State Capital Briefs: Pot Petitions, Redistricting

FL cap

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana appear to have submitted enough petition signatures to spur a review by the Florida Supreme Court.

The political committee People United for Medical Marijuana had submitted 73,713 valid petition signatures to the state as of Monday evening, according to the Florida Division of Elections website. Ballot initiatives need 68,314 signatures to trigger a review of the proposed ballot language by the Supreme Court.

It was not immediately clear when the initiative might be formally submitted to the court or when justices could hear arguments about whether the proposed ballot language meets legal requirements. If the Supreme Court ultimately signs off on the proposal, supporters of the medical-marijuana initiative would have to submit a total of 683,149 valid petition signatures to get on the November 2016 ballot.

The People United for Medical Marijuana effort, which is more commonly known as “United for Care,” comes two years after backers narrowly failed to pass an initiative that would have legalized medical marijuana. Constitutional amendments require support from 60 percent of voters, and the 2014 marijuana initiative received about 58 percent.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, called Monday for the state to form an independent commission to handle legislative and congressional redistricting.

Speaking to reporters in his Tallahassee office, Nelson said the implosion this month of a special session to draw new congressional districts shows that lawmakers are still too self-interested to comply with the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010.

Nelson conceded that a citizens’ initiative would likely be needed to get an independent-commission measure on the ballot, given that lawmakers are unlikely to approve one and a constitutional-revision process set for 2017 will be dominated by members appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders.

“I don’t have a dog in the fight, because I represent the entire state,” Nelson said. “But when I see the chaos that has been wracked upon this state in elections by candidates trying to file for a district that still doesn’t exist, because the Legislature did not fulfill its legislative duties in order to draw the districts that were fair under the Florida Constitution, and the courts have to take it away from them, it seems to me that common sense says put it in the hands of as independent a commission as you can make it. And let them do it for the future so we don’t have this never-never land of uncertainty that we seem to be going through.”

New congressional lines are needed after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in July that the current map violates the Fair Districts standards; the courts will now likely approve a congressional plan. Lawmakers will hold another session beginning in October to try to redraw districts for the state Senate following a settlement in a legal challenge to that map.