Florida Governor Could Kill Recreational Pot

It's all up to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis now
It's all up to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis now Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

A last-minute effort by Florida Republican legislators to restrict citizen petition drives is only a governor’s signature away from becoming law. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has previously stated he sides with the will of the people, has made no indication of whether he will sign the bill.

If he does, the law would go into effect immediately, affecting 27 active petition drives seeking to place constitutional amendments on the 2020 general election ballot. Four of these seek to expand cannabis laws  — an issue widely supported by both Republican and Democratic voters.

The petitions addressing pot include two seeking to legalize adult use of cannabis and one that would allow citizens to grow their own weed. A fourth would add mental illness to the list of debilitating conditions that qualify a patient for a medical marijuana recommendation.

Other active petitions that will be affected seek universal background checks for gun purchases and bans on assault rifles and minimum wage increases. Then there are measures that would require a vote for single-payer healthcare and open primaries – issues unlikely to be introduced as bills by the current Republican legislature and likely the real reason for the bill.

“This is the death knell for citizens’ right to self-governance,” says Colby Wise, a volunteer campaign coordinator for Floridians for Freedom, one of two groups running petition campaigns to legalize marijuana for adults over age 21.

“I deeply, deeply hope the governor sees the wisdom in vetoing this bill and sending it back to the House and hopefully they just let it go."

Had the law been in effect during the last two elections, citizen initiatives such as the legalization of medical marijuana and the restoration of voting rights for felons would likely never have made it onto the ballot. But both ended up voted into law by an overwhelming majority of the voters. (Of course, the legislature then weakened the laws.) 

Votes on making citizen petitions more difficult were rejected. But then, this past Friday, the final day of the 2019 legislative session, House Republicans added language from one of the rejected measures to House Bill 5, a tax bill that had nothing to do with petition drives, which the Senate quickly approved.

The new language imposes fines between $50 to $250 for each signature turned in beyond a 30-day period from the date the petition was signed — and adds fines of $1,000 for petitions that are “willfully” not turned in at all.

Wise says those restrictions basically make petition drives impossible because petitioners sometimes don’t turn in their signed petitions to campaign coordinators until weeks after they’ve obtained them.

The measure also fails to take into account the approximately 25 percent of petitions that are missing dates or are otherwise illegible. “I literally had thousands of signatures that can’t be turned in so that would be a thousand dollar fine,” he said.

Wise called DeSantis’ office twice Tuesday to gauge what the governor planned to do about the bill. “A lot of this stuff that happens at the last minute, he’s a busy man, he probably doesn’t even realize what is going on,” Wise said.

The Florida chapter of the League of Women Voters also is urging citizens to call DeSantis and ask him to veto House Bill 5.

Wise posted the following on the Floridians for Freedom Facebook page:

We're ALL Screwed!!!!

Please, Call (850-717-9337) Governor DeSantis today, tomorrow, and the day after that too ... ask, beg and or demand he VETO HB 5!!!! Our Legislators ended the 2019 Legislative Session by slipping in a real poisonous pill so deadly it will likely kill any chance for Cannabis to be on our 2020 or any ballot via Citizen Ballot initiatives. For that matter, HB 5 will end Florida's Citizen Ballot Initiative process altogether. We're screwed!!!! If HB 5 is allowed to go into law, the State of Florida will begin fining Campaigns between 50 - 250 dollars per signature whenever petitions are turned into the County Supervisors of Election offices beyond 30 days from the date of signature. And 1,000 dollars per petition when petitions aren't turned in at all. Campaigns could literally be fined millions of dollars attempting to improve our State via Citizen Ballot Initiatives. Call Governor DeSantis now, 850-717-9337, and urge him to VETO HB 5.

If you're a patient, who appreciates our medical marijuana program... Or a felon who enjoys being allowed to vote again... Well, this law would've prevented both of those Citizen Ballot Initiatives from ever making it to the ballot in the first place! Please, we're asking/begging you all... Call Governor DeSantis' office right now (8 am - 4 pm) and encourage & empower our Governor to VETO HB 5.

Here's the Governor's number, 850-717-9337.

Full Bill Text Here...

The original intent of House Bill 5 was to restrict the power of municipalities from adding new taxes without due process, which is something many citizens support. 

“Whenever the bill hits his desk, he has 15 days to either veto it or sign it,” said Jonas Marquez, a spokesperson for DeSantis. “If he doesn’t veto after the 15-day period, then it automatically becomes law.”

If it does, the issue will likely end up in the Florida Supreme Court.

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Carlos Miller is a Miami multimedia journalist who runs Photography Is Not a Crime, an award-winning national news site about First Amendment issues and police abuse.
Contact: Carlos Miller