Lawmakers file legislation to legalize marijuana in Florida; here's how it would work

Joint bills would legalize pot use to adults over 21, tax cannabis sales

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Miami Rep. Michael Grieco and Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith introduced two bills in tandem to the Florida House this week that aim to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales in the state.

If both are approved, Florida could become the 11th state to legalize pot use outside of medical purposes.

Guillermo Smith and Greico filed House Bill 1117 -- Adult Use Marijuana Legalization --which focuses on legalizing cannabis use to people over 21 years old, regulating the new industry and details how the state would deter use by minors.

Greico's House Bill 1119 -- Taxes and Fees -- tackles how Florida would tax marijuana sales and what fees would be associated with pot-related businesses if the legislature approves use of marijuana by adults. Gov. Ron DeSantis would have to sign the final bill into law.

Here's a rundown of what legal cannabis in Florida would look like under the proposed bills:

Under the bill, marijuana use and possession of up to 2.5 ounces to anyone 21 years or older would be legal. Citizen could also legally grow up to six marijuana plants, according to the legislation.

The Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco would regulate legal marijuana sales in the state.

Minors found with marijuana could face noncriminal violations for a first of at least $200. Fine would increase for repeat offenses.

However, people wouldn't be allowed to light up in public.

According to the bill, someone who smokes pot in a public place faces a civil penalty of $100.

Licensed businesses could produce and sell marijuana products legally. According to the Taxes and Fees bill, applicants for a marijuana establishment license will pay an application fee up to $5,000.

Under the bill, Florida would collect sales tax on the revenue from marijuana sales. The revenue collected would be divided between multiple Florida agencies to pay for  tobacco use prevention programs and marijuana research.

Ten percent of the revenue would go toward the Department of Education to provide teacher training to reduce and prevent the use of tobacco products by children. Five percent of the revenues would be given to the Department of Health to provide grant for research on marijuana benefits and safety.

If marijuana is legalized the state would begin processing marijuana business license in August 2020 but don't expect marijuana businesses to pop up like a Starbucks on every street.

Under the proposed bill, the state will only approve one pot retailer per 5,000 people in an area. Two retail stores may operate in areas of more than 5,000 people but less than 20,000. For example the 32804 ZIP code of Orlando had an estimated population of more than 17,000 in 2016 so the state could theoretically approve up to two establishment that sell recreational marijuana within that ZIP code.

Those businesses may not operate just anywhere, according to HB 1117.

Marijuana stores may not be within 500 feet of any schools, public or private, and cannot sell marijuana between 1 and 6 a.m., according to the bill.

The two bills would go into affect on the same day.

What about medical marijuana?

Florida lawmakers still have unfinished business implementing the Florida constitutional amendment to legalize medial marijuana approved by voters two years ago.

Despite receiving more than 70 percent of the vote in 2016 with medical marijuana cards are still unable to smoke the marijuana flower. 

Lawmakers banned smokable forms of the plant in a bill signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2017. The state was sued over the issue and a judge declared the ban unconstitutional. Scott, now a Republican U.S. senator, appealed the ruling. DeSantis said last month that the current law doesn't represent the will of the voters and said he'd drop the appeal if lawmakers didn't repeal it as one of their first actions when their annual session begins next month.

Facing a mid-March deadline issued by DeSantis, lawmakers have drafted legislation that would allow patients to smoke for medicinal purposes.

The current Florida House bill is available here, and the current state Senate bill is available here. 

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