Besides the big question of who will be president, marijuana legalization may be the most hotly debated issue in Florida going into the 2016 election cycle. United for Care is working to get a medical marijuana measure onto the November ballot, while two other groups are looking to get recreational weed legalized. Each of these proposals would amend the state constitution. To make it onto the ballot, each measure needs 683,149 verified signatures by February 1. Last week, United for Care was the furthest along, at 38 percent of this goal.
Regulate Florida is pushing its “Florida Cannabis Act,” which would legalize weed for people over 21 and lays out details that would regulate pot like alcohol. Another big name in the legalization movement has also joined the fray. Cathy Jordan, president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, and her husband, Robert, are likewise pushing a petition that would get their proposed marijuana-legalization amendment on the ballot. Their measure, called “The Right of Adults to Cannabis,” would legalize weed for people over 21 and leave it to the state to regulate.
“We realized the politicians aren’t going to move on legalization.” Robert Jordan tells New Times. “So we had to.”
Cathy has been wheelchair-bound with Lou Gehrig’s disease since 1986 and uses marijuana as treatment. In fact, the Jordans were the first state residents in Florida’s history to be allowed to use cannabis for medical purposes. But that wasn’t always the case.
In 2013, law enforcement officials swarmed the Jordans’ home after a government employee who was visiting a neighbor spotted some marijuana plants on their property. The Jordans sued Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube for wrongful conduct, and Cathy’s case was eventually dropped. But Robert explains that, while it was a good victory for them, Cathy doesn’t want to be the only one with the privilege of having her pain eased with medical weed.
“The right of the people to possess cannabis is a natural right,” James says. We’re meeting people on this tour who understand that half a puff is better than a whole Xanax.”
“We’ve been doing this for 20 years,” he says. “My wife has ALS. And no amount of meds has given her the respite that cannabis has. We think others who are suffering should be allowed to too.”
The Jordans are pushing the measure with the help of the Florida Freedom Group (also called Floridians for Freedom). As spokesperson Jodie James explains, United for Care’s proposal would apply only to people with certain medical conditions, and Regulate Florida’s proposal lays out a lot of details about how recreational weed would be legalized. “Those are good,” says James. “But we’re not about that.”
Regulation should be left to legislatures and local municipalities, she says. “It’s not the state; it’s entities like Broward Sheriff’s Office that would decide that. We want to make sure adults 21 and over use it, so we’ve placed an ID clause that would make sure it’s sold only to those 21 and older.”
James says Cathy and Robert were motivated by their harrowing experience with the authorities. She says the couple fears that their son could be arrested for trying to purchase weed for Cathy when she’s unable to get it herself.
In 2014, Sen. Jeff Clemens and Rep. Joe Saunders had introduced the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, which would have allowed medically necessary cannabis for those who needed it. It fell short of passing, but in many ways, it set the tone for groups like United for Care to get their measures rolling.
The Florida Freedom Group is currently on a 34-county tour across the state and is asking people to sign its petition, which can be found here.
James says the reaction has so far been positive.
“The right of the people to possess cannabis is a natural right,” she says. “And we’re meeting people on this tour who get that, who understand that half a puff is better than a whole Xanax.”
If any of these measures do make it onto the ballot, they’ll need 60 percent of the vote to pass.