Backers of Florida's recreational weed amendment ready to fight 'misinformation'

'Let's use science and data, and not just ... fear-mongering,' Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers says
Posted at 5:30 PM, Apr 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-03 17:30:26-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The battle to get recreational marijuana on the November ballot is over after the Florida Supreme approved the proposal.

However, the fight between supporters and those who oppose it is just starting. And with opposition from some of the state's most powerful politicians, it won't likely be easy for supporters.

The Florida Supreme Court green-lit the ballot language Monday, creating the next hurdle for those behind adult-use marijuana, a 60% supermajority from voters. It is no small feat, which is why supporters are already investing millions to make it happen.

The proposed amendment would legalize smokeable and edible cannabis for those 21 and up in the state. Wednesday, the campaign behind the change, Smart & Safe Florida, announced a fundraising haul of $15 million to date.

Also, six big donors have joined the effort:

  • Verano Holdings Corp. 
  • Curaleaf Holdings, Inc
  • AYR Wellness, Inc.
  • Cresco Labs. Inc. 
  • Green Thumb Industries, Inc.
  • INSA, Inc.

All of them are cannabis companies like the biggest backer, Trulieve, a major producer of the state's medical marijuana.

"We're very excited to move to the next phase of the campaign because it's a phase that's really gonna center around education," Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said.

The messaging, Rivers said, will focus on the safety of the initiative and its benefits. Among them is creating a possible $6 billion industry and a lot of tax revenue for Florida. Rivers said the coalition is planning to push back on what she called "misinformation" as well.

"Let's use science and data, and not just, you know, fear-mongering," Rivers said. "Twenty-four states have some form of adult-use programs. Also, Florida has had a very robust medical marijuana program in place now for a number of years, so we have data and statistics from that as well."

Meanwhile, big names in the state, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have suggested the change stinks — literally.

"I've gone to some of these cities. … it smells," DeSantis said last month.

During a news conference following the close of this year's legislative session, the Florida Republican went on to caution that, in his view, the ballot initiative was too broad.

"It seems to supersede the regulatory regime that we have," DeSantis said. "That means if that were to come to pass, people in the downtown areas — this is all going to be part of your community."

Others have worried about the dangers of potent THC, the stuff that gets users high. In fact, state lawmakers tried to preemptively craft recreational caps on it, earlier this year.

"Doing nothing is not a good option because then people don’t know where to start," Sen. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, during a February committee meeting discussing the proposed legislation.

The bill didn't get across the finish line — but even if it had — the proposed amendment specifically allows lawmakers to approve those kinds of guardrails, say supporters. Rivers fully expected implementation laws, including regulation on public use.

"We don't want Florida to look like a California or in New York," she said. "And, you know, I'm a mom of two middle schoolers. What we're talking about here is creating a regulated, safe environment for adults over the age of 21 to access products that is clean and tested, and for us to be able to tax that product to benefit the state."

Ingraining that message to the public is the next big step for Smart and Safe. The latest polling is mixed, depending on where you look.

A University of North Florida survey from November showed 67% of Floridians were in support. While another from the Florida Chamber of Commerce in January had support 10 points lower, under the 60% needed.

There is plenty of time for public opinion to shift one way or the other. That is, after all, what campaigns and fundraising are all about. Florida now has about 215 days to make up its mind on the issue.