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No, FCAN isn’t about to pursue a legalization of pot constitutional amendment

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On Monday, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that the Florida Cannabis Action Network was now “developing a 2016 voter initiative to legalize marijuana, based on the likelihood that the Florida Legislature will be unwilling to create a comprehensive medical-only program in coming weeks.”

Uh, not exactly, says FCAN executive director Jodi James.

“The ballot initiative idea is sort of a non-story right now,” James told Florida Politics on Wednesday. “I really can’t be putting a lot of emphasis on that. Florida Cannabis Action Network can’t run a ballot initiative. We’re not a PAC (political action committee).”

Stating the obvious, James said there are a lot of things that need to happen before FCAN could even be in a position — such as having lots and lots of cash to fund such an effort. She muses that she’s not sure that all options short of that have been exhausted. “We’re pretty frustrated,” she admitted.

All of the focus in the Legislature this year when it comes to pot are the medical marijuana bills offered by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes in the Senate and Bradenton Republican Greg Steube in the House.

There is a bill that does deal with legalization of weed, sponsored in the Senate by Cutler Bay Democrat Dwight Bullard. That bill would allow anyone 21 or older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal use. The bill would also allow individuals to cultivate six plants in their homes. Not surprisingly, FCAN supports that bill. Equally not surprising is that it has no chance in hell of getting through the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Another bill that James favors is HB 1179, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz’s bill that would simply urge Congress to remove marijuana from the Schedule I drug list & allow marijuana to be researched & used for medical purposes.

“We’re helping to find people who will support that in the Senate, so that we can makes sure to let Congress know that Florida’s ready for them to change the law, even if we haven’t gone far enough yet.”

In the Herald-Tribune piece, United for Care’s Ben Pollara expresses unease with the notion that some other group is talking about recreational marijuana, an understandable sentiment in that his group has had to fend off criticism by opponents that the drive for legalizing medical marijuana in Florida is just a stalking horse for outright legalization.

“The threat of a recreational marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot is not something I’ve heard, nor something United for Care would put real consideration into supporting,” Pollara told the Herald-Tribune.

In January, United for Care unveiled new language for a constitutional amendment on medical pot in 2016. It makes parental consent requirements more explicit, more specifically rules out non-debilitating conditions, states that negligence and malpractice are not subject to immunity under the law, and requires that the Department of Health is specifically required to establish qualifications and standards for caregivers, including the stated ability to conduct appropriate background checks.

James says she’s not a big fan of United for Care’s newly drawn up initiative. “The last one was kind of, I wish they had consulted with us before they wrote the initiative, and this one, instead of pushing public opinion and doing education so that they understood the lies, they just caved right on so many points,” she says.

One thing is sure, James says, and that’s that politics is now big business in Tallahassee. “Four years ago I couldn’t hire a lobbyist. They would not take my calls, and the ones who don’t have big reputations would tell me privately in hallways, ‘Jodi this is a big lift. I don’t know how you’re ever going to get somebody to do it.'”

And now? “We can’t get a seat at the table because there’s so many lobbyists.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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