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DeSantis Vetos Hemp Ban Bill Amid Anti-Marijuana Legalization Push, Fueling Speculation Over Double Standards In Opposition Campaign



As the governor of Florida campaigns against a marijuana legalization ballot initiative, he has, in a seemingly contradictory move, vetoed a bill to ban the sale of intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids in his state.

This comes amid recent reporting that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) planned to block the hemp prohibition legislation in hopes that the industry would return the favor by financially assisting in his effort to defeat the marijuana measure that voters will decide on this November.

DeSantis didn’t specifically mention the marijuana legalization initiative in his veto message, but he said generally that, “while Senate Bill 1698’s goals are commendable, the bill would, in fact, impose debilitating regulatory burdens on small businesses, and almost certainly fail to achieve its purposes.”

“Senate Bill 1698 would introduce dramatic disruption and harm to many small retail and  manufacturing businesses in Florida—businesses that have emerged due to recent legislation paving the way for the commercial use of hemp,” the governor wrote said.

“I encourage the Florida Legislature to reconsider this topic during the next Legislative Session and engage with all relevant stakeholders to create a comprehensive regulatory framework for the manufacture and sale of hemp and hemp-derived products. Sensible, non-arbitrary regulation will provide businesses and consumers alike with much-needed stability safeguarding public health and safety, allowing legitimate industry to flourish, and removing bad actors from the market.”

While DeSantis vetoed the measure, he outlined a series of considerations for legislators to consider for future work on the issue.

For example, he said the legislature “should set standards for cultivation, processing, and handling of hemp products to ensure the purity, potency, and safety of hemp and hemp-derived products.” The governor said the bill at hand “misses the mark” to that end.

“The Legislature should develop guidelines for accurate labeling, including cannabinoid content, sourcing information, health claims, and. dosing instructions,” his veto message says. “Packaging should—by default—be child-resistant, and any and all advertising that makes these products attractive to minors should be prohibited.”

Additionally, DeSantis said lawmakers “should ensure that hemp-derived cannabinoids are sold behind the counter and that hemp retail shops operate outside sufficient proximities from schools, religious institutions, and other areas where children and families regularly gather.”

“These shops should not present themselves as medical offices, and the Legislature should consider measures to prevent the ubiquity and concentration of these retail locations in communities across the State,” he said.

In effect, DeSantis is making the argument for enhanced regulation of the intoxicating hemp-based cannabinoid market at the same time that he is urging voters to reject a ballot measure to enact similar regulations for recreational marijuana. But he’s allowing the hemp industry to persist in the interim without those desired regulations.

This veto message was released one day after a Fox News poll found that two in three Florida voters, including a majority of Republicans, support the legalization initiative—making it more popular among voters than is the governor who is actively opposing it.

The survey found that 66 percent of voters back the marijuana initiative—more than enough to meet the 60 percent threshold to pass the constitutional amendment under state laws.

By contrast, 52 percent of voters said that they either strongly or somewhat approve of the job DeSantis is doing as governor—a 14 percent point gap in support compared to marijuana legalization.

It’s a datapoint that calls into question the political wisdom of DeSantis’s crusade against the cannabis measure.

The governor has argued 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.

The Florida Republican Party also formally came out against Amendment 3 last month.

That said, 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.

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 challenged several other surveys that were 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.

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.

The campaign additionally released an ad this week arguing that cannabis currently available on the state’s illicit market is dangerously unregulated.

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.

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.

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.

Read DeSantis’s veto message on the hemp cannabinoid bill below:

Where Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Stands On Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lawson.

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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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