Florida could be next US state to make cannabis legal

Officials in Florida are gearing up to make recreational cannabis legal in the Sunshine State, an expert has told The Leaf Desk.

Despite historic and strong opposition from Republican party members throughout Florida’s government, the prevailing anti-marijuana legalisation mood among the south-east state’s bureaucrats is thawing.

Three years ago, a majority of Florida’s voters swept through a motion that eventually legalised medical marijuana, but Tallahassee lawmakers imposed a ban on smokable forms.

The prohibition was lifted earlier this year. And that, say skilled observers, is a sure sign that the way is open to legalise recreational cannabis – possibly as early as next year.

“I think the mood is changing significantly – even among the old staunchly anti-cannabis Republicans who have kept this idea off the table for so long,” political analyst Cal Prenthurst told The Leaf Desk.

“In fact, if it wasn’t for their stubbornness you could argue that Florida might easily have been the first US state to allow recreational marijuana.

“However, I think it’s more than fair to say that, as more information about cannabis is brought to the attention of those people who have spent a lifetime being told it is a bad thing, it is quickly becoming something acceptable to them.

“And I can tell you now I see this being passed through quickly – mark my words, Florida will be the next state to make recreational cannabis legal.”

Two driving forces are behind the apparent change of heart amid authority figures.

Climate

Firstly, the region’s climate has attracted the attention of some of the cannabis industry’s biggest businesses who want to change both the physical and political landscape of Florida.

At least a dozen big industry figures have said they would be keen to create plantations, factories and jobs in a US region with near-perfect growing conditions.

Many of those industry figures are supporting several campaign movements – including advocacy group ‘Regulate Florida’ which has collected 84,000 signatures. It’s enough to bring about a judicial review under the Florida Supreme Court. After that, it would only take 766,200 signatures from the 27 counties to force a referendum in 2020.

Secondly, and perhaps even cynically in some eyes, the state’s politicians can’t argue with the numbers. Bringing big business and a growing industry with huge potential will pour millions upon millions of dollars into state coffers.

“It’s a win-win, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum,” explains Jacksonville business advisor Sarah Baumann.

“If you’re a politician in the state of Florida and you are absolutely dead set against the legalisation of recreational marijuana then the only thing you need to see are the potential income streams and revenues that will be made from this.

“Many of our local authorities have been forced to cut their budgets which means services right across the board suffer – but that can be changed by opening the doors to this huge, potentially world changing industry.

 “Most politicians become politicians because they want to make a difference – helping to bring about change with complete acceptance of marijuana will make that difference.”

Opposition

Despite the interpretation of a swing in the favour of legalisation, there are still plenty of people who believe opposition remains too strong.

“It’s too soon, in my eyes – there are too many opponents in positions of power who are seriously digging their heels in over this,” says John Lazenby, a political statistician from Miami.

“Unless these reviews and referendums attract unprecedented levels of support then I’m afraid the old guard overseeing the running of this state will not budge an inch.

“I can’t buy-in to the argument that the money will turn their heads either – you look at people like Governor Ron DeSantis who is massively against recreational use and you know the brick wall is higher than you thought.

“DeSantis didn’t even want to entertain the idea of medical cannabis – his hand was forced – so if you think he’s going to roll over and sign off recreational marijuana then you seriously need to think again.”

Cannabis law in Florida:

By law, Florida currently has a zero-tolerance approach to the recreational use of cannabis. Possession of up to 20 grams is classed as a misdemeanour with a potential fine of $1,000 and a year behind bars.

However, enacting the letter of the law has proven difficult with many county police forces suggesting it simply isn’t worth pursuing. This has led to several counties reforming local laws to deliver less severe punishments.

Medical use marijuana was subject to constitutional amendment (Amendment 2) in 2016, swept in with 71% of the public vote.