Florida Supreme Court allows recreational marijuana on the 2024 ballot; then donations spike

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pot plants
Cannabis plants from a marijuana grow house. By Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (May 2011).

Backroom Briefing: Giving Some Green; Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida
By Dara Kam and Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — The state Supreme Court’s ruling this week that will give voters a chance to decide whether to allow recreational marijuana sparked a flurry of contributions to the Smart & Safe Florida political committee that’s backing the proposal.

Trulieve, the state’s largest medical marijuana operator, pumped $40 million into the committee before the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the measure met constitutional muster. The Trulieve money went primarily toward collecting needed petition signatures.

The court’s 5-2 opinion gave the go-ahead for the measure to appear as Amendment 3 on the November ballot, and more medical marijuana operators are jumping on board the recreational weed train.

Smart & Safe Florida announced Wednesday it had collected another $15 million to kick off the next phase of the pro-pot campaign.

“We are not only pleased that the court has agreed to move this initiative forward, but we are also thrilled to announce a strong alliance of committed donors to the effort,” Smart & Safe Florida Chairman David Bellamy, of the musical group The Bellamy Brothers, said in a statement.

The committee faces a deadline next week for filing a finance report showing contributions through March 31. So if the additional money came in after the Supreme Court ruling, it could be a while before details emerge about exactly who gave what, and how much they gave.

But a Smart & Safe Florida news release said reports “will soon show a broad group of companies” are giving some green for the effort, including medical-marijuana operators Verano Holdings Corp., Curaleaf Holdings, Inc, AYR Wellness, Inc., Cresco Labs. Inc., Green Thumb Industries, Inc., and INSA, Inc.

In a separate news release, Verano — the state’s second-largest medical marijuana company — declared its support for the effort.

“Verano and Florida’s constituents are primed to benefit should Amendment 3 pass this November. As one of the nation’s leading cannabis companies with operations in 13 states, 138 dispensaries and 14 cultivation and production facilities, Verano has deep experience transitioning from medical to adult use, most recently in Maryland (July ’23) and Connecticut (January ’23),” the company’s release said.

As with other proposed constitutional changes, Amendment 3 would require 60 percent voter approval for passage — an expensive and difficult hurdle for many ballot initiatives. The Smart & Safe Florida committee had spent all of the $40 million contributed by Trulieve as of Dec. 31, the last publicly available finance information.

“We have come a long way, but our work has only just begun,” the committee’s news release said.

BOOK GIVEAWAY — BELIEVE IT OR NOT

Orlando-based Ripley Entertainment has started to ship books to about 17,500 Floridians, its reaction to three of its titles being among more than 1,600 publications flagged for potential removal from school shelves in Escambia County.

“We feel strongly that books are magical portals to different worlds and ideas,” Ripley Entertainment said in a letter to people who requested free copies of the company’s books. “They help us learn about new places, understand different people, and even imagine things we’ve never thought of before. In a world where knowledge is power and reading is its conduit, we thank you for joining us in sticking up for intellectual freedoms.”

The letter also offered a 50 percent discount to pre-order the company’s next title: “Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Dare to Discover.”

The freebie offer came after the Legislature this year tried to clear up a 2022 law that allowed increased public scrutiny of school library books and classroom materials. Lawmakers passed a bill (HB 1285) that aims to limit school library book objections from people who don’t have children in schools.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not formally received the bill, has called allegations of book banning a “hoax.” But he has simultaneously lashed out at some Floridians for having “abused” the process of filing objections to school materials.

WANT A FRIEND? GET A DOG

Three homeless dogs were showcased last week as people arrived for a meeting of DeSantis and the state Cabinet.

The scene was somewhat reminiscent of when Pam Bondi served as attorney general and the Cabinet met more frequently.

Bondi often opened meetings by hoisting a shelter pooch in her arms, regardless of its weight and size, and would walk around the room in her high heels in search of a potential owner.

State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said he decided to bring the dog display back after first dismissing one of his son’s pre-Christmas requests for a holiday pet. A day after the denial, Patronis said he was at the Capitol where he encountered Humane Society of Florida’s state director Kate MacFall, who was showcasing an adoption dog.

Patronis eventually brought home the dog named Bruce.

DeSantis’ family also adopted a terrier and lab mix named Liberty this year, and DeSantis said a pet adoption event is being planned for the governor’s mansion in the next couple of months.

“My kids are happy,” DeSantis said. “Although I ended up doing all the work with the dog. But that’s fine.”

SOCIAL MEDIA POST OF THE WEEK

“Feel the need to be consistent here — for as long as I can remember, I’ve heard that an amendment would impact ballot choice in races up the ballot. It hasn’t happened yet. Maybe this is the time it happens. But it is up to candidates to make the connection.” — Steve Schale (@steveschale), a Democratic political consultant and lobbyist, amid speculation that an abortion-rights ballot proposal could help Democratic candidates.

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