Michael Minardi is on a mission to make recreational marijuana legal in Florida next year.
Asked how he would do that, considering that a ballot measure to legalize even medical marijuana didn’t pass in 2014, he says, “We’re going to use science, and we’re going to use stats.”
Minardi is a West Palm Beach attorney who in March won a landmark case that successfully used medical necessity as a defense for pot charges against his client. He has teamed with fellow attorney Bill Wohlsifer and marijuana activist Karen Goldstein to form the corporation Sensible Florida and an associated group, Regulate Florida. Together, they have developed a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would legalize and regulate recreational marijuana for adults.
The “Florida Cannabis Act” proposes legalizing pot and regulating it like alcohol. It would allow anyone 21 or older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana and, if licensed, grow up to six plants at home.
“Realistically, it gives adults the choice to use cannabis for whatever and whenever they want,” Minardi tells New Times. “It doesn’t allow for driving while on cannabis; it limits the age to 21 — much like the way alcohol is sold and regulated. It creates a licenses-regulated system of distribution to make sure we have the safety of the products and safety for consumers as a priority, much like they do in Colorado. Whenever any kind of product is regulated, it makes sure people are getting a safe product.”
This summer, the Florida Division of Elections gave Minardi’s team the go-ahead to begin collecting 683,149 verified voter signatures, which would be needed for the proposed amendment to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.
Past attempts to legalize marijuana at the state level have failed. In November last year, United for Care’s popular initiative to have medical marijuana legalized fell short of passing by just two percentage points. In 2014, Sen. Dwight Bullard of Miami filed a bill that would have allowed Floridians who are 21 or older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot and allowed folks to cultivate up to six marijuana plants. Bullard’s bill died before it could get anywhere in the legislature.
Minardi is aware of this and knows that opposition groups will attack Regulate Florida. But he says he plans to use stats that show crime rates and pot usage among teens in Colorado have decreased since recreational marijuana was made legal there. He says a legal, well-regulated pot industry is preferable to the current black market. “The focus is definitely going to be all about protecting our children,” he says.
Minardi says criminalizing marijuana has only led to an extremely expensive, failed “war on drugs” — a distraction from more important problems. “We know that since the 1970s, when cannabis criminalization had become a prime focus for the government, that it has done nothing,” he says. “It has not reduced use in all these years. Meanwhile, you look at places like Colorado and other states that have passed a law like this, that there has been a reduction in suicides, a reduction in traffic fatalities, and a reduction in opiate use.”
Colorado taxes marijuana at a rate of 28 percent and has brought in so much revenue — $44 million in the first five months of this year — that it may have to give some back to its residents. (Officials, however, like to say that the reason for legalizing pot is to make it safer, not to make money.) And public opinion may be shifting: Cities including Hallandale Beach, Miami Beach, and Key West have announced they will decriminalize possession of small amounts of weed. In the past few months,In the past few months, Broward County commissioners agreed to look into developing an ordinance that would require people pay a civil fine rather than face criminal arrest for possession. Specifics are still being debated.
Still, getting to the ballot is no easy task. United for Care, which is funded largely by Tampa attorney John Morgan, spent $4 million to execute its last petition drive (and is trying again for the 2016 ballot). Regulate Florida has no such big financial backer to help its campaign. “We don’t have a John Morgan or a Sheldon Anderson financing us,” Minardi says. “We’re raising money by selling shirts and spreading the word with our volunteers to sign the petition.”
He says that the petition is on the group’s website for people to download and sign (signers must be registered to vote in Florida for their signatures to count) and that Regulate Florida is seeing “a great return” on the petitions. The group is also expanding its campaign via Facebook.
“We’ve got a lot of things in the works to get this thing done,” he says.