Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes

Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg

The industry-backed committee sponsoring a prospective constitutional amendment to legalize adult recreational marijuana announced Monday it was no longer seeking to get the measure on November’s ballot.

But marijuana legalization, nevertheless, will be on the agenda this year – the legislative agenda that is – following Monday’s introduction of a bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

"‘Availability of Marijuana for Adult Use Act," would establish a “regulatory approach to the governance of cultivation, processing, and retail sales” of both medical and adult use of marijuana for adults over 21 years old.

“For me,” he said in a statement, “this is a liberty issue. We should give adult Floridians the freedom to make their own choices when it comes to cannabis.”

Brandes said SB 1860 – one of at least 23 marijuana-related bills lawmakers will consider during the 60-day session, which begins Tuesday – would allow “the Legislature to lead on an issue a super majority of Floridians support.”

Marijuana legalization is “not a matter of if,” he added, “but when.”

Which is what Make it Legal Florida (MILF) implied Monday when it cited restrictions imposed on petition-gatherers by the Legislature during the 2019 session as the reason why it was no longer seeking to get the measure before voters in 2020.

MILF, which had posted 299,292 verified signatures with the state’s Division of Elections as of Monday, needed to present 766,200 by Feb. 1 to qualify for November’s ballot.

The committee had garnered $8.633 million in contributions as of Monday, including $4.85 million in December alone, mostly from two national marijuana corporations – Atlanta-based Surterra and MedMen of Culver City, Calif.

Tampa-based MILF maintains it has more than 700,000 signatures on hand but that its initiative campaign – which it didn’t launch until the fall – was hamstrung by administrative issues and technical problems in implementing complexities imposed by House Bill 5, the controversial 2019 measure that essentially extended the state’s voter registration system for absentee ballots to petition-gathering.

“With the support of over 67 percent of Florida voters, Make it Legal Florida is proud to have gathered more than 700,000 signed petitions in the effort to bring adult-use cannabis to the Sunshine State,” MILF said in a statement. “The narrow timeframe to submit and verify those signatures has prompted our committee to shift focus to now gain ballot access in 2022.”

MILF’s proposed constitutional amendment would allow people 21 or older to “possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason.”

MILF said it will continue on with the mandated ballot language review by the state’s Supreme Court and pursue the 57-page class-action lawsuit it filed on Dec. 31 in Leon County Circuit Court against the state, alleging the new restrictions imposed by HB 5 “lack even a rational, reasonable, or coherent justification or relation to any purported state interest” other than to prevent issues unpopular with GOP lawmakers from being presented directly to voters.

Brandes’ bill would create multiple marijuana license categories, including growing, processing and retailing, and establish a “transportation” license for shipping product.

Unlike MILF’s proposed scheme, which would resemble the state’s embattled “vertically integrated” medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) regulatory system, Brandes’ SB 1860 would allow “contracting and wholesaling by growers to processors or retailers.”

The bill would permit individuals to petition the courts for re-sentencing or expungement of some marijuana-related criminal convictions and “maintains home-rule by allowing counties and municipalities to prohibit or limit the number of MMTCs within their jurisdiction.”

The bill is among several that propose allowing those convicted of some marijuana-related crimes to petition to have it expunged from their records, including SB 1862, one of 18 criminal justice reform bills filed by Brandes.

“More harm has been caused by the prohibition of marijuana than by marijuana itself,” he said. “I believe decriminalizing marijuana will enable law enforcement to deal with more serious crimes and allow them to have a greater impact in our communities with their limited resources.”