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Women and young voters

Political observers believe that the combination of issues will boost turnout among younger voters and women, potentially boosting the hopes of Democratic candidates, including Biden.

In 2016, 71% of state voters approved medical marijuana legalization.

DeSantis’ Freedom Fund will be deployed against significant fundraising.

Since April, the abortion-protection measure has raised $12 million in campaign contributions, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Meanwhile, marijuana legalization supporters have poured more than $40 million behind the effort in Florida.

The leading source remains Tallahassee-based marijuana MSO Trulieve Cannabis Corp., which contributed another $5 million on April 22, according to Florida Politics.

Chris Roberts can be reached at chris.roberts@mjbizdaily.com.