Bills to legalize recreational pot filed in Florida House

Despite growing public support, bills unlikely to pass Legislature

By Mike Vasilinda - Tallahassee Bureau Chief

Florida would become the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana if a newly filed bills for the upcoming legislative session becomes law. 

House Bill 1117, sponsored by state Rep. Michael Grieco, D-Miami Beach-North Bay Village, would allow adults over 21 to have 2.5 ounces of marijuana, tax it at $50 an ounce and allow individuals to grow up to six plants. 

A second bill, House Bill 1119, filed by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, would tax recreational marijuana and designate part of the revenue to fund peer-reviewed research on marijuana's beneficial uses and safety.

Both bills face an uphill battle passing the Republican-controlled Legislature. Lawmakers are already grappling with allowing smokable medical marijuana, which House Speaker Jose Oliva called a back-door attempt at legalization.

“The discussion that is being had now by some people, basically, 'We want recreational marijuana,'” Oliva said. "'We want to call it medicine because if we call it medicine, then we have some cover.'”

The resistance has not stalled efforts for full legalization.

A Gallup poll late last year found that a majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents nationwide all favor legalization. That’s the first time Gallup found pro-legalization support topping 50 percent among all groups.

Bungled attempts at medical marijuana in other states have lead to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Senate President Bill Galvano said it’s possible that’s the direction Florida is headed in as well.

"I think there are many of us who believe that what we are going through now in the amendments and the implementation are just steps towards that ultimate goal,” Galvano said.

One obstacle is Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“My thing is that I don’t think it’s good for teenagers and young people to be doing,” DeSantis said.

Advocates say it is only a matter of time until marijuana is legalized for adults.

“If we really want to keep it out of the hands of children, we certainly don’t do that when the only access anyone has is through the black market,” said Jodi James with the Florida Cannabis Action Network.

During the gubernatorial campaign, Democrat Andrew Gillum argued legal marijuana could raise $1 billion a year for schools. 

Of the 10 states which have legalized marijuana, only Vermont did so through its state legislature. The other nine were all by referendum. 

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