Marijuana has been in the decriminalization process since 1973 with many states over the years passing laws to either authorize the use of marijuana or prohibit it. It is time to stop treating marijuana like a deadly drug, when science and public opinion agree that it is relatively safe for adult recreational and medical use. With recreational and medical marijuana on the verge of nationwide legalization, marijuana growers and dispensaries and grow facilities popping up everywhere.
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Brevard-Seminole County State Attorney Phil Archer sent out a memo in July warning law enforcement agencies that charging people with simple possession of marijuana has become a lot harder.
The legalization this year of hemp-derived products such as CBD has made distinguishing between hemp and marijuana a difficult and expensive task. Hemp may contain up to .3% of THC, the same substance found in marijuana, and both can look and smell the same. Roadside tests can confirm the presence of THC but not quantity.
“Distinguishing between hemp and cannabis by mere sight or smell is virtually impossible,” Archer wrote in the memo.
His office now requires a laboratory test to confirm the existence of cannabis before filing simple possession charges. It also requires law enforcement to pay for expert witnesses.
Enforcing simple marijuana possession laws has become expensive and probably not worth law enforcement’s efforts. Meanwhile, Floridians are becoming more open to pot, as evidenced in the decriminalization of small amounts of it in places like Cocoa Beach and Palm Bay.
Florida will soon have to reckon with the fact that continuing to prohibit recreational marijuana is not only at odds with cultural changes but might be a moot point.
The question isn’t if Florida will legalize pot, but when. That might happen sooner than you expect — in the 2020 elections.
Supporters are working against time to gather 766,200 signatures by a February deadline to make next year’s ballot. It took two tries to pass medical marijuana in Florida; the first one failed to receive enough votes in 2014 but passed with 71% of votes two years later.
If not in 2020, we might have to wait until 2022.
California-based MadMen, a top player in the cannabis industry, is behind a political committee created to bankroll the proposed amendment called “Make it Legal.” Its chairman told the Naples Daily News it has what it takes to raise the millions needed to collect the required signatures. Orlando attorney John Morgan, the self-described #PotDaddy who was behind the medical marijuana amendment, also backs the proposal. A different recreational marijuana amendment has received enough signatures to trigger a Supreme Court review but it doesn’t have the same financial backing.
Taylor Biehl, co-founder of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, told me a campaign to get recreational marijuana on the 2020 ballot would cost upwards of $10 million, but for the companies that would benefit, that’s a drop in the bucket. The amendment would allow medical marijuana firms that operate in the state to sell other marijuana products and accessories. So they have vested interest in legalizing pot.
Supporters have money, but would they have 60% of the votes required to pass a constitutional amendment?
It’s very likely. A poll released last month by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates showed 67% of likely Florida voters favored legalizing marijuana for adults ages 21 or older. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed support at 65%.
Even if voters approve the amendment, there’s still the question of what legalization would look like.
Would we have cannabis lounges that users frequent for the purpose of smoking, vaping or eating pot products, much like a bar? Or would we end up like Seattle, where you can buy cannabis but regulations make it difficult to use it legally?
It would be up to Florida lawmakers to decide how far they want to go. Given the majority of them are conservatives, it’s safe to assume they will try to make it as hard as possible to use it.
Florida’s medical marijuana regulations are already very stringent. The First District Court of Appeals in July found them to be unconstitutional, saying the state’s “vertical integration” system is at odds with the constitutional amendment and benefits only big businesses. That system requires firms to control all aspects of operations from cultivation, to manufacturing, transportation to distribution. That means only companies capable of investing tens of millions of dollars can operate.
The case is now headed to the Florida Supreme Court and its outcome could affect how the Legislature regulates recreational marijuana if voters approve it, Biehl said.
“Should recreational marijuana pass in 2020, do I envision a day when you would walk into a dispensary owned by a husband and wife?” Biehl said. “I do. It’s just a matter of time.”
Whether it happens in 2020, 2022 or later, legal recreational marijuana is coming. It’s now a matter of how we will do it.