Marijuana company Trulieve is bankrolling a proposal to legalize the recreational use of its products for nonmedical purposes.
The Florida-based company with growing facilities in Gadsden County has contributed all but $124 of the $15 million raised to promote a proposed constitutional amendment for the 2024 ballot to decriminalize the plant for personal use.
Trulieve is backing the Smart & Safe Florida Committee, led by country rock star turned grower David Bellamy in a campaign to make the personal use of marijuana a constitutional right for adults.
“It’s all about improving access,” Truelieve CEO Kim Rivers said when Smart & Safe organized in August.
“We came into this with a mission to provide access to high-quality products that are safe … to give folks control over their, in the original days, medical journey. I don’t think that changes here,” said Rivers.
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As written, the Adult Use of Marijuana amendment would allow those 21 and older to “possess, display, purchase, or transport up to two and a half ounces of marijuana for personal use for any reason,” and permits Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers to sell, distribute, or dispense marijuana and marijuana accessories if clearly labeled and in childproof packaging to adults.
Trulieve has written three $5 million checks since August to get the campaign rolling. Backers for the initiative have collected 53,982 signatures so far and need 891,589 by Feb. 1, 2024.
Trulieve’s efforts come as the company has laid off part of its workforce in Gadsden County as the company looked to reduce “redundancies” amid continued growth. The company did not specify how many were laid off.
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A field organizer ponders the possibilities
Christopher Cano was a field organizer for the 2016 petition drive for the 2016 United for Care campaign that passed the Medical Marijuana Amendment.
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“I can tell you that it took a significant amount of work from the staff, but also from a number of paid petitioners as well to get that done,” said Cano, who leads the National Organizations for the Reform of Marijuana Laws’ Suncoast Chapter.
A second proposal, by Sensible Florida Inc., has been trying to qualify for the ballot since 2014.
It would allow the possession, use and transportation of marijuana products by adults, and permit each household to grow up to 18 plants.
The backers of the Legalize Personal Use of Marijuana amendment have a regulate Florida website where its mission statement declares, “We will enable the creation of jobs and allow consenting and informed adults to choose to use cannabis responsibly rather than be labeled as criminals, while reducing the use of limited law enforcement resources.”
Sensible Florida Inc., reports it has raised about $56,000 this year.
Cano thinks the Trulieve-Bellamy money and fame gives the edge to the Smart & Safe amendment over Sensible Florida’s in gathering the needed signatures to qualify for ballot placement.
But he admits having “a bit of trepidation” about the amendment’s success.
“I don’t know about their ability to feel the pulse about what Floridians really want to be able to execute the get-out-the-vote,” said Cano.
Other likely hurdles to passage
A 60% majority of the vote is required to enact a constitutional amendment.
A Trulieve spokesman declined to comment for this story.
Another hurdle would be getting the Florida Supreme Court’s blessing on ballot language. A proposed constitutional amendment to allow recreational marijuana use in Florida was barred from the 2022 ballot after the state high court ruled that the ballot language was misleading.
The court, in a 5-2 decision, said proposed ballot language that says marijuana is “for limited use and growing by persons twenty-one years of age or older” is misleading. The court said nothing in the proposal’s actual wording limits marijuana use.
The proposed amendment, called “Regulate Marijuana in a Manner Similar to Alcohol to Establish Age, Licensing, and Other Restrictions,” already faced an uphill battle. Its sponsor, Sensible Florida, had just 29,000 of the more than 890,000 voter signatures needed to get on the ballot.
On top of that hurdle, a new law took effect in 2021 that limits contributions to groups sponsoring ballot initiatives to $3,000 per individual during the signature gathering stage.
The industry is also divided on the best way forward. Surterra Wellness medical marijuana dispensary says the initiative pushed by one of their chief rivals in the marketplace doesn’t go far enough to ensure patients have adequate access to medicine. The company, which initially was opposed to efforts to legalize home-grown cannabis, now is looking to lead the charge.
“(The amendment) does not do nearly enough to expand the industry equitably — many cannabis advocates, including myself and Surterra leadership, are shifting our energy to pushing for the right for Floridians to grow their cannabis at home,” said Lynnette French, the chief operating officer of Parallel, the parent company of Surterra, in a column submitted to the Tallahassee Democrat. “We call on Florida’s legislative leadership to pass a measure allowing for home grow during their upcoming legislative session, which begins in April.”
Where it’s legal and states that have rejected medical marijuana
Recreational marijuana is legal in 21 states with voters in Maryland and Missouri approving legislation in November.
Truelieve holds licenses to operate in 11 states and markets itself to investors as having the largest operating retail and cultivation production footprint in the country.
It is the leading medical marijuana provider in Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
Recreational marijuana has contributed billions in tax revenue in states where it is legal. California received $1.29 billion in marijuana tax revenue in 2021. The Marijuana Policy Project reports states collected more than $11.2 billion last year.
Not everyone thinks it is a good idea, though. Recreational initiatives failed in three states this year, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
Business leaders in Arkansas condemned the effort to loosen marijuana regulations.
“It’s a nightmare for the industry, for the people we have to work on the highways and buildings around the state,” Haskell Dickinson, a former chair of the Associated General Contractors of Arkansas, told the Associated Press.
“We will have a challenge determining who can come to work. We don’t know how to handle it and no one else does either.”