Ohio may be Trump country now, but conservatives are still losing in the Buckeye State. Just last November, Ohio added a constitutional right to abortion and legalized recreational marijuana, both via ballot referendum. They weren’t particularly close races, either: Both proposals passed with 15-point leads over the opposition. 

This November, Florida faces an identical referendum. Amendment 3, the ballot initiative that would legalize recreational weed in the Sunshine State, recently held up under scrutiny from the Florida supreme court, which reviews ballot proposals to ensure clear, single-subject language. If Amendment 3 earns support from 60 percent of voters, Florida will become the 25th state to legalize recreational marijuana. 

So far, polls suggest that beating the threshold may prove challenging. A survey conducted by Florida Atlantic University and Mainstreet Research found that 47 percent of voters support recreational cannabis, with 35 percent of voters opposed and 18 percent undecided. USA Today/Ipsos conducted a separate poll that found greater, but still insufficient support for the proposal, with 56 percent of voters supporting Amendment 3. 

This month’s polls might not portend a victory for stoners, but money plays an outsized role in deciding elections. There’s a long summer between now and November, and Big Weed is spending tens of millions on the campaign, virtually unopposed. 

Trulieve, Florida’s largest medical marijuana provider, is by far the biggest financial supporter of Amendment 3. The cannabis giant has poured nearly $50 million into Smart and Safe Florida, the organization supporting the initiative’s passage. Trulieve owns more than one-fifth of medical cannabis dispensaries in Florida. Since the beginning of 2022, the company has opened more than 30 medical marijuana dispensaries across the state—14 of which were opened after Florida’s secretary of state validated the signatures necessary to put the initiative to a vote come November. 

Understandably, Florida Republicans are concerned. The state Attorney General Ashley Moody challenged the proposal during the supreme court’s consideration, in part because of Trulieve’s entanglement in the initiative. Though Amendment 3 promises to legalize recreational marijuana sales within Florida, distribution centers would still need a state license to operate. Unless the Republican-controlled state legislature expands Florida’s licensing scheme, only licensed medical marijuana treatment centers like Trulieve could sell cannabis under the recreational-use program. 

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis has objected to the initiative for similar reasons, expressing concern about what Amendment 3 would permit. “It seems to supersede any other regulatory regime that we have,” DeSantis said in a March 8 press conference. “I’ve gone to some of these cities that have [cannabis] everywhere—it smells. From a quality of life perspective, if you can’t do time, place, or manner restrictions, that is going to impact every Floridian in one way or another.” 

Legalizing recreational marijuana at the state level puts enforcers in a bind. Even though the Biden administration plans to reschedule cannabis, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, though the Department of Justice has essentially turned a blind eye to the violation for the past decade. When states go rogue and legalize recreational weed, they give an air of legitimacy to still-illegal behavior. And when that behavior gets out of hand—when unlicensed dealers crop up, for example, or when people light up joints in places where lighting a cigarette would be unthinkable—states have little recourse to the law. After all, they already decided that laws don’t really matter when marijuana is involved. 

This cockeyed scheme benefits one party: Big Weed. Though legalization is often accompanied by a DEI apparatus designed to boost budding BIPOC or female entrepreneurs, a survey by leading cannabis consulting and research firm Whitney Economics found that only 24.4 percent of U.S. cannabis businesses are profitable. Even major companies like Trulieve, which earned $1.13 billion in revenue last year, need to lock down repeat customers to turn a profit. The drug trade still relies on addicts.

Given that millions of people would be able to purchase recreational marijuana if Amendment 3 passes, Trulieve clearly has a horse in the race—but does the opposition? Though DeSantis is right to frame marijuana as a quality-of-life issue, voters often don’t fully appreciate a quality-of-life issue until it’s gone. 

In some sense, Big Weed relies on that. And why shouldn’t they? With a wink and a nod from the federal government, the cannabis lobby has promoted its agenda virtually unopposed: first the Trojan horse of medical marijuana, then recreational cannabis, all with the goal of federal decriminalization. And, a few victories excepted, Republicans have largely stood by and lost on the issue, state by state, or joined with the pro-dope forces. In his time as governor, DeSantis has shown that he’s not afraid to strip special privileges from private enterprise, but commercial cannabis is a slippery opponent.

“Do we want to have more marijuana in our communities?” DeSantis asked in January. He doesn’t, but Trulieve does, and Trump country might fall for it. We’ll see what Florida picks this November—common sense or corporate interest. 

 Cannabis industry eyes victory in Florida.  Read More