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Recreational cannabis bill envisions medical storefront sales

The bill offers an alternative to a ballot initiative with dim prospects.

New legislation would legalize adult-use marijuana, using current medical storefronts to make the sales.

Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ bill (SB 1860) would allow adults, regardless of medical status, to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis flower or marijuana products with up to 2 grams of THC.

“For me this is a liberty issue. We should give adult Floridians the freedom to make their own choices when it comes to cannabis,” Brandes said. “It’s not a matter of if, but when, Floridians will have access to adult use marijuana. This bill allows the Legislature to lead on an issue a super majority of Floridians support.”

Current licensed vertically-integrated medical marijuana stores would sell the product.

The legislation is filed as prospects look dim for a constitutional amendment in 2020.

Like the amendment, the Brandes bill would permit those 21 and older to possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis and accessories. expanding the scope of medical marijuana treatment centers to recreational sales. Public use of the herb would not be permitted.

With just weeks before the deadline to have 766,200 verified signatures, sponsors Make It Legal Florida have just 295,000.

A legal challenge has already been mounted to the petition verification process, though, saying that it’s an onerous burden.

It might not be that onerous. Voters will get to decide on other ballot initiatives including whether to increase the minimum wage, to change primary elections, and assess language in the constitution regarding what a citizen is.

The Make It Legal political committee is chaired by Nick Hansen, a former longtime adviser to Brandes and current Southeastern Director of Government Affairs for MedMen.

In addition to legalizing cannabis for adult use, Brandes’ bill would also allow users to legally carry one or more delivery devices as long as they were purchased from a licensed medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC).

The bill provides language protecting private property owners’ rights to restrict smoking or vaping on their properties, however it would block landlords from preventing tenants from possessing cannabis or using it through means other than vaping or smoking.

Under the bill, adults legally purchasing cannabis could transfer the product to other people of legal age.

Brandes’ measure requires both retail stores and delivery personnel to verify a person’s age by either visually observing they are clearly older than 21 or by checking qualifying identification if their age is uncertain. Qualifying identification includes a Florida or other state ID or driver’s license, a military ID or passport.

The bill would not exempt a consumer from prosecution related to impairment or intoxication resulting from the use of cannabis or exempt a person from submitting to a breath, blood, urine or other test to detect the presence of a controlled substance.

The measure would also require a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services study on the potential harms and benefits of allowing cultivation for private use, also known as home grow, but it would not immediately allow for users to grow their own product.

The bill also includes penalties for failing to abide by the proposed law including making possession under the age of 21 a second degree misdemeanor on a first offense and a first degree misdemeanor on second and subsequent offenses.

Retailers who fail to adequately check the age of purchasers would be subject to up to $10,000 in fines.

The law would also apply retroactively to persons previously convicted of cannabis possession. Those individuals would have the right to petition for a resentencing hearing to commute their sentence to time served and to petition to have the charges expunged from their records.

The measure would not exempt recreational cannabis consumers for taxes, as is the case for medical use.

Brandes signaled his intention to file legislation late last year.

“I would be shocked if we don’t have adult use in Florida by 2024 just via the constitutional amendment,” Brandes told WUSF. “I think it’s time for the Legislature to take this issue on so we’re going to be proposing legislation this year that would allow for adult use cannabis in Florida.”

While it is uncertain whether adult-use cannabis will be have traction in the next 60 days, state economists suggest it could be good for the public coffers.

Analyzing a parallel proposal to legalize cannabis, they suggested $120 million in sales tax (at a 6 percent rate) could be expected out of a $2 billion market. Baker expects a “definite savings” in eliminating cannabis crimes, but suggests “new crimes” could emerge.

Brandes’ bill does not yet have a companion in the House. If approved, his bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2021.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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