In a joint effort, two state representatives submitted legislation to legalize, regulate, and tax a recreational cannabis market in Florida.
Rep. Michael Grieco, D-Miami Beach, and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, co-sponsored the 58-page proposal, known as HB 1117, which was filed in the Florida House Tuesday, February 26.
“With bipartisan efforts in criminal justice reform reaching new levels this year, it is the right time for Florida to start having a real conversation about legalizing marijuana for adult use,” Grieco said in a statement. “It’s coming one way or another, either by a 2020/2022 ballot measure or from us here in the legislature. Colorado has collected over one billion dollars in taxes from marijuana sales since 2014, so imagine what bigger, sunnier Florida could do.”
What would legalization look like under HB 1117?
If approved, HB 1117 would make it legal for adults 21 and older to possess, use, and transport up to two-and-one-half ounces of cannabis at a time. Adults would also be permitted to cultivate their own cannabis at home for personal use.
Consumption would be restricted to private spaces as public use would remain illegal. Public consumption would be punishable with up to a $100 fine.
“Continuing to criminalize responsible adult use of cannabis just doesn’t make any sense,” Smith said. “No one is dying from cannabis overdoses but they are getting arrested and being given criminal records for no good reason. A majority of Floridians support legalizing adult-use cannabis, so let’s do this already.”
Separately, Grieco filed HB 1119, which aims to establish a method of taxation for cannabis sales so that the state would benefit from such transactions.
While these proposals are not expected to be approved this session, the sponsors expect it to continue the legalization conversation in the Sunshine State.
Medical cannabis was legalized by voters in 2016, and patients are currently fighting for the right to be able to smoke dried cannabis flower, a method of consumption that is currently illegal in the state.
When the medical cannabis amendment in Florida was approved by over 71 percent of voters during the November 2016 ballots, local residents assumed the fight to legalize medical cannabis treatment was over. Instead, they were met with an uphill battle over the implementation of medical cannabis laws in the state.
Under state law, smoking cannabis is considered to be illegal. Registered patients are allowed to vape and consume edibles. Furthermore, low-THC derivatives are permissible for patients diagnosed with cancer, seizure disorders and chronic muscle spasms.
This statewide ban is very controversial, as smoking is the main method of cannabis consumption for local patients. Compared to other options, the effects of smoking is instantaneous and more predictable. A patient suffering from chronic pain due to a severe back injury may choose to smoke cannabis for immediate relief. The delayed effects of non-herbal cannabis are also ineffective for patients suffering from anxiety and PTSD.
In a 2013 study, McGill University professor and physician Mark Ware concluded,
“Cannabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or airway cancers… Efforts to develop cleaner cannabinoid delivery systems can and should continue, but at least for now, (those) who smoke small amounts of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can breathe a little bit easier.”
In an attempt to challenge the ban, Orlando attorney John Morgan filed a lawsuit against the state. The move suggests the language in the ballot amendment that indicates smoking medical cannabis in public locations could be banned means it should be allowed in private places.
Morgan clarified this was the intent of the amendment. Patients were expecting lawmakers to handle the implementation process in the same way other states have enforced consumption laws – to allow cannabis to be smoke and grown privately.
Interestingly, Morgan expects the curveball to ignite even greater changes, to the tune of fully legalizing cannabis on a recreational level. If lawmakers are successful in reducing the current legislation to a very rigid set of guidelines that limits cannabis consumption to less desirable mediums, local supporters will be left with no choice but to rally towards a more comprehensive solution.
“If something is not allowed in public, it is allowed in private,” cited Morgan at a press conference outside the Leon County Courthouse. “It’s as clear to all of you as it is to any first-grader taking first-grade logic.”
Another disappointing aspect of Florida’s medical cannabis regulations is its limitations on growing licenses. At the moment, the law caps the number to 17; and every licensed grower is only allowed to serve a maximum total of 25 medical dispensaries. Additionally, a handful of cities, such as Winter Park, Orlando and Maitland, are already moving to block or limit dispensaries in areas with high demand for cannabis treatment.
In Orlando, medical cannabis dispensaries are capped at seven. Moreover, establishments are not allowed to be located within 1,000 feet of educational institutions and 200 feet of residential spaces. Dispensaries must not be within a mile from each other.
In June after several attempts, the Florida legislature successfully passed a medicinal cannabis bill that Florida Governor Rick Scott signed, SB 8-A, which expands the state’s medical cannabis treatment program.
Governor Scott said,
“The constitutional amendment was passed overwhelmingly, and I’m glad the House and Senate were able to come together for a bill that makes sense for our state.”
It is important for medical cannabis patients in Florida to fully understand the changes in Amendment 2 and be able to review who is eligible for cannabis treatments and how to access them. (Read the new bill, SB 8-A, here, which identifies the changes in the new legislation.)
What Amendment 2 allows
Amendment 2 expands the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in three ways and creates new research opportunities:
- It allows for the establishment of ten additional medical cannabis growers by October 3rd, beyond the seven that had been permitted;
- The list of qualifying diseases and conditions has been expanded;
- While the initial allowable number of dispensaries per grower is limited to 25, that number will expand as the registry list of patients grows; and,
- Further, the bill encumbers millions of dollars for new research funding in the area of cannabis for medicinal purposes. The new research funds will be awarded to the Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center.
The new bill also eliminates a “waiting period” by striking the former requirement that a patient be seen by a certified doctor for 90 days prior to the doctor’s issuing a certificate for treatment.
Prohibitions in Amendment 2
Amendment is not all about expansion, however. It removes any legal permission to smoke cannabis as a medicinal treatment—a controversial stipulation that likely will be challenged in the courts. A key proviso is that municipalities may opt to ban dispensaries within their town limits.
Who is eligible for medical cannabis treatment in Florida?
Qualified patients with most debilitating diseases may opt to receive cannabis treatments. The decision as to which patient qualifies under the state law is made by a certified doctor who has undergone a two-hour course and related test. The exception is a medical doctor who has determined that a patient has a terminal condition.
Here is how the new law defines a qualified patient:
“Qualified patient’ means a resident of this state who has been added to the medical marijuana use registry by a qualified physician to receive marijuana or a marijuana delivery device for a medical use and who has a qualified patient identification card.”
The process is that certified doctors initially determine that no other doctor is working with the patient on accessing medical marijuana treatments. The doctor then adds that patient to the state’s medical cannabis registry. Qualified patients then receive a state-issued ID from the registry which allows the patient to access treatment.
The text of the new law offers a list online of qualifying diseases—from the expected ones such as cancer, AIDS, or any terminal condition to perhaps more surprising covered conditions such as PTSD, being HIV-positive, epilepsy, and glaucoma.
Following are the qualifying conditions as listed in SB 8-A:
- Positive status for human immunodeficiency virus
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated
- A terminal condition diagnosed by a physician other than the qualified physician issuing the physician certification
- Chronic nonmalignant pain
Once a patient has a state-issued registry card, how do they legally access treatments? Oil infusions, vaping, pills, and edibles (which are defined in the law as “commercially produced food items made with marijuana oil, but no other form of marijuana, that are produced and dispensed by a medical marijuana treatment center”) remain permissible under the newly expanded Florida law. Only patients using low-THC cannabis may use their treatments in public with the exception of school grounds.
In recent years, medical marijuana has made a spectacularly controversial entrance into our daily narrative. U.S. states are challenging a plethora of outdated laws concerning the substance’s medicinal use, and the results have sparked a national debate on the legalization of recreational cannabis use, sale, and regulation. There are some states, however, that still treat marijuana like cocaine, heroin, and other drugs, despite research dispelling common misconceptions about the use of cannabis and its application to modern medicine. Here are 5 of the worst states to be caught using or possessing marijuana:
Getting caught with any amount of marijuana in Arizona will result in a felony charge, an almost impossibly hardened sentence in the opinions of many on both sides of the law. Though Arizona legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2010, recreational use is widely admonished and carries life-changing ramifications. Under the state’s laws, possession of less than two pounds will result in a Class 6 felony charge, over $100,000 in fines, and at least six months in jail; regardless of how little one possesses, this is the lowest sentence, and possession with intent to sell or cultivation both spell life behind bars. Even with medical marijuana legalized, medical users are still fighting for their right to have access to (and use) this treatment, and places like universities are being threatened with loss of federal funding if marijuana is permitted on-campus.
Another medically legal state (with updates to the law being added as recently as 2016), Florida has stiff penalties for recreational users. Any amount under 20 grams will garner up to a year in jail, a fine, and is tagged as a first-degree misdemeanor; those with more than 20 grams face up to five years. Charges in this state may not be as serious as they are in others, but the laws surrounding cannabis are more specialized and include harsher penalties for synthetic marijuana, as well as “marijuana addiction treatment” for those incarcerated. Consequently, an individual convicted in this state may have their driver’s license revoked, even if the offense occurred without a vehicle present or involved. Florida state laws on marijuana use are constantly changing, and lawmakers are often pushing for harsher sentences.
With possession of just 2 ounces being identified as a Class 1 misdemeanor under South Dakota law, “no person may knowingly possess marijuana” in any amount, and for no reason (medicinal or otherwise). Of the 13 states that have decriminalized recreational use of marijuana and the 46 with medical marijuana laws in place, South Dakota is one of the few left in total defiance. Even users from other states will be charged in the same way as anyone in possession of marijuana in this state, receiving penalties like a 90-day suspension of a person’s license if the substance is found in their vehicle. One report from Pierre, North Dakota reveals a cannabis user being forcibly catheterized after refusing to provide a urine sample to police, and recounts the experience as “degrading” and a violation of his rights.
Another recent addition to the list of states that allow medical cannabis use, Wisconsin’s laws for possession are relatively harsh; just a small amount is considered a Class 1 felony and will result in jail time and a hefty fine. Though many cities in Wisconsin are battling against state law (and 9 of the 10 major cities in the state have decriminalized possession of small amounts), some municipalities adhere strictly to state-appointed guidelines, which levy substantial charges against users. Medical marijuana users in the state are under no distinct advantage, as the statute renders extremely specific. Even the state’s Native American tribes are taking a stand against these strict laws, with the Menominee tribe voting to legalize both types of use on their reservations in 2015.
This state has staunchly resisted the uprising of medical marijuana for years, and outlaws all uses and forms of cannabis to anyone, even those legal in other states. An individual convicted of possessing less than 30 grams will serve jail time and be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, while anything over 30 grams will be tagged as a Class D felony, leaving Indiana with the award for the harshest laws against cannabis users. Those seeking respite in legal states will be prosecuted as well, since Indiana law states that a person caught with trace amounts of marijuana in their systems while driving will be subject to the same laws that apply to possession, even if no actual marijuana is present. In addition to these worrying statutes, research shows that African-Americans are three times as likely to be targeted and arrested for cannabis use.
The state of Florida recently legalized medical marijuana, and municipalities have begun to craft local ordinances. As the largest city in Florida, Miami has been somewhat slow in adopting its own zoning rules. During a recent meeting of Miami’s Planning Zoning and Appeals Board, board member Adam Gersten was curious how the zoning regulations were progressing. Deputy city attorney Barnaby Min replied, “I’m happy to make it very easy. It’s not allowed.”
What followed was a somewhat off-the-cuff rant that insulted the citizens of Miami and the will of the voters in Florida.
“If the city of Miami for some infinite, god-forbidden reason thought having sex with a child was a great way to recover from some issue, and so we wrote it into our city code, just because the city says it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s legal,” Min said. “So just because for marijuana, we say marijuana is legal and the state says it’s legal, until the federal government says it’s legal, it is not legal.”
The deputy city attorney’s comments, while slightly bewildering, address an issue that affects local and state lawmakers around the country. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, but local governments are being forced to decide between the demands of their constituents and the possibility of federal repercussions when crafting marijuana laws. With one in five Americans living in a state with legalized marijuana, the decisions seem to be favoring the constituents.
“I just find it somewhat crazy that we can’t have a discussion about something that isn’t an ‘if’ but a ‘when,’”
Social media commenters had plenty to say regarding Min’s comments.
The threat of federal interference in a state matter is still present and growing. After the 2016 election, the Trump Administration has let far right conservative drug policy take over. The appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general has cannabis activists worried, despite Trump’s promise to leave marijuana reform to a state issue. Arguably, the Obama Administration did the same thing through methods such as the Cole memo, which restricted the federal government from spending funds on marijuana enforcement.
But the appointment of Jeff Sessions to the position of Attorney General signaled an escalation in enforcement, directed by an individual who has compared marijuana to heroin. Earlier this month, the Trump Administration announced through the Justice Department that it would be urging federal prosecutors to seek the harshest possible penalties for drug crime, no matter how minor. If enough prosecutors followed the recommendation, it would be a regression back to “tough on crime” policies that disproportionately affect minorities and creates overcrowding in prisons that feeds the private prison industry.
Despite these looming concerns, as well as Min’s judgment, Florida officials are already moving forward. The provisions in Amendment 2 allow policies created by the Department of Health to take over, should local cities and counties not establish their own marijuana ordinances or announce any sort of moratorium by July. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell commented that he is “happy to sponsor legislation” and regulations are already being discussed that pertain to dispensaries.
(Photo: Barnaby Min, Miami Herald)