When Will Florida Legalize Recreational Marijuana?

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On Election Day 2014, Florida voters will get the chance to legalize medical marijuana. Because the initiative is a constitutional amendment, the initiative will need at least 60% of voters to vote 'yes.' The battle in Florida has been fierce, with both sides raising millions of dollars. Polls show that the initiative is winning, but polls don't always translate to reality on Election Day. However, I'm confident that victory will be achieved in Florida in November.

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With marijuana reform on people's minds in Florida, a question that I get quite a bit these days is 'when will Florida legalize recreational marijuana?' Unlike states like Texas and New York, Florida has an initiative process which boosts the odds of full legalization. States that have to rely solely on their legislatures to approve legalization face a much tougher fight. But just because Florida has an initiative process doesn't mean it's a slam dunk that legalization will happen soon.

Florida's initiative process, and what it takes to win on Election Day, is one of the toughest in the nation. In order to qualify an initiative for the upcoming election, organizers have to get enough valid signatures to equal at least 8% of the last Presidential vote in Florida. For the 2014 Election, this worked out to 683,149 signatures. And considering that not every signature is valid, a campaign would have to gather significantly more than that to ensure there are enough to survive the verification process. That's a ton of signatures. Compare that to my home state of Oregon, which requires less than 90,000.

To make matters even tougher in Florida, there are district requirements for where signatures have to be gathered from. For the 2014 election, at least 68,314 valid signatures had to have been gathered from at least 7 different Congressional districts. Compare that to my home state of Oregon, where signatures can be gathered from anywhere in the state. It makes it much tougher to meet initiative qualification requirements. It's hard to find seven different parts of any state that are sympathetic to a political cause, marijuana or otherwise.

But there is good news for Florida. Signature requirements are tough in the state, but the 2014 medical marijuana effort proves that it can be done for marijuana reform. Also, the 2014 medical marijuana campaign has shown that there is significant financial support for a marijuana reform campaign. Last I heard the campaign had raised over five million dollars, which is a very large amount for a campaign.

The last poll I saw from Florida showed 55% support for legalization. That's enough for almost any other state to get funders on board, however, because Florida requires a 60% 'yes' vote, it could signal that Florida may have to wait until polling shows even higher support. Due to the signature gathering requirements, polling, and the 60% 'yes' vote requirement, I think Florida may not be a sure shot for 2016. 2018 is a mid-term election year, which is hard to get funders and organizations on board with. I think Florida's best bet for legalization is 2020, but I'm hopeful that federal reform will have been acheived by then, which would make a Florida legalization effort unnecessary. I would LOVE to be wrong about 2016, but I think Florida will have to wait awhile before recreational legalization becomes a reality there.

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