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Marijuana Legalization Advocates Look to 2020 for Referendum in Florida

Florida is likely to have one, and perhaps two, legalization measures on the ballot in 2020.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Ever since 2016, when 71 percent of Florida voters approved legalized medical marijuana, people have waited to see if marijuana proponents would immediately push for legalization of adult-use marijuana.

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As both California and Massachusetts begin legalized recreational sales this month, Florida looms as the next big market. Sales of medical marijuana alone are projected to pass $1 billion by 2020.

It seemed 2018 could be the year for the Sunshine State to put the recreational marijuana issue before voters. However, that now seems like a very long shot. As with everything political in Florida - one of the biggest melting pot states in the union - it’s complicated.

All Eyes On 2020

Advocates, faced with trying to get an initiative on the ballot that would legalize recreational marijuana, now are talking 2020 as the earliest year to get it done.

That’s because the odds of getting the 766,000 petition signatures needed to get the issue on the midterm election ballot this coming November are next to nothing. The signatures would be needed by Feb. 1.

Related: A California Company Believes It Has Invented a Viable Marijuana Breathalyzer

Michael Minardi, a Tampa attorney who heads up a group that advocates legalization, told the Naples Daily News he doesn’t expect to get the signatures. However, he does expect it on the ballot in 2020. “We’re excited about 2020. We know we have the people on our side,” he said.

The numbers indicate less certainty. Legalized medical marijuana won in all 67 Florida counties in November 2016. But a Quinnipiac University poll that same year found 56 percent of Floridians favored recreational marijuana - less than the 60 percent needed to pass a referendum.

Unique State

Many see Florida as a booming market for marijuana. The state’s population has reached almost 21 million. Florida surpassed New York this decade to become the third most populated state in the nation, behind only California and Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the state’s demographics are among the most diverse in the country, and hard to pin down politically. They range from liberal bastions in South Florida, more politically mixed areas in the middle of the state and very conservative areas to the north. Residents joke it’s the only part of the U.S. where politics get more liberal the farther south you travel.

Related: Hawaii Sees Legalizing Adult Use Marijuana As Huge Boon to Island Economy

Even the advocates have differing approaches. Based in Tampa, Minardi leads an organization called Regulate Florida. That group wants those over the age of 21 to have the right to buy, possess and cultivate cannabis.

Regulate Florida works with the Florida Cannabis Coalition. The group’s co-founder, Pete Sessa, told a Tampa TV station he believes the business opportunities for legalized recreational marijuana will drive acceptance of the legalization effort.

Yet another group, Floridians For Freedom, wants to amend Article 1 of the state Constitution and make adult possession and use of marijuana a basic right under state law, not just a regulated product as it is in other states. The group has its own separate petition to get the issue on the ballot - also likely in 2020.

How it all shakes out is anyone’s guess. But the potential rewards for a Florida legal recreational market are likely second only to California.

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