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    On February 26, 2019, State Representative  Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) introduced proposed legislation in the form of House Bill 1117 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.  HB 1117 was joined by companion Senate Bill 1780.  However, because HB 1117 has failed to garner a committee hearing, much less a formal vote by legislators in either chamber, the legislative push for legalizing recreational marijuana in Florida is over for 2019.

    HB 1117 would have allowed for the lawful possession in limited amounts and use of full strength marijuana by adults age 21 and older. The legislation  also would have provided for licensing establishments to manufacture and sell recreational marijuana, while setting limits on the number of such stores and authorizing cities to ban recreational marijuana dispensaries  if they chose to do.

    While no bill is completely dead before the end of the legislative session, the obstacles facing HB 1117 are substantial.  A bill in the Florida Legislature cannot move forward to become law without a committee hearing.  Moreover, according to the rules of the Florida House of Representatives, the substance of a proposed bill that lacks a hearing cannot be amended onto another bill which has received a hearing without committee action approving such an amendment.  HB 1117’s failure to receive a committee hearing likely means there will be no legislation passed on recreational marijuana in 2019.

    Absent legislation, the alternative path for legalizing recreational marijuana in Florida is a ballot referendum to amend the state constitution.  Prospects for a successful referendum campaign are difficult to predict.  In 2016, Amendment 2 (which expanded the scope of legalized medical marijuana in Florida) passed 71.3% to 28.7.  However, polling indicates that many voters in favor of Amendment 2 emphasized the medical nature of the proposed law.  Given the size and diversity of Florida and its voting population, it is far from clear that 70% of the electorate will choose to expand legalization beyond medical use.

    Initiating a public referendum on the issue for the 202 election cycle would require 766,200 valid signatures from at least 14 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts to get on the ballot.  Under current law, 60% of voters during the election would need to approve the proposed amendment.

    However, a proposal currently making its way through the Florida Legislature would change that threshold.  If House Joint Resolution 57 becomes law, all constitutional amendments would need to pass by a 66.66% vote.  The legislation, proposed by Rep. Bill Roth (R-Palm Beach Gardens), has a matching bill in the Senate (SJR 232) and would require more support for a state constitutional amendment to pass.  A poll of 870 Florida voters conducted in February of 2019 by the University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Lab found that 62% of voters support legalizing recreational marijuana in the state. Along political lines, 65% of Democrats and 51% of Republicans support legalization efforts.

    Despite the apparent failure of this year’s legislative initiative, the push for legalizing recreational marijuana use is far from over.   Many advocacy groups have vowed to pursue a 2020 ballot initiative because they feel it is what Floridians want.  While that point is debatable, another relevant factor is not so readily dismissed: money.

    As of April 5, 2019, there are 263,172 medical marijuana patients in Florida.  Certified Florida physicians have ordered more than 63 million mgs of medical marijuana, as well as almost three million mgs of Low-THC cannabis.  Based on the amount of legalized cannabis products ordered by certified physicians during the first nine months of 2018, medical marijuana has grown into a nearly $6 billion industry in Florida.  Because Florida currently does not tax medical marijuana, the potential for expanded industry growth, job creation, and substantial tax revenue generation is significant if recreational marijuana ultimately is legalized.

    The debate over legalization of recreational marijuana in Florida is sure to continue in the ensuing months.  For more information regarding the current law and the various initiatives that could change it, contact GrayRobinson’s Cannabis Industry Law Group.   

    Richard Blau
    GrayRobinson, P.A.
    401 East Jackson Street
    Suite 2700
    Tampa, Florida 33602
    P: 813-273-500
    F: 813-273-5128


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