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How Soon Is Soon?

Legal weed future is still in the air

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We get lots of questions about this column. The most common question is probably, “Do they actually pay you to write about that stuff?” (Yes.) Running a very close second, however, is, “When are they going to legalize cannabis for recreational use?” That’s a rather complicated question, one to which not even experts like me really know the answer, pretensions of clairvoyance be damned.

My standard response, which still seems the most likely scenario right now, is that our state’s pro-pot activists, led as always by attorney John Morgan, will soon begin the long, laborious process of gathering signatures with the hope of bringing the question directly to Florida voters on the November 2020 ballot. With a “yuge” turnout expected for a superelection that will see Don Trump defending his spot against upwards of two dozen Democratic challengers, the numbers will be on their side, as they were back in 2016. We have yet to see any state reject such a proposal in the modern era, so there’s no reason to expect Floridians to be the first, and with Republicans fighting for political survival against an opposition that has all the momentum on their side, there probably won’t be much opposition.

Even the most avid conservatives, for the most part, have ceased to view marijuana prohibition as a priority worthy of investing too much time or money, so it seems a fait accompli at this point. Barring heavy shenanigans beyond the stuff that briefly stalled out the push for medical marijuana in 2014, legalization advocates should cruise to victory in 20 months, and Florida will become the 11th state to fully legalize weed in January 2021. Less patient readers, however, will be pleased to know there’s a slight chance of it happening much sooner than that, perhaps as soon as this summer.

Two Florida Democrats, Michael Grieco and Carlos Guillermo Smith, recently introduced HB 1117, which, if passed, would amount to an end run around the ballot box, sanctioning full use of the full flower in any conceivable form. (Grieco also filed HB 1119, which set up a scheme to license its sale and to tax the revenues thereof, which everyone seems to be OK with.) Republican recalcitrance makes it unlikely to ever escape legislative purgatory, but if they were to somehow pass, the odds of Governor Ron DeSantis signing it are probably a little better than one might think. He’s already made clear his willingness to allow Floridians to smoke the pots, and bills to that effect are already in motion in both chambers, led by State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (HB 7015) and State Sen. Jeff Brandes (SB 182).

Similar legislation has already been introduced in Hawaii, New Hampshire and New Mexico. But as quickly as those bills are moving forward, the federal government may be joining the race as well, with newly minted presidential aspirant Cory Booker (D-NJ) rebooting his Marijuana Justice Act for a new congress that may be slightly more likely to give it a proper hearing.

Incidentally, HB 1117 would also re-name the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco to the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages, Marijuana & Tobacco, and that’s certainly a T-shirt everyone will want.

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