Marijuana Legalization in Florida

By  //  July 8, 2021

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Despite marijuana illegal status under federal US law, there are 18 states and the District of Columbia, These are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, District of Columbia. 

Three recreational cannabis states joined the list in the past month following ballots at the 2020 election. Also, 36 states allow the use of medical marijuana, which includes Florida.  

As federal law supersedes state law, you can still be arrested and charged with possession, even in states that allow recreational cannabis. 

Decriminalization of cannabis at a federal level has the support of 68% of Americans, according to a 2020Gallup poll. However, despite this support getting the newly reintroduced Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act through the Senate proves difficult. 

What is the Law in Florida?

While recreational use is still illegal in Florida, the use of medical marijuana is allowed. The laws of Each state vary over what health conditions qualify for the treatment with medical marijuana.

For Florida, those conditions are; ALS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, chronic pain, depression and anxiety, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, pain from terminal conditions, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder.

But before treatment can begin, there are requirements to get a diagnosis from a qualifying licensed physician and then apply and register as a medical marijuana patient with a $75 registration fee. Of course, all this can take time and delays the start of treatment. There are also fines and potential prison terms for anyone caught with cannabis without having the correct registration. 

In Florida, the sale or possession of over 20 grams of marijuana is a felony that may carry a sentence of up to 30 years and a $50,000 fine. 

The sale or possession of hash or marijuana concentrates is also a felony in the state. 

The sale or possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor for which those convicted can receive a one-year sentence, a maximum fine of $1,000, and they may also have their driver’s license suspended.

Many Floridians were hoping that the state would be joining the list of cannabis-friendly states in 2022 as the Marijuana Legalization Initiative had gained hundreds of thousands of signatures, 556,049 of the required 891,589 to get it placed on the ballot.  

However, in April, the Florida Supreme Court killed the initiative on a technicality in the wording. The court claimed the language used was “affirmatively misleading,” as it stated adult cannabis use would be lawful in the state without explicitly acknowledging it would still be illegal under federal law.

While state legalization would make use and possession free of criminal or civil liability under Florida law, people could still be open to potential prosecution under federal law.

This is a mere technicality that should be self-evident as one of the basic principles of the constitutional republic is that state law can not override federal law. It is clear that some republicans, especially De Santis, are deliberately holding out against the sway of public opinion in the state for legalized recreational cannabis use. It’s safe to say that while Republicans remain in control of the state, getting this on the ballot will be difficult as it goes against their marijuana prohibition mindset. 

What does this mean for Florida?

Following this ruling of the Florida supreme court, advocates look like having to start all over again. From drafting a new measure and collecting the required 891,589 signatures to get it on the ballot for 2022. 

While this doesn’t rule out the possibility of the proposal getting on the ballot paper for 2022, it does make it a lot less likely. 

Even if the proposal reaches the 2022 ballot paper, it would require 60% of the voters to support it in order to be enacted. With 59% of Florida voters in favor, according to recent polling, there is still work for activists to do. Of course, there is still the chance that cannabis could be made legal on a federal level. 

What would legalization mean for Florida?

Once the draconian cannabis prohibition laws are a thing of the past, Florida can enjoy a share of the recreational cannabis sales with are predicted to top $32 billion by 2024. With a population of over 21 million, a tax windfall could be significant. By comparison, Colorado, with less than 6 million population, collected over $387 million in cannabis taxes and fees last year. 

There will be new training and jobs created in all aspects of the cannabis industry, from cultivation, lab testing, financial and legal services all the way through to sales jobs at headshops and distributors. Both online retail, like headshop Lookah, as well as brick and mortar sales will increase exponentially from the new opportunities. 

There is no clear figure on how many Floridians are in prison for marijuana-related offenses. FBI Data from 2018 showed that around 40% of all state and local drug arrests were for marijuana-related offenses.

The war on drugs has devastated families across the US, and Florida is no different. Any drug legalization would allow many of these people to go free and have criminal records to be expunged.

Allowing a large number of these people to enter back into society, gain meaningful employment, and better their lives would remove a huge burden from the state’s expenses. Money that can be better spent improving the state of health, social inequalities, education, and infrastructure.  

Another important result of legalization is that it will remove barriers from people wanting to use cannabis, whether that’s for medical treatment, research institutes, or recreational use.  

According to The State of Mental Health in America 2018, Florida ranks 44th for access to mental health care. With a large retired population and over 1.5 million veterans, Florida has a lot to gain from making access to mental health and chronic pain treatment more readily available.