DeSantis Has A ‘Big Problem’ With Florida Marijuana Ballot Measure, Citing ‘Smells’ In Other Places That Have Legalized

DeSantis Has A ‘Big Problem’ With Florida Marijuana Ballot Measure, Citing ‘Smells’ In Other Places That Have Legalized

With the Florida Supreme Court weighing whether to allow an adult-use marijuana legalization measure to be on November’s ballot, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on Friday reiterated his stance against the policy change, complaining that letting adults legally consume cannabis could impact businesses and communities—including as the result of odor.

“I’ve gone to some of these cities that have had this everywhere, it smells, there’s all these things,” he told reporters, complaining that the proposal wouldn’t give government officials enough power to control when and where marijuana businesses operate—a claim backers of the initiative deny.

“I don’t want to be able to go walk in front of shops and have this, I don’t want every hotel to really smell,” he added, “I don’t want all these things. But if you’re saying you can’t regulate it or you can’t limit it—which, that’s how I read that—that could be a big, big problem.”

Despite his opposition to the initiative, DeSantis, the former GOP presidential candidate who dropped out of the race in January, has predicted that the state’s highest court will ultimately allow the measure on November’s ballot.

“I think the court is going to approve that,” the governor said at his final campaign event in New Hampshire earlier this year, “so it’ll be on the ballot.”

Watch DeSantis’s comments about marijuana legalization, around 23:20 into the video below:

The court is still considering a legal challenge to the prospective ballot measure from Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R).

At Friday’s press conference, DeSantis called the legalization proposal “the broadest language I think I’ve ever seen.”

“Basically, nobody could ever be regulated or penalized in any way for penalizing or using this,” claimed the governor in comments first reported by Florida Politics.

The campaign behind the ballot measure, Smart and Safe Florida, responded to the governor on social media, saying that its proposal gives state lawmakers “the authority to limit outdoor and public consumption just like the FL  does for smoking tobacco products.”

Moody, the state’s attorney general, has asked the court to invalidate the measure despite activists collecting nearly a million signatures for ballot placement. The state official previously successfully petitioned justices to prevent a 2022 legalization initiative from receiving voter consideration.

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case last November, but it has not issued a ruling yet. It will need to do so by April 1.

DeSantis also weighed in on another relevant cannabis policy issue earlier this year when, while still a presidential candidate, he said that he doesn’t believe the federal gun ban for state-legal marijuana consumers is constitutional. Florida’s former agriculture commission, Nikki Fried, brought a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the rule, though the governor did not get involved.

Prior to dropping out, DeSantis also said that if elected president, he would “respect the decisions that states make” on marijuana legalization despite his personal view that the reform has a “negative impact.”

With respect to the legalization ballot measure, the Florida Chamber of Commerce released a poll in January showing that the reform proposal enjoys majority support from likely voters—but not quite enough to meet the state’s steep 60 percent threshold for passage.

That said, other previous polls have found that voters are well-positioned to pass the legalization initiative with more than enough support. For example, the University of North Florida put out a recent survey that showed 67 percent of voters back the proposal.

The multi-state marijuana company Trulieve has contributed more than $40 million to the Smart and Safe Florida campaign to date. The state attorney general has accused the company of supporting the measure in order to have a “monopolistic stranglehold” on the state’s cannabis market.

If approved, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow existing medical cannabis companies in the state like Trulieve to begin selling marijuana to all adults over 21. It contains a provision that would allow—but not require—lawmakers to take steps toward the approval of additional businesses. Home cultivation by consumers would not be allowed under the proposal as drafted.

Adults 21 and older would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, only five grams of which could be marijuana concentrate products. The three-page measure also omits equity provisions favored by advocates such as expungements or other relief for people with prior cannabis convictions.

Republican lawmakers preemptively filed legislation that would have imposed THC potency limits if the legalization measure is approved by voters, but those proposals stalled.

Legislation to restrict hemp products and ban delta-8 THC in Florida did pass and is on its way to DeSantis’s desk, however.

Meanwhile, Florida officials said late last year that they arrested two paid canvassers charged with allegedly falsifying signatures on petitions to put the marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s 2024 ballot.

Economic analysts from the Florida legislature and DeSantis’s office estimate that the marijuana legalization initiative would generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million in new sales tax revenue annually if voters enact it. And those figures could increase considerably if lawmakers opted to impose an additional excise tax on cannabis transactions that’s similar to the ones in place in other legalized states.

But DeSantis has made clear he would not support the measure regardless of the economic potential. He also recently suggested that the increase in Florida’s medical cannabis patient population is partly due to people using the program as a “pretext” for recreational use.

Last summer, a law enacted by the governor took effect that added restrictions to medical marijuana advertising and manufacturing, prohibiting any products or messages that promote “recreational” cannabis use, while adding more stringent eligibility requirements for workers in the industry.

Additionally, the governor approved a bill in June that expressly prohibits sober living facilities from allowing residents to possess or use medical marijuana, even if the patient is certified by a doctor to legally use cannabis therapeutically in accordance with state law. All other doctor-prescribed pharmaceutical medications may be permitted, however.

He also signed legislation in July banning sales of any consumable hemp products—including cannabis “chewing gum”—to people under 21, an expansion of an existing prohibition on young people being able to purchase smokable hemp.

The organizer of a separate Florida ballot initiative to legalize home cultivation of medical marijuana by patients eventually withdrew the proposal, explaining that the campaign raised barely more than $4,000 and couldn’t cover costs associated with trying to qualify the measure.

In the legislature this session, meanwhile, a Florida Republican senator introduced a bill to allow licensed medical cannabis businesses to take state tax deductions that they are barred from claiming at the federal level under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E. It didn’t advance, however.

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