Florida lawmakers have 10 days once the 2019 legislative session begins Tuesday to meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ultimatum to repeal the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.
If they don’t by March 15, DeSantis has vowed to sustain the state’s appeal of a court ruling that deemed the Legislature’s 2017 prohibition on smokable bud violates the 2016 constitutional amendment approved by 70 percent of voters to legalize medical marijuana.
The state is likely to lose that appeal, and if it does, he warns, judges will then craft the state’s medical marijuana laws instead of lawmakers. Both the House and the Senate begin the session with committee-reviewed bills ready for floor votes.
The “No Smoke Is A Joke” lawsuit, spearheaded by Orlando attorney John Morgan, is among a dozen legal challenges embroiling the medical marijuana program created by the Legislature in 2017, its roll-out an unraveling spool of regulatory hang-ups.
Two House Democrats say they have a way out of this labyrinth of litigation and regulation: Legalize recreational marijuana.
House Bill 1117, co-sponsored by Reps. Carlos Guillermo-Smith, D-Orlando, and Michael Grieco, D-Miami Beach, would “recreationalize” marijuana in the state, allowing legal adult use without prescription.
Under the bill, filed Feb. 26, adults over 21 years of age could possess, use, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants each.
The 56-page bill also outlines taxation and a “nonvertical” distribution system in which retail stores can buy, sell or deliver marijuana from another marijuana cultivation business.
It also restricts smoking to private places only, with $100 fines for public use.
The bill would require 5 percent of recreational marijuana tax revenues be dedicated to the Department of Health for grants to finance peer-reviewed marijuana research.
Grieco on the same day filed a related bill that would cap the application fee for a marijuana establishment license at $5,000.
HB 1119 seeks to impose a $50 an ounce excise tax on growers for marijuana sold or transferred from a marijuana cultivation facility.
While Guillermo-Smith and Grieco are leading a legislative effort to legalize recreational marijuana, Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, wants legislators to put the question directly to voters.
Bracy on Feb. 21 introduced Senate Joint Resolution 1298, proposing the Legislature put a proposed ‘Adult Right to Cannabis’ constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot.
At least two advocacy groups have launched petition drives to put recreational marijuana measures on the same ballot. If adopted, SJR 1298 would “skip the petition step” in getting the proposal before voters.
Vermont in 2018 became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana by legislative action. The first nine states that legalized recreational marijuana did so by voters approving constitutional measures that were placed by petition on statewide ballots.
The New Jersey Legislature is expected to approve, and Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is likely to sign, a bill legalizing recreational marijuana soon, making it the 11th state to end marijuana prohibition and second to do so by legislative action.
Despite momentum elsewhere, the two House recreational marijuana bills and the ‘Adult Right to Cannabis’ Senate resolution have little chance of being adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature, or signed into law by a governor opposed to recreational marijuana.
DeSantis is, however, a big booster of the state’s potential as a leading accommodator in the global commercial medical marijuana industry.
Passing a bill lifting the ban on smokable medical bud by March 15 will generate momentum in addressing other litigative, legislative, regulatory and administrative issues in the medical marijuana program, he said.
Two proposed bills legalizing smokeable medical marijuana are already poised for presentation on chamber floors.
HB 7015, drafted by the House Health & Human Services Committee, was approved Feb. 25 by the House Appropriations Committee in a 28-1 vote that put in on the floor calendar.
It would allow dispensaries to sell pre-rolled marijuana cigarettes to patients age 18 and older.
SB182, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would require marijuana operators to sell at least one type of pre-rolled cigarette and other whole-flower products. It has been referred to the Senate’s calendar for a floor vote.
SB 182 would also let patients buy smoking-related equipment at retail outlets, such as smoke shops.