Issues before the legislature:  Push to legalize recreational marijuana

Historic City News subscribers need drive no further than Ponce de Leon Boulevard to see proof that the Florida cannabis industry has its eyes on the potential $6 billion industry and comparatively small local communities like St Augustine are not exempt from its focus.

It’s been more than five years since an overwhelming number of voters in Florida said they wanted medical marijuana to be legalized — leading to a billion-dollar industry being created.  Business in the field is expected to keep booming, with new licenses being issued that could put the state on a highly profitable growth path.  That’s the backdrop for this year’s push to legalize recreational marijuana, a step that proponents say will create jobs, generate tax revenue, and make the justice system fairer.

Growing marijuana plants and selling the resulting buds have become a major industry in the Sunshine State. While hopes aren’t high, the effort to legalize recreational marijuana has passion behind it. Florida’s cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing in the United States — and that’s before the state finishes issuing 27 new licenses, doubling the number of medical marijuana treatment centers in the state.

With the increasing acceptance of cannabis, particularly among older Americans, the number of jobs and investments stemming from the industry is just going to keep surging.  Despite that growth, people are still being arrested for pot possession, and some recreational users aren’t interested in attempting to game the system to get a medical card.

It’s a long shot, proponents say, but one that could have a major impact on the state and its economy.  So begins the push for legalized recreational marijuana in the 2020 legislative session.

  • What’s proposed: There’s 10 or so bills that have been introduced that would deal with the legality of cannabis. House Bill 467 would license marijuana establishments and legalize cannabis, removing it from the list of controlled substances. House Bill 725 would decriminalize marijuana, making having or delivering certain amounts of marijuana a noncriminal violation. House Bill 549 would license and regulate growers and retailers and provide a sentencing review for certain offenders.
  • What supporters say: Lawmakers say this step would end Florida’s involvement in America’s war on drugs, removing one big reason that people end up arrested. Meanwhile, although they won’t talk openly, the industry is salivating over the potential of a big new customer base. Oh, and “supporters” is a large group: In 2019, the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida found that 64% of registered voters strongly or somewhat support legalization.
  • Who’s opposed: There hasn’t been a lot of outspoken opponents to the bills — the legislation just isn’t being moved ahead in the process. There are opponents, though: When it seemed that a voter initiative to legalize marijuana, a group called Floridians Against Recreational Marijuana was formed, saying that recreational pot would lead to an increase in health care costs.
  • Where does the governor stand? Unclear. Governor Ron DeSantis hasn’t weighed in on the legislation, but he has let it be known that he finds the smell of marijuana in public spaces putrid. 

Looking forward, another issue that we are watching and that could have a major impact on the state’s economy: cryptocurrency. Efforts are underway both to deal with some of the technical legal issues that need to be addressed and to start opening the state government to things like bitcoin.