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DeSantis Suggests Florida’s Medical Marijuana Law Is Used As ‘Pretext’ For Recreational Use



Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a 2024 presidential candidate, is suggesting that the increase in medical marijuana patients in his state is partly due people using the law as a “pretext” for recreational cannabis use.

Even so, he said he supports a free market approach to all industries, including medical cannabis—despite recently backing a dramatic licensing renewal fee increase that’s facing strong opposition from the state’s limited number of medical marijuana businesses.

At a campaign event in Iowa on Thursday, DeSantis was asked about marijuana policy as part of a panel discussion that also featured Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) and U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX).

The candidate noted that Florida voters enacted medical marijuana legalization as a constitutional amendment in 2016, and he said there’s “just been an increase in licenses,” which corresponds with the law that calls for additional licensure as the patient population grows.

“I think that that’s going to actually change as more people are coming into the market,” he said.

But DeSantis then questioned patients’ motives for entering the program, asking “how much of that is medicinal versus how much of it is that’s the pretext for [non-medical use]?”

“I don’t know. But it is in our Constitution, and so that’s what’s being done,” he said, adding that, “I think as a general matter with programs, you want there to be open field and competition.”

“That’s going to make it better for consumers, and that’ll make it better for for for taxpayers,” he said, as Florida Politics first reported.

That free market position doesn’t necessarily square with DeSantis’s previous statements and administrative actions to massively increase medical cannabis licensing renewal fees. He’s said the industry should be charged “an arm and a leg” because “everybody wants these licenses.”

Accordingly, the state Department of Health is moving forward with a fee hike that will charge cannabis businesses $1.33 million biennially to renew their licenses—about 22 times the current $60,000 fee.

Meanwhile, the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) told a House committee last week that it intends to process 22 more medical cannabis licenses to meet patient demand, which would nearly double the total number of operators. Regulators are aiming to approve those licenses within the next six months, OMMU Director Christopher Kimball said.

This comes as the Florida Supreme Court weighs state Attorney General Ashley Moody’s legal challenge to a proposed 2024 adult-use legalization ballot initiative. The court held oral arguments in the case last month.

While a recent survey found that nearly seven out of ten registered voters say they support the marijuana legalization initiative, DeSantis has maintained opposition to the policy change and said over the summer that he would not move to federally decriminalize cannabis if elected.

Separately, DeSantis signed a bill that took effect over the summer that added restrictions to medical marijuana advertising and manufacturing, prohibiting any products or messages that promote “recreational” cannabis use, while adding more stringent eligibility requirements for workers in the industry.

Additionally, the governor approved a bill in June that expressly prohibits sober living facilities from allowing residents to possess or use medical marijuana, even if the patient is certified by a doctor to legally use cannabis therapeutically in accordance with state law. All other doctor-prescribed pharmaceutical medications may be permitted, however.

He also signed legislation in July banning sales of any consumable hemp products—including cannabis “chewing gum”—to people under 21, an expansion of an existing prohibition on young people being able to purchase smokable hemp.

An economic analysts from the Florida legislature and the governor’s office estimate that the 2024 marijuana legalization initiative would generate between $195.6 million and $431.3 million in new sales tax revenue annually if voters enact it.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 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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The organizer of a separate Florida ballot initiative to legalize home cultivation of medical marijuana by patients recently withdrew the proposal, explaining that the campaign raised barely more than $4,000 and couldn’t cover costs associated with trying to qualify the measure.

In the legislature, meanwhile, a Florida Republican senator introduced a bill last week to allow licensed medical cannabis businesses to take state tax deductions that they are barred from claiming at the federal level under an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E.

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