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Florida Activists Withdraw Medical Cannabis Home Grow Initiative

The supporters of a proposed citizen’s initiative that would allow Florida medical marijuana patients to cultivate cannabis at home have ended their efforts to place the measure on the ballot for the 2024 general election. The home cultivation campaign withdrew its initiative petition late last month after failing to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Cannabis activist Moriah Barnhart founded the group Wise and Free in December 2022 to put the medical marijuana home cultivation initiative on the ballot. But she says that the process has been made more difficult by new restrictions and fees for proposed ballot initiatives put in place by Republican lawmakers in 2019.

“The legislators keep making it harder for us to pass constitutional amendments so that giant conglomerates and large corporations are able to accomplish what they want, but we’re not,” Barnhart told the Miami New Times.

Campaign Faced Financial Difficulties

Barnhart added that the campaign had difficulties recruiting enough volunteers to help the cause. Additionally, the initiative’s backers were only able to raise about $4,000, not nearly enough to pay the professionals and staff needed to collect and submit the nearly 900,000 signatures needed to place the home cultivation initiative on the ballot. 

With administrative and accounting fees exceeding donations, Wise and Free Florida found itself in debt. Barnhart then made the difficult decision to withdraw the initiative petition, ending the effort for the 2024 election.

“When we could foresee being charged for late petitions in the millions, I couldn’t risk being personally accountable for those fees — especially since donations weren’t coming in to match the expenditures, much less additional costs,” Barnhart said.

“Now, billion-dollar companies and conglomerates are the only people who can have a say in Florida law,” she added.

Barnhart began her cannabis activism after her daughter Dahlia was diagnosed with brain cancer 13 years ago. After being given little chance of survival, Dahlia’s quality of life improved with cannabis medication. Barnhart now says cannabis has kept her daughter alive.

“She started on cannabis about six months into her treatment for aggressive brain cancer and she slept through the night for the first time in her entire life that first night,” remembered Barnhart, who co-founded the nonprofit Cannamoms in 2013 to educate people on the medical benefits of cannabis. 

“She woke up hungry and thirsty the next morning. Most importantly, she quickly regained her enjoyment of life and her will to live,” she continued. “Within days, she started walking, talking, laughing, and playing again. I absolutely believe cannabis saved her life.”

Adult-Use Initiative Pending

A separate initiative proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis that is supported by Trulieve, Florida’s largest medical marijuana provider, is currently being reviewed by the state Supreme Court. If the initiative passes judicial muster, it will appear on the ballot for next year’s general election.

Barnhart says that she fears that if the recreational marijuana initiative is successful, Florida’s medical marijuana program will be harmed. She said if adult-use cannabis is legalized, dispensaries will likely prioritize high-THC products for recreational consumers who primarily want to get high. Barnhart is afraid that as a result, low-THC products and those with THC and CBD favored by many medical patients will no longer be available.

Barnhart cited Oregon, Washington and California to back up her claim, noting that all three states legalized medical marijuana before recreational cannabis. Once recreational marijuana was also legalized, the number of products intended for use by medical marijuana patients decreased. But Barnhart noted that those states allow patients to grow cannabis at home, allowing them to cultivate the strains that are best suited for their needs.

“We need botanical medicines to be as personalized as possible,” Barnhart said. 

“Large corporations cannot accommodate that, and they are not going to lose money from small, vulnerable demographics of people who need personalized medicine and choose to grow their own cannabis,” she added.

With the failure of the medical marijuana home cultivation citizen’s initiative, Barnhart says that she hopes a large company like Trulieve will support a new home cultivation initiative as a sign of goodwill for patients. Trulieve is the biggest supporter of the adult-use cannabis proposal and has donated nearly all of the $39.5 million the campaign has spent on the initiative drive.

Steve Vancore, a spokesperson for Trulieve, said that support from the company for a future home cultivation initiative is a possibility.

“The near-term focus for Trulieve is supporting passage and implementation of the Smart & Safe Florida initiative,” Vancore wrote in an email to the Miami New Times.

But he added, “Trulieve has supported home-grow initiatives in Florida in the past and expects they will continue to do so in the future.”

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