TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Facing the possibility that Floridians could be asked next year to legalize recreational marijuana, a House panel on Tuesday turned to Oregon to learn more about the economic, environmental and health impacts the state has faced since authorizing adult pot use four years ago.
Chris Gibson, the executive director of the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, told the House Health & Human Services Committee that Oregon has seen millions of dollars in tax revenue and a spike in illicit drug use, and is currently dealing with an overproduction of marijuana.
"The recreational market in Oregon has roughly six-and-a-half years right now worth of supply to meet the demand within the state," Gibson told the panel.
Gibson went on to discuss how the recreational market has at times seeped into the black market and been linked to illicit marijuana sales in other states, including Florida.
"Certain legalized entities have taken part in exporting what otherwise may have been illegal marijuana out of the state," he said.
Gibson declined to opine on whether marijuana is a "gateway" to illicit drugs, but said reported drug use in Oregon has increased across the board over the last five years.
"Whether or not those things are tied together or not, I am not sure," he added.
Oregon legalized the use and possession of marijuana in 2015 through a state ballot measure approved by 56 percent of voters.
Since 2016, the state has collected more than $275 million in marijuana tax receipts, according to data from the Oregon Department of Revenue. The majority of those sales came from recreational consumers, Gibson said.
In Florida, an overwhelming majority of voters signed off on medical pot in 2016, and proponents of two separate proposed constitutional amendments that would legalize recreational marijuana are trying to get the measures onto the 2020 ballot.
Several of the state's medical marijuana operators are backing what is dubbed the "Make It Legal Florida" initiative, which would allow adults over 21 to have up to 2.5 ounces of pot for personal use.
A separate ballot initiative, sponsored by the political committee Sensible Florida, Inc., would require the state to regulate marijuana in the same manner as alcohol. The committee has gathered enough signatures for Florida Supreme Court review of the proposed ballot wording.
House Health & Human Services Chairman Ray Rodrigues said he wants members of his committee to receive as much information as possible, in light of the two looming ballot proposals.
"If this goes on the ballot, either one of them or both of them, all of us are going to be asked by our constituents what our position is on either one or both of those measures. My goal is for the HHS Committee to be fully informed," Rodrigues, R-Estero, told reporters after Tuesday's committee meeting.
Gibson was the second speaker about the potential perils of adult use marijuana to appear before Rodrigues' committee in less than a month.
Rodrigues said he was intrigued by the environmental impact portion of Gibson's presentation on Tuesday. To produce a kilogram of marijuana, Gibson said, plants use as much energy as two running refrigerators and release as much carbon dioxide as a passenger car in a year.
"Of all the cases that are made to either legalize or not to legalize on the subject of marijuana, I have never heard anyone make a case environmentally one way or the other," Rodrigues said.
"But clearly," he added, "we have learned there is one."