Will Florida Legalize Recreational Marijuana In 2023?
- Cannabis advocates and state legislators are working toward legalizing marijuana in Florida in 2023.
- While advocates circulate a recreational marijuana petition, lawmakers are working to keep control of the situation in the legislature.
- One initiative involves the right for adults 21+ to grow marijuana at home but does not legalize recreational marijuana dispensaries in Florida.
- Although no one thinks it’s going to be an easy win, advocates are confident that recreational marijuana will be legalized in Florida.
Cannabis policy reform proponents have been working overtime in their attempt to legalize marijuana in Florida in 2022. There are, in fact, two legalization efforts that could potentially legalize marijuana in Florida.
Recent surveys indicate that the majority of Florida residents are in favor of legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana in the Sunshine state. With recreational marijuana now legal in 18 states, advocates are optimistic efforts to legalize marijuana in Florida will pay off in 2023.
There are two potential routs for cannabis policy reform in Florida. If the Florida legislature doesn’t legalize marijuana then a proposed 2022 ballot initiative would need the approval of at least 60 percent of Florida voters to be enacted.
Legislative efforts to legalize marijuana in Florida
While advocates work to let the voters decide via a ballot question, Nick Hansen, Director of Government Affairs for MedMen, owners of several Florida dispensaries, has backed a measure to ensure marijuana control remains in the Legislature’s hands.
“There is an economic need for this. Folks understand that this is a tremendous economic driver in these states that have implemented it correctly and well. And it can really bolster those states’ coffers for things like education,” said Hansen.
“The trend is growing towards favorability,” said state Senator Jeff Brandes who filed the bill to circumvent the referendums. The senator went on to say: “The way you convince your colleagues is to sit down with them and say, guys, we can either deal with this at our level or the people of the state of Florida are going to deal with it via constitutional amendment.”
However, this unconventional move to avoid a referendum may face some serious resistance. Every other state except for Vermont and Illinois has legalized marijuana via a voter referendum.
Gov. Ron DeSantis is well known for his opposing to marijuana legalization. Senator Brandes thinks the Governor will face an uphill battle if he delays legalization measures much longer, saying, “I think the simple truth is the Governor is going to have to deal with this. Whether it be today or 2022 when he’s gonna have four years to implement it.”
“This is not a partisan issue. Across the political spectrum, there is a majority of support. Here in Florida, we have a supermajority of the GOP representing districts in the Florida House and Senate, and those Senators and representatives are severely disconnected,” Suncoast NORML Chapter Executive Director said.
A bumpy road for Florida marijuana legalization
Mr. Cano also says that getting the cannabis initiative on the ballot has been challenging, in spite of the vast network of support. He laments: “Why is there this disconnect between public policy and what people want. And it really does boil down to the other forces at work that our representative government has at play.”
The Florida Supreme Court rejected two ballot initiatives that would have allowed voters to decide on the recreational marijuana bill in 2022. The high court decreed with a vote of 5-2, that the initiatives were “misleading.”
Also, efforts to put the issue to voters on the 2020 ballot were derailed due to covid restrictions.
Federal cannabis policy reforms will help Florida advocates
The strong opposition from state leaders is precisely why NORML and other cannabis organizations are working toward legalizing marijuana at the federal level.
“We are all joining together to release draft legislation to end the federal prohibition on cannabis,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer explained. Schumer is set to introduce a new bill that would effectively remove cannabis from the federally sanctioned list of controlled substances. The new bill would basically regulate marijuana much like tobacco and alcohol.
Mr. Cano believes that once cannabis is removed from Schedule I, it will disempower local and state politicians who use the “it’s federally illegal” excuse to deny the will of the public.
Marijuana Decriminalization In Florida
Additionally, advocates are seeking to expunge prior cannabis convictions in Florida. Presently, there are 14 counties on board with issuing civil citations to citizens in possession of small amounts of marijuana.
On Tuesday, legislation was announced that could erase minor marijuana convictions in Florida. Fourteen counties in Florida have already decriminalized marijuana making possession a civil violation worthy of only a citation and fine rather than a criminal record.
Medical marijuana card reciprocity in Florida
Currently, the Florida medical marijuana program denies out-of-state patients access to Florida dispensaries. A petition has been created urging Florida legislators to add a reciprocity program to the state’s medical marijuana laws.
In an article in Change.org the author writes: “If we are compassionate enough as a state to offer relief to our own residents, then how can we turn our backs and not offer compassion to visitors to our fair state?”
Advocates claim that extending compassion to out-of-state medical marijuana card patients creates a win-win situation here in Florida. “Florida wins because it gains vacationers and snowbirds that spend a lot of money. And medical marijuana patients across the nation win because they will have access to the medicine they need. This means they’ll now have the option of vacationing in our beautiful Sunshine State.”
According to the report, reciprocation would not only be a boon to Florida dispensaries bringing in an additional $25 to $50 million in sales, it would also generate an additional $11 million in sales tax revenue. “That might not sound like a lot,” the author says. “But add on top of that corporate taxes paid by companies in the state that host those travelers and the taxes paid when the rising number of employees of those companies spend their paychecks.“
The petition has almost 5,000 signatures at the time of writing. Anyone can sign the petition: Sign the petition to add reciprocity to Florida medical marijuana laws
What’s next for Florida marijuana legalization initiatives?
The cannabis advocacy group Regulate Florida will be seeking 222,898 signatures to instigate a fiscal and judicial impact review. Ultimately though, they need 891,589 signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment was approved for a signature drive last week.
If the proposal is greenlit, adults 21 years and older would be permitted to possess small amounts of cannabis for personal use. They would also be allowed to cultivate up to nine plants at home. At present though, the ballot initiative does not cover retail sales.
Florida recreational marijuana dispensaries in question
Not all cannabis advocates are in favor of allowing recreational marijuana dispensaries in Florida. Some believe that the high demand for recreational pot could cause shortages for medical marijuana patients. Shortages of particular products are already a problem at some dispensaries.
Florida has one of the most popular medical marijuana programs in the country. More than half a million Florida medical marijuana cards have been issued to about 2.5 percent of the population. For comparison, that’s four times as many as the Ohio medical marijuana program and more than 1,000 times as many patients as the Texas medical marijuana program — both states where recreational marijuana is also still illegal.
The Florida medical marijuana market pulled in $155.7 million in August. Trulieve currently leads the pack of Florida dispensaries along with Columbia Care, Liberty Health, Fluent, Cresco Labs (Sunnyside), and MedMen several of which own marijuana dispensaries nationwide. Other multi-state operators such as Planet 13 are also making inroads into the lucrative Florida marijuana market.
With recreational marijuana now legal in 18 states, most advocates are optimistic their efforts to legalize marijuana in Florida in 2022 will pay off.