More legal weed laws coming to Florida?

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Cannabis activists and supportive state lawmakers say they will propose a host of measures during this spring’s legislative session to give Floridians more access to medical marijuana.

“There is going to be legislation to match every single issue under the sun related to medical cannabis and recreational adult-use cannabis this year,” promised Orlando Democratic House Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith on Tuesday. Smith was joined by members of the Florida Chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Smith said that according to statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in 2017 there were close to 44,000 Floridians arrested for misdemeanor cannabis possession.

“We need to change that injustice,” he said.

In 2016, Floridians overwhelmingly approved the use of medical marijuana for citizens who have debilitating illnesses, but the measure has been limited while the Legislature wrangles over how to implement it. One problem is that the state is only allowing medical pot to be consumed with oils, sprays, tinctures and vaping. Fort Lauderdale Democratic Senator Gary Farmer has already introduced a bill that would authorize the use of smokable weed in Florida, and Gov. Ron DeSantis said he supports allowing people to smoke medical marijuana.

The state has a court case fighting smokeable weed. DeSantis says he wants the Legislature to deal with the issue. If lawmakers don’t act, he says he’ll revisit the court case. Cannabis activists want him to also drop two other medical marijuana lawsuits that Florida circuit judges have previously ruled unconstitutional – lawsuits the state continues to fight.

One suit challenges the Legislature’s vote to cap the number of approved Florida medical marijuana dispensaries. The other allows Tampa adult club entrepreneur Joe Redner to grow his own pot for medical purposes. The state is still appealing both cases.

“Notices for those appeals should be withdrawn under the same belief that the smoking appeal should have been withdrawn,” said Gary Stein, the executive director for ClarityPAC, the first political committee in Florida that supports pro-pot candidates.

Stein is also calling for the Legislature to support “tourist reciprocity” legislation, which would allow residents from other states that have medical marijuana cards come to Florida and be allowed to purchase from dispensaries here. He said charging out of state patients a $10 fee to make a one-time purchase could raise lots of money – enough to fund Visit Florida, the state’s tourism and marketing agency.

“People coming to Florida right now are sneaking their medicine in,” he said. “Nobody should have to break the law to bring their medicine in to save a life or to give somebody a (better) quality of life.”

Hawaii passed such a law last year, and some other medical marijuana states allow variations of that proposal.

For patients who qualify, it costs $75 to purchase a medical cannabis ID card for a year. Smith said he wants to reduce that fee, and says he hopes he and other lawmakers focus on affordability and accessibility when dealing with medical pot in 2019.

He also says lawmakers should find other ways to incentivize medical marijuana consumers from resorting to the black market. “We want them to go through the legal system, and there are many obstacles that currently exist for them to do that.”

DeSantis said last week that he doesn’t support legalizing recreational pot. But some Floridians are trying to bring the issue to voters as a proposed Florida Constitutional amendment in 2020.

Smith says that it’s important for the Legislature to again propose a statewide bill that decriminalizes possession of marijuana (he has done so himself over the past two sessions). A variety of Florida local governments have passed ordinances to decriminalize marijuana possession – including Tampa and Orlando – over the past five years.

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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