If approved in 2020, recreational marijuana could inject a whopping $190 million in sales tax and tourism dollars into Florida each year. That's according to a recent financial analysis of an ongoing ballot initiative, which a state commission reviewed earlier this month.
The analysts say the overall economic effect would be "slightly positive" — more or less a ringing endorsement from a state that was once ground zero for the war on weed.
The commission looked at the possible impact of Regulate Florida, one of three petition drives hoping to legalize recreational marijuana through a ballot initiative next year. Michael Minardi, the Florida attorney managing the Regulate Florida campaign, says the $190 million figure is likely based on the state's standard sales tax of 5 or 6 percent. He says the proceeds would increase many times over if legal marijuana were subject to an increased tax similar to those in states such as Colorado, where the tax is 15 percent.
Sales of recreational marijuana and accompanying increases in tourism would account for about $190 million in tax revenue after the official industry was up and running, the report says. That accounts for an increase of less than 0.1 percent to Florida's budget as a whole.
According to the financial impact statement, it would likely cost $1.5 million to begin regulating the industry and $9.1 million annually to operate it. But the cost to the state would seemingly be offset by fees and the near-elimination of incarceration costs.
"There were 39,000 arrests in Florida last year for possession of marijuana," Minardi says.
One concern outlined in the statement is a potential increase in the number of marijuana-related health problems, including the rise of vaping-related illnesses and deaths. But Minardi says that worry is likely overblown.
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"People are using marijuana to treat illnesses," he says. "And a lot of that concern goes back to the black market."
Regulate Florida seeks to establish 21 as the legal age at which individuals can grow and use cannabis. The state would also adopt regulations for how to issue, renew, suspend, and revoke licenses for those growing cannabis, manufacturing cannabis products, testing those products, and operating retail facilities where the products are sold. Organizers still need to gather at least 766,200 signatures to put Regulate Florida's proposed measure on next year's ballot.
"We're working hard to do so, but at this point, unless we got a couple million in donations, it's going to be tough for 2020," Minardi says. "But we're dedicated to pushing forward no matter what happens in 2020."
So far, the petition has gathered more than 92,000 valid signatures statewide. Regulate Florida is one of two petitions, along with Floridians for Freedom, that would allow Floridians to grow cannabis at home.