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DeSantis Reportedly Plans To Veto Florida Hemp Ban In Hopes Industry Will Help Defeat Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative



The governor of Florida is reportedly planning to veto a bill that would ban consumable hemp-derived cannabinoid products such as delta-8 THC, apparently because he’s hoping the hemp industry will help finance a campaign opposing a marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s November ballot.

As Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) prepares to step up his push against the legalization measure, officials close to the governor who spoke anonymously to CBS News say he’s plotting to leverage the hemp industry’s economic interest in participating in the intoxicating cannabinoid market to convince people to vote against marijuana reform.

DeSantis has made abundantly clear that he’s against marijuana legalization, arguing that the state shouldn’t go beyond the existing medical cannabis program and that broader reform would negatively impact the quality of life for Floridians.

But in the background, another cannabis battle has played out in the state legislature, with lawmakers in both chambers approving a bill to severely restrict consumable hemp products. It hasn’t been formally transmitted to the governor yet, but a source told the local news outlet that “he’s going to veto.”

“The marijuana people are furious,” they said, “and they are scrambling.”

Another source said there was “never a thought the governor would veto the bill,” but “they are now signaling that they are going to veto, and I think it would be fair to say he is leaning toward a veto.”

By vetoing the legislation, the governor is reportedly banking on hemp businesses returning the favor by aiding in his campaign to defeat the marijuana legalization initiative. It’s unclear if that would play out, but it is the case that certain leadership in the Florida Republican Party, which formally came out against Amendment 3 earlier this month, have close ties to the hemp industry.

The state party’s president and interim executive director, Evan Power and Bill Helmich, are both top lobbyists for the Florida Healthy Alternatives Association that represents hemp stakeholders.

DeSantis’s political strategy is somewhat paradoxical. He’s voiced concerns about access to high potency THC products as part of the reason he opposes marijuana legalization, yet he’s reportedly willing to strike down a bill that would effectively eliminate an existing, largely unregulated market that sells intoxicating products without public health safeguards.

Another unnamed source pointed to that seeming contradiction, saying it’s hard to square how a person can be “against recreational marijuana and be in support of hemp.”

“It doesn’t make sense, unless what you are really looking for is money from the hemp industry,” they said.

Adding to the intrigue, DeSantis’s reported plan to reject the hemp restriction bill would align him with one of his most vocal political opponents, former state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the current chair of the Florida Democratic Party who has long championed the hemp and who unsuccessfully sought her party’s nomination to challenge the governor in the 2022 election.

“Expanding access to cannabis is a non-partisan issue with broad support in Florida,” Fried told CBS News. “Hemp products provide relief to millions of Floridians—including veterans, seniors, and patients with chronic pain. Any attempts at regulation should protect consumers, while considering the impact on accessibility for patients and the ability of small businesses to compete.”

The seeming conflict between hemp and marijuana stakeholders in Florida has also recently played out in Congress, where there’s disagreement between the sectors about an amendment that was recently attached to the House version of the 2024 Farm Bill that would effectively ban most consumable hemp-derived cannabinoids.

Meanwhile, Kim Rivers, the chief executive of the multi-state cannabis operator Trulieve that’s financially supporting the Smart & Safe Florida campaign, said recently that she remains confident DeSantis will respect the will of the people and implement the legalization initiative if voters approve it at the ballot.

She also again challenged surveys that have been released in the weeks since the Florida Supreme Court cleared the initiative for ballot placement. She reiterated that internal polls show the measure passing with a comfortable margin, despite the steep 60 percent threshold required to approve a constitutional amendment.

Smart & Safe Florida separately announced in March that it was working to form a coalition of veterans to build voter support for the reform, and the campaign has since formally launched that initiative.

DeSantis also previously predicted voters will reject the marijuana initiative in November and argued that passage would “reduce the quality of life” in the state.

While the campaign and companies backing the measure remain optimistic about its prospects this November, recent surveys continue to raise questions about that possibility.

For example, a survey that was done for the Florida Chamber of Commerce by Cherry Communications found that 58 percent of Florida likely voters back the legalization measure, compared to 37 percent who oppose it and five percent who are undecided. As Rivers pointed out last week, however, the chamber has actively opposed the initiative.

While the campaign hasn’t shared its internal polling, it is the case that prior surveys have shown the initiative in a more comfortable position than the two most recent public polls did. A University of North Florida (UNF) poll released last November found nearly 70 percent of voters are in favor of the reform, for example.

Economic analysts from the Florida legislature and DeSantis’s office, estimate that the marijuana legalization initiative would generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million in new sales tax revenue annually if voters enact it. Those figures could increase considerably if lawmakers opted to impose an additional excise tax on cannabis transactions that’s similar to the ones in place in other legalized states.

If approved, the measure would change the state Constitution to allow existing medical cannabis companies in the state, such as Trulieve, the campaign’s main financial contributor, to begin selling marijuana to all adults over 21. It contains a provision that would allow—but not require—lawmakers to take steps toward the approval of additional businesses. Home cultivation by consumers would not be allowed under the proposal as drafted.

Adults would be able to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, only five grams of which could be marijuana concentrate products. The three-page measure also omits equity provisions favored by advocates, such as expungements or other relief for people with prior cannabis convictions.

Nearly all of the campaign’s financial backing has come from existing medical marijuana businesses, predominantly multi-state operators. Recently, the Florida Division of Elections (DOE) released the campaign finance activity report from the first quarter of the year, showing nearly $15 million in new contributions.

Trulieve, the main financial backer of the initiative, led the pack again with $9.225 million in donations during the first quarter. That follows the company previously contributing about $40 million as advocates worked to collect more than one million signatures to qualify for ballot placement.

The company’s CEO also said recently that, contrary to the governor’s claims, legalization could actually “improve quality of life” for residents.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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Here’s what the Smart & Safe Florida marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish:

  • Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. The cap for marijuana concentrates would be five grams.
  • Medical cannabis dispensaries could “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute marijuana products and marijuana accessories to adults for personal use.”
  • The legislature would be authorized—but not required—to approve additional entities that are not currently licensed cannabis dispensaries.
  • The initiative specifies that nothing in the proposal prevents the legislature from “enacting laws that are consistent with this amendment.”
  • The amendment further clarifies that nothing about the proposal “changes federal law,” which seems to be an effort to avoid past legal challenges about misleading ballot language.
  • There are no provisions for home cultivation, expungement of prior records or social equity.
  • The measure would take effect six months following approval by voters.

Here’s the full text of the ballot title and summary:

“Allows adults 21 years or older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products and marijuana accessories for non-medical personal consumption by smoking, ingestion, or otherwise; allows Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, and other state licensed entities, to acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute such products and accessories. Applies to Florida law; does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law. Establishes possession limits for personal use. Allows consistent legislation. Defines terms. Provides effective date.”

Despite his opposition to the initiative, DeSantis, a former GOP presidential candidate who dropped out of the race in January, previously accurately predicted that the state’s highest court would ultimately allow the measure on November’s ballot.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based managing editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.


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