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Could 2020 be the year Florida legalizes marijuana?

January 1st, 2020, marks an important deadline for Florida voters hoping to see legalized adult use of marijuana on the ballot in November.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — January 1st, 2020, marks an important deadline for the Florida voters hoping to see legalized adult use of marijuana on the ballot in November. 

The first of the year marks the day signatures supporting a ballot initiative on the issue are due to be turned into the state Division of Elections for verification.

The political committee Make It Legal Florida has been collecting signatures for its ballot measure that would put a constitutional amendment allowing adults 21-years-old or older to possess, use, purchase, display and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and accessories for personal use for any reason. 

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The language also allows medical marijuana treatment centers to sell marijuana to any adult, whether they are a medical patient or not.

As of January 1, the state Division of Elections had verified 221,281 signatures from Make It Legal Florida. The group needs to have 766,200 signatures verified by the state before February 1 in order to get the initiative on the November ballot. The signatures were due to be turned in by January 1 because state law gives the secretary of state 30 days to verify the signatures.

If Make It Legal Florida gets the required number of signatures to get the measure on the ballot, it would need to be approved by at least 60 percent of Florida voters.

Recent polling suggests there is enough support to meet that threshold. 

A number of polls conducted in the last six months have shown increasing bipartisan support for marijuana legalization. In June, a Quinnipiac showed what pollsters called "an all-time high in the state" on the topic of marijuana legalization. A specific question asking if people would support the sale of legal marijuana in their communities got support from 61 percent of respondents.

But, Make It Legal Florida has an enemy standing in its way: Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.

Last month, Moody filed a petition with the state Supreme Court opposing the initiative. The court has yet to rule on Moody’s petition.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers could pass legislation legalizing recreational marijuana without the voters. In August, state Senator Jeff Brandes told 10News the legislature needs to step up and face the reality of current public opinion.

“This is not a matter of if, this is a matter of when. The polling gets stronger every year, it polls well over sixty percent right now in Florida and sixty percent is the minimum threshold that it would need to pass as a constitutional amendment,” Brandes said. “I think you can expect this to be on the November ballot. I fully expect it to be. This is why I think we need to have a conversation at the legislative level.”

Brandes said he feels strongly that the legalization effort would be better handled by the legislature as opposed to a constitutional amendment because lawmakers can be more nimble in making tweaks and changes to the law as-needed.

“This is why people send legislators to Tallahassee to deal and wrestle with these hard topics, but they want us to show leadership and I think the legislature should, frankly, lead on this topic,” he said. “I think that you will see a bill on recreational marijuana this year in the legislature. You’re already seeing bills to decriminalize marijuana going through the legislature right now, so that conversation is ongoing today in the legislative process.”

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