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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Approval of Florida recreational marijuana ballot initiative draws mixed opinions from state residents

The amendment will appear on the November general election ballot

Framed by a neon array of the latest hemp, CBD and nicotine products neatly arranged in glass display cases, business partners Pedro Soler and Justin Mendoza paused when asked if there was a downside to the authorization of recreational marijuana in Florida. 

They operate Miami Vice Mobile, their smoke shop on wheels, out of a van parked in the center of a bustling downtown night market. Despite the commotion, their silence hung heavy.

Soler cast his eyes down and lowered his voice solemnly, nodding a “yes” to the recorder. 

“There will be a mass murdering of Doritos,” he said. 

The pair broke character, chuckling as they returned to their customers. 

The Florida Supreme Court approved Amendment 3 to appear on the November general election ballot April 1, an initiative that would authorize recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age and over if approved by 60% of Florida voters. Statewide advocacy groups along with local residents, students and businesses expressed varying opinions on the potential amendment to the Florida constitution. 

The ballot initiative was proposed by Smart & Safe Florida, a political committee and pro-marijuana advocacy group, and over $39 million in funding was provided by Trulieve, one of Florida’s largest medical marijuana distributors. 

“We look forward to supporting this campaign as it heads to the ballot this fall,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers in a press release. 

If affirmed, Amendment 3 would take effect six months after the election. 

State voters approved the authorization of medicinal marijuana in 2016, and there are 25 licensees operating in Florida, including Trulieve as of March 18. However, if the provision were to become law, even more licenses would be accepted following the decision, totaling to over 40, said Steven Vancore, spokesperson for Smart & Safe Florida. 

The nation has seen similar recreational usage officially instituted in 24 states. 

“We think it’s time that Florida join the rest of America,” Vancore said. 

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Musicians David and Howard Bellamy formed the Smart & Safe Florida political committee in 2022. The organization gathered over the required 900,000 voter signatures on the initiative before it was reviewed and approved by the court, Vancore said.

The ruling followed opposition from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody who requested the court reject the amendment on account of confusing ballot language that she said failed to remind voters of a federal ban on marijuana.

The justices dismissed Moody’s argument, affirming the measure’s appearance on the November general election ballot. 

Amendment 3’s summary reads in part that usage would not “change or immunize violations of federal law.” Vancore further emphasized the importance of word choice, opting for “authorization” over “legalization,” a term that would incorrectly refer to the federal level regarding a state amendment. 

The ballot language also ensures the Florida legislature would retain authority to regulate “time, place and manner” of recreational marijuana use similar to both cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption in addition to who holds production and distribution licenses, Vancore said. 

“They can regulate all kinds of things, and we support that,” he said. “We support the legislature stepping in.” 

Authorizing recreational usage would additionally allow oversight and regulation through lab testing, a step that would prevent more dangerous substances from being mixed into products and sold to unknowing consumers, Vancore said. He referred to concerns regarding marijuana containing one or more dangerous additives including but not limited to ketamine, methamphetamine or fentanyl, as well as both pesticides and herbicides.

“Whatever your opinion about whether it should be legalized, I think we can all agree that people shouldn’t be overdosing if they’re smoking marijuana,” Vancore said. 

If approved by Florida voters, he said Amendment 3 would also disallow legal consequences like fines and imprisonment for recreational possession in compliance with state law for adults 21 years of age and over. 

Soler and Mendoza, Miami Vice Mobile business partners, decided to tackle Gainesville with their smoke shop on wheels last year in addition to a permanent location in Miami. 

Amendment 3 would enthusiastically have their vote, the pair said. 

The pink and blue van offers a vibrant selection of state legal hemp, CBD and nicotine products in a variety of forms, and the potential of legally adding medicinal grade marijuana to their selection would be game changing, Soler said.

“We would just be giving the people what they want,” he said. “It’s a wave that we can’t stop. The green rush is coming.” 

Soler expressed support for the state regulation of marijuana products through lab testing that would come with the authorization of recreational usage to ensure customer safety. 

“There’s just such a benefit with that level of transparency,” he said. “Everybody just wants to have their fun and be responsible.” 

When asked about his thoughts on whether there would be negative consequences to the potential approval of Amendment 3, he joked about the decimation of convenience store snack foods. 

As long as the initiative is “done right,” Mendoza said he would also have no issue. 

Beside his bicycle, loudspeaker and folding table of bibles stationed at the sunlit center of UF Plaza of The Americas, Erik Dressel felt differently. 

“It would probably be a nay for me,” he said. 

While Dressel said he believed there should never be imprisonment over minor marijuana possession, he expressed concern that the authorization of recreational usage could pose wider instances of health impacts, including decreased lung health or fertility in men. 

There was a time in his youth where he did partake in smoking weed, he said, but it now seems a gateway drug. 

“It can be a demotivator,” he said. “It can make someone so chill that they lose their edge a little bit.” 

The Sumter County resident and “minister guy” can often be found preaching to passing students at the heart of UF campus. Even though he knows of other Christians who use marijuana, he said the practice doesn’t align with his idea of the faith. 

“I feel almost like I’d be cheating on God,” he said. 

And to those who claim Jesus smoked weed, he said that assertion is “pure speculation.” 

Cassidy Shooster, a 24-year-old Santa Fe College freshman, said she felt the potential authorization of recreational marijuana would be primarily harmless and that Amendment 3 would “1,000%” have her support. 

“I don’t smoke weed for my own reasons, but I know how helpful and effective it’s been for other people in my life, and it shouldn’t be illegal,” she said. 

The upcoming 2024 general election is slated to take place Nov. 6, giving Florida voters a chance to decide the fate of state recreational marijuana usage for adults 21 years of age and over. 

Contact Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp at rdigiacomo-rapp@alligator.org. Follow her on X @rylan_digirapp.

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Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp

Rylan DiGiacomo-Rapp is a second-year journalism and environmental science major covering enterprise politics. She previously worked as a metro news assistant. Outside of the newsroom, you can usually find her haunting local music venues.


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