50 States

50 States: Florida

By Jon Young

50 States: Florida

Medical: Yes
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: In some counties and cities

August 29, 2018: Early this year, Andrew Gillum tweeted, "Legalize it. Tax it. Use the revenue to fix Florida's public schools and move us up from 29th in the nation to #1." Well, the Tallahassee Mayor might get the chance to do just that after winning the Democratic primary for the state's governorship. Tuesday's surprise win pits Gillum against Republican nominee Ron DeSantis, who's against cannabis legalization but not against making "monkey" comments in reference to his African-American opponent. So legalization isn't the only reason midterm voters should tell DeSantis to fuck off at the ballot box. The Florida primary also saw Nikki Fried—whose cannabis-industry donations prompted Wells Fargo (of fraudulent accounts fame) to cancel her campaign account—won the Democratic nomination for agriculture commissioner. 

What's Past Is Prologue

In November 2016, voters passed the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or Amendment 2, with 71 percent of the vote. Among the nine cannabis measures on different state ballots that day, Florida's received the highest percentage of the vote. The vote legalized medical use to treat cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disorders. 

A similar initiative with a similar name (also Amendment 2) failed to pass in 2014 by a narrow two-and-a-half-point margin, falling just short of the 60-percent threshold necessary in Florida. Despite the 2014 loss, the state did pass a CBD-specific law that allows Floridians with cancer, muscle spasms and/or seizures to use cannabis products that contain at least 10 percent cannabidiol (CBD) and no more than eight-tenths of one percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabidiol, unlike THC, is not psychoactive and has medicinal qualities that make it ideal for certain ailments.

Beyond decriminalization and MMJ legalization, the battle to legalize recreational cannabis is being championed by attorney Michael Minardi and his anti-prohibition group, Sensible Florida, and an associated group called Regulate Florida. Unfortunately, they failed to get their measure, the Florida Cannabis Act, on the 2016 ballot. Though 51 percent of Floridians are in favor of legal recreational cannabis, it was an uphill battle that more likely paved the way for future legalization efforts.

“Realistically, it gives adults the choice to use cannabis for whatever and whenever they want,” Minardi told New Times. “It doesn’t allow for driving while on cannabis; it limits the age to 21—much like the way alcohol is sold and regulated. It creates a licenses-regulated system of distribution to make sure we have the safety of the products and safety for consumers as a priority, much like they do in Colorado. Whenever any kind of product is regulated, it makes sure people are getting a safe product.”

Sensible Florida is currently collecting signatures to put the Florida Cannabis Act on the 2018 ballot. The other proposed legalization initiative still targeting the midterms is the Florida Recreational Marijuana Amendment. The number of signatures required to make the ballot must equal at least eight percent of the total number of people who voted in the 2016 presidential election, and these signatures must be submitted by February 1, 2018. 

One of the biggest advocates for the cause comes from an unlikely source—a retired U.S. Customs special agent that spent 27 years busting people who smuggled narcotics into the country through New York City and Florida. This individual, Ray Strack, has become a spokesperson for Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP).

“Rank-and-file law enforcement officers want these laws to change,” Strack said. “I guarantee you that. Law enforcement agencies and governmental organizations profit on the war on drugs, and the Florida Sheriff’s Association is largely made up of good ol’ boys with a large bureaucratic entity that profits off making sure marijuana remains illegal. But I think the majority of current cops protecting the streets of our state want the laws to change. But they’re doing what they’re told. They’re doing their jobs.”

In several cities and counties in Florida, this message has been well received. Law enforcement in these places now fine people for cannabis possession rather than arresting them, effectively decriminalizing limited possession of cannabis.

After the new Amendment 2 measure passed in 2016, Stark said, "Patients in Florida have waited far too long for safe access. I’m so excited for them. They no longer have to risk arrest or consider relocating to another state just to get the medicine they need."

With the increasing multi-level efforts to legalize medical as well as recreational cannabis in Florida, the tide seems to be turning in the conservative-leaning state.

Photo credit: Unsplash.

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