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Legal Recreational Pot Could Come to Florida, Just Like Vermont
Photo by Adam Hendel

Legal Recreational Pot Could Come to Florida, Just Like Vermont

“Marijuana legalization is coming,” State Sen. Randolph Bracy says as he talks up his bill that would place the legalization of recreational marijuana in voters' hands in the November 2020 general election. “There are going to be a couple of bills proposed this year to regulate it,” says the Orange County Democrat. “But I think the first step is to legalize marijuana for recreational use and then, once we’ve done that, to come back to the table to discuss how to regulate it.”

The measure filed by Bracy reads, in part, that “any person in this state of 21 years of age or older has the right to the possession of, the use of, and the cultivation of cannabis.”

With the new legislative session set to begin March 5, lawmakers are poised to consider expanding Florida’s medical marijuana laws. Gov. Ron DeSantis has already called on the Legislature to change the law that bans smokable medical marijuana. In a press conference back in January, DeSantis announced he would drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that says banning smokable medical marijuana violates a constitutional amendment.

Several bills will be on the table in the coming session. One is SB 182, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Pete Republican, which would allow qualified patients to smoke medical marijuana. The House version, sponsored by Fort Myers Republican State Rep. Ray Rodrigues, was cleared by the appropriations committee in a 28-1 vote this past Thursday and will be ready for the floor when the Legislature reconvenes.

Voters legalized medical marijuana in 2016, but lawmakers, along with former Gov. Rick Scott, made it unlawful to smoke it. DeSantis, saying this doesn’t represent the will of the voters, gave lawmakers until mid-March to end the ban.

With this backdrop, Bracy introduced his measure, which takes a stride toward legalizing recreational marijuana. He admits the measure has slim chance of passing. But Bracy says this is a first significant step toward allowing Florida voters to decide on legalizing recreational pot. According to the latest polls, most Floridians — 62 percent of voters — support the legalization of recreational marijuana, as long as it's regulated like alcohol and sold only to those 21 and older.

“There are still reservations to legalize it,” Bracy tells New Times. “But I see it as the same thing as how medical marijuana was eventually pushed through. Even if it doesn’t get through during this session, I plan to introduce this measure as long as I’m in the Legislature.”

Likewise, State Rep. Michael Grieco, a Miami Beach Democrat, has introduced a House bill that would create a path to full access to cannabis and “a structure for its cultivation, sale, and taxation.”

Grieco tells New Times his measure, which is co-sponsored by Carlos Guillermo Smith, is, at the very least, a “message bill” — one meant to spark interest that will eventually lead to a ballot initiative.

“It’s going to be on the 2020 ballot in some form,” Grieco says. “I believe that Florida should legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age and that it should be taxed, as it is in other states.”

The recreational use of cannabis is currently legal in ten states, while 22 states have decriminalized small amounts of weed in some form. Significantly, in 2018 Vermont legalized marijuana for adult use through the legislative process.

Grieco explains that his initiative would essentially treat and regulate marijuana like alcohol. “We are years behind many states,” he says. “Since 2014, Colorado, for example, has collected over a billion dollars in tax revenue, and Colorado is a lot smaller and a lot colder than Florida. If we can find new significant revenue sources, we should not be turning our backs to it.”

Bracy agrees, saying legalized and regulated recreational marijuana would benefit the state immensely. “I think that this is an industry that can boost our economy,” he says. “If we look at the state tax revenue that we could receive, there’s a lot more that we can do, including things like paying teachers more, investing heavily in our infrastructure, not to mention the medicinal benefits that marijuana can bring those who need it.”

However these resolutions fare in the coming legislative session, both Bracy and Grieco are confident that legalized recreational marijuana in Florida is closer than it has ever been.

“Whether we decide to do something or not, I think legalization is coming,” Bracy says. “I just think this initiative gives my colleagues something to think about going forward.”

“This will create buzz,” Grieco says of his House bill. “It sends out a message to let people know that there are legislators that are serious about this issue and that we support grassroots efforts to get it on the ballot.”

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