Should Florida legalize marijuana for adult use?

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With the State in a budget crisis on the heels of the pandemic, some lawmakers are getting creative looking for revenue.

The CBS 12 News I Team is exploring one potentially profitable proposal: legalizing and taxing marijuana.

Politicians for it and pot professionals say the stigma is gone and they point out the potential for fast-cash is enormous.

For opponents, the bottom line is the doorway to addiction and sending the wrong message to kids.

Right now Florida medical marijuana patients pick up their pot at dispensaries like this Rise on Clematis Street.

Soon, they could be joined by recreational users, though the marijuana industry doesn’t like the term "recreational." They prefer “adult use” marijuana.

 

 

Language aside, if Florida follows in the footsteps of states from California to Maine, pot could soon become a taxable vice, like alcohol and tobacco. According to industry leaders, the financial upside is game-changing.

“Florida could reduce the amount of money it spends on prosecuting marijuana cases and save $25.5 million and increase tax revenue by $120 million by legalizing adult use,” said Dina Rollman, VP of government and regulatory affairs for the parent company of Rise.

There is plenty of support for adult use in Tallahassee. At the top of that list is Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

“We put very clear laws in place and high penalties for those who are selling to children and to be quite honest, if our kids of today want to get their hands on marijuana they’re getting their hands on marijuana, and the problem is what they’re getting their hands on. You have no idea what it is. No idea if it's laced. No idea if there’s pesticides or anything else on there, so if we get rid of the illegal market place, and make it so hard on the illegal side of things, and have a robust adult market, it will make it harder for our youth to get access to it," Fried said.

Right now there are multiple bills being considered by the legislature which would legalize adult use. There are also efforts before the State Supreme Court to let voters decide.

But legalization also has plenty of powerful opponents – including Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Speaker of the Florida House, Chris Sprowls.

Even Fried would prefer to let someone else get this across the finish line.

“Well, certainly I am pushing the Biden Administration to deal with this at the federal level which is where it should be and the only reason it’s at the state level and every state is doing it differently, in their own way, is because the federal government hasn’t moved,” Fried said.

And Fried says there’s an upside for Florida farmers as well.

For that part of the story, we traveled to Apollo Beach, in Hillsborough County, where MUV FL has world-class genetics, cultivation, manufacturing, and analytical lab.

The medical marijuana industry is doing everything it can to remove the stigma around the drug. MUV Florida says an important part of that is transparency. That’s why we were invited to their massive complex.

The family who owns the land used to farm tomatoes. Then they made a deal with MUV and turned their tomato packing plant into what one Tampa radio host called, “a Willy Wonka Factory of Pot.”

Five-thousand plants, more than 50 different varieties grow in MUV’s complex.

There are labs full of scientists analyzing the output -- different strains for treating different ailments and achieving various effects.

The plants themselves are colorful and unique and exploring the nurseries, you feel like you’re touring a vineyard in wine country.

Beyond the politics and scientific showmanship - what about the risks? Not just to kids, but to anyone.

Once marijuana is as easy to get like a six-pack or some cigarsdoesn’t it lead to harder drugs? The industry says, “no.”

“That gateway drug theory has been completely debunked at this point, in fact, what we talk about is cannabis being an off ramp drug. We have a terrible opioid addiction problem in the United States and what we see is that people are using opioids to treat pain and they’re highly addictive and are leading to mass amount of deaths in many states – cannabis you can not overdose on it, you can not die from it.” Rollman said.

“This isn’t your mother's marijuana, so why does this matter? Well the science tells us the higher the THC, the higher the risk. We have seen an increase in emergency room visits for psychosis, overdose, and accidental injections. Nearly 1 in 5 people who begin marijuana as an adolescent become addicted. That’s scary to me as a dad,” Former Trump Administration Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said.

Adams believes states are going too far and moving too fast.

But that message doesn’t seem to be resonating the way it once did.

In fact, the most recent Gallup poll on the subject finds 68 percent of Americans support the federal government legalizing marijuana for medical and adult use.

And Commissioner Fried says Florida could see 100 to 300 million dollars in tax revenue in a very short period of time.

 

 

 
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