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Recreational marijuana to be reviewed by Florida Supreme Court after voter petition

Rembert Family Farms grows close to 200 pounds of hemp flower on their five acres of land every year. (Courtesy of Randy Rembert)
Rembert Family Farms grows close to 200 pounds of hemp flower on their five acres of land every year. (Courtesy of Randy Rembert)

Randy Rembert started growing hemp four years ago at his Hawthorne farm. In April 2022, he applied for a medical marijuana cultivation license.

If granted, he’ll join the 5% of Florida licensed hemp farm owners who are Black.

The medical marijuana license will allow the fourth-generation farmer to sell recreational products on his farm.

He may be the first of many to expand his cannabis-based business. An initiative proposed by Smart & Safe Florida surpassed the number of votes needed to request a legal review from Florida’s Supreme Court to put recreational marijuana on the 2024 ballot.

“When our military veterans run out of their weed allowance with the state of Florida with their medical cards, they usually come over to us for the Delta-8 gummies,” Rembert said. “It also helps with the medical side of things as well. Chronic pains and different depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress that you know, while it gets you high, it also still gets you help.”

On June 1, the petition’s tracker reported that the proposed ballot measure had gathered 967,528 verified signatures – over 70,000 more than the 891,589 signatures needed to put it on the ballot in 2024. The Florida Division of Elections reported that once an initiative petition is certified for a ballot position, the total currently reported as valid may exceed the official totals at the time of certification, and the count is not official until it is verified by the Secretary of State.

The amendment would allow licensed Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs) to sell to individuals 21 and older without a medical marijuana identification card. Those without a medical basis to ingest the drug would have to pay additional fees in tax.

Smart & Safe Florida circulated the petition. The group is a political action committee that has worked on the amendment since August 2022. The campaign has received over $38 million from TruLieve, one of the state's leading providers of medical marijuana.

Recreational marijuana legalization has been attempted at Florida’s state level before, for the 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2021 election ballots. In the most recent attempt by voters in 2021, the initiative was tossed out before reaching the Court vote because the language was deemed misleading.

Smart & Safe Florida’s petition is the first to have verified the minimum thresholds of signatures from electors across 14 counties to have the initiative placed on the 2024 ballot.

The deadline for the ballot language to be finalized is November 5, 2024, and if Floridians vote “yes,” the amendment will take effect six months after voter approval.

Officials with some MMTCs said they are excited about the opportunity to expand their product variety by offering marijuana products outside of the medical scope, while others are sticking to what they know. The mere opportunity to sell to recreational customers may signal a step in the right direction for Florida’s economy, said Dr. Mark Hashim, chief medical officer of The Herbal Clinic, MD in Tampa.

“You can make, this rec, a system that's very beneficial to the state,” Hashim said. “If you want to use the taxes in a way to really assist the state, perhaps assist the underprivileged or any student with the ability to go to school.”

Some states that have locally decriminalized marijuana use the sales tax revenue to fund state programs. In Colorado, for example, retail marijuana excise taxes fund the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund.

Yasmine Egozi and self-proclaimed “CannaGoddess” is the founder of Planta RX, a cannabis business in Miami. She said since her business is focusing more on the medical aspects of the plant, it has had to get creative with products that yield a similar ‘high’ effect since she is not able to supply recreational products.

“We've created products such as olive oil, coconut oil and pink patches that you don't really see in the community,” Egozi said. “We've developed a whole line of legal functional mushroom products to be able to follow in that same vein.”

In other states where marijuana is locally decriminalized, recreational marijuana sales have been reported to far outpace medical marijuana sales. Illinois’ commercial retail market opened in January 2020 and has reached almost $4 billion in cumulative cannabis adult-use sales since then. Illinois also boasted the highest marijuana tax revenue -- $435 million in 2022 -- in the country from cannabis sales.

If Florida votes “yes,” no legislative language has yet stated how high taxes may be imposed on cannabis products, and when. States like Nevada with a medical marijuana implementation process similar to Florida’s had excise taxes listed in the language of the amendment.

The issue of Florida being a single-subject state, and as a result, only introducing one topic at a time when amending the state constitution has led to confusion and upset for those who expected a more encompassing version of the bill.

Some advocacy groups are currently extending additional concerns that weren’t addressed in this amendment to reach state legislatures. For example, allowing Florida’s system to incorporate reciprocity with out-of-state patients by accepting medical marijuana identification cards from other states would add it to the list of 38 states and four territories with comprehensive state programs that do so.

Individuals like Moriah Barnhart, co-founder of CannaMoms and of WISE, the Women’s Initiative for a Safe and Equitable Florida, are already working on additional petitions to address these concerns.

Barnhart formally established CannaMoms in 2014 and received federal nonprofit designation in 2016 as the first of its kind, 13 years after Barnhart’s young daughter, Dahlia, was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 2.

WISE’s efforts and those of several other organizations led to the successful passing in 2014 of the Compassionate Use Act, also known as the “low THC bill,” which allowed patients with cancer and epilepsy to use Tetrahydrocannabinol products. In May 2023,   HB 387, whichallows for telehealth medical marijuana card renewal visits, was passed. WISE was instrumental in writing the language for the bill.

WISE is now working on securing signatures for a petition that would allow medical marijuana patients to grow the plant in their homes. With enough votes from electors across 14 counties, the petition may be able to make its way onto the 2025 ballot.

“The current program as it stands, is a closed market,” Barnhart said. “It's expensive, it's inaccessible, highly disabled, and low-income patients really don't have access to the medicine that we fought so hard for.”

With home cultivation, Barnhart said, medical patients and their caregivers are self-assured that their medicine is clean and safe by cultivating in the privacy of their homes. This organic alternative also increases accessibility for patients who have mobility or transportation issues.'

Correction appended: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that NORML, a group that seeks to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, had endorsed the proposed amendment.

Lily is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.