Florida Chamber of Commerce wants to intervene in recreational pot drive

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has taken an initial step toward intervening in a lawsuit in which a political committee is seeking more time to collect petition signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana.

The Florida Chamber opposes the proposed amendment and has backed increased restrictions on signature gathering, including in a law passed during the 2019 legislative session.

A notice filed Tuesday by attorneys for the Florida Chamber indicated the business group wants to intervene on the side of Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who is a defendant in the lawsuit brought by the political committee Make It Legal Florida.

The lawsuit, also filed Tuesday, contends that the law passed during the 2019 session violates constitutional rights and that problems with a Department of State database have hampered the ability of petition gatherers to collect and submit signatures.

Sponsors of proposed constitutional amendments are required to submit 766,200 valid petition signatures to get on the November ballot. Petitions are submitted to county election supervisors, who verify the signatures and report the information to the secretary of state. The process must be done by Feb. 1. But the lawsuit said the process effectively involves a “stealth deadline” of Jan. 2 to submit petitions to county supervisors because of a 30-day window for verification and reporting of signatures.

The lawsuit seeks an extension until Feb. 1 to submit signatures to county supervisors, with the deadline for verification similarly extended. As of mid-day Thursday, the state Division of Elections had tallied 227,314 signatures for the Make It Legal Florida proposal.

The 2019 law placed additional regulations on paid petition gatherers, who play a vital role in getting constitutional amendments on the ballot. Those regulations included requiring petition-gatherers to register with the Department of State and to receive petition forms from the agency.