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Some Florida Lawmakers Holding Out Hope For Recreational Marijuana This Session

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A group of Florida leaders and lawmakers is hoping there’s still time this session to move legislation forward that would expand marijuana use beyond the state’s current medical-only program. They’re also hoping to stop legislation some worry could shrink the current program.

One measure would open the door for adult recreational use while the other would cap the potency of medical marijuana.

After a difficult last few years, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says a move to allow adult recreational marijuana use could be good news for struggling farmers.

“So many of my farmers are itching to get involved in this. We have had some traumatic blows to the agriculture industry, first from international trade agreements that have really hurt our famers, to weather conditions, to citrus greening. And giving our famers an alternative crop that can be profitable not only is great for our economy, but is keeps a lot of this land that is really better for conservation here in agriculture and not in development,” Fried says.

Fried says the move would also create a new revenue source that could help fill some holes in the state budget. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando) are sponsoring the measure in their chambers. Brandes says he and Smith have worked to balance the concerns of advocates as well as opponents.

“We’ve looked around the country. We’ve tried to take the best practices of those others states. We’ve worked with some of the national groups that work on marijuana policy or other states and tired to come up with a piece of legislation that is reasonable and rational and tried to think through some of the challenges that going into this green field of policy creates,” Brandes says.

But the half-way point of session has passed and so far, neither the House nor the Senate version of the bill has been heard in its first committee stop. Smith says he doesn’t think its too late and is calling on advocates to push their lawmakers to hear the bills. At the same time, he says he’s glad to see another measure related to medical marijuana stalling.

It would put limits on the THC potency allowed in marijuana intended for medical use. THC is a chemical in the cannabis plant that gives people feelings of euphoria. Supporters of the measure says caps are needed to ensure bad actors aren’t taking advantage of the state’s medical marijuana system. But Brandes says he doesn't agree.

“It’s really a solution in search of a problem. To my knowledge there isn’t a major problem that exists today," Brandes says. "I don’t know why this bill keeps getting filed other than I’m sure there are some groups that will take any win they can take to continue to hammer the access for individuals in Florida to medical products like cannabis, but when you look at the polling, I think this is a dog of an issue and nobody wants to own it and I think that’s what’s stalling it and that’s what I hope continuing forward.”

Meanwhile, Brandes is already looking forwarded to future changes he says are needed to better clarify the state’s rules surrounding marijuana use. Late last month a South Florida teacher lost her job after she tested positive for marijuana. She was using medical cannabis as recommended by her doctor. Brandes says people following the advice of their doctor is not something they should be punished for.

“At least for state workers, and teachers and people of that nature, we shouldn’t penalize them for using a product that their physician says is medically necessary," Brandes says. "I don’t know any other product we do that. If some teacher is on opioids, we don’t say ‘I’m sorry. You’re on opioids you can’t teach here.’ But we know that cannabis is much less harmful than opioids. So we’re going to ask them to leave just because of that? It doesn’t make any sense so we need to fix that.”

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