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DeSantis Will Be ‘Getting Involved’ In Effort To Defeat Marijuana Measure On Florida Ballot



Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is again lashing out at marijuana legalization as voters prepare to decide on a ballot initiative in November, warning that the reform would negatively impact quality of life in the state. The governor, who has mocked legalization repeatedly in a series of recent comments, signaled that he may be taking on a more active role in the effort to defeat the cannabis reform as Election Day approaches.

“We’ll be getting involved in different ways on those initiatives,” he said remarks Tuesday about the marijuana ballot measure and a separate proposal on abortion rights.

The comments came as the governor announced the start of the state’s “Freedom Month” tax holiday.

“It’s like, OK, we have medical marijuana in Florida,” DeSantis said, appearing to call into question whether registered patients in the state truly need cannabis products. “I’m not saying none of them are legit, but some of them, clearly they’re doing it to get the card.”

“Why would we want to have more?” the governor asked. “You want to walk down the street here and smell it? Do you want to…not be able to take your family out to dinner because you’re worried about it?”

“Look what’s happened in Denver, Colorado. Look what’s happened in Los Angeles, New York City,” he continued, saying he’s “talked to people that have moved from New York” who tell him that it “reeks of marijuana.”

“I don’t want this state to be reeking of marijuana,” he said. “We’re doing fine. We don’t need to do that.”

Watch DeSantis’s marijuana comments, around 30 minutes into the video below:

DeSantis also claimed the motives of the campaign behind legalization were profit-driven. “There’s people that will benefit financially if these things pass, and that’s what’s driving this, is the ability for people to line their pockets,” he said. “On the marijuana one, you’re going to have marijuana everywhere.”

The governor’s comments come on the heels of his warnings earlier this month that the proposed constitutional amendment would be “not good for families” and “not good for [the] elderly.”

At the time, he urged voters to reject ballot initiatives that might seem vague or confusing—including the cannabis measure.

“The marijuana one is written so broadly, you are not going to be able to restrict where people use it,” DeSantis said, repeating a claim that the legalization campaign has said is untrue. “Understand: Your life will be impacted by this. It will change the quality of life and our communities. You will smell it when you’re walking down a lot of these streets, particularly in our urban areas.”

Smart and Safe Florida, the campaign behind the ballot measure, has previously said that its proposal gives state lawmakers “the authority to limit outdoor and public consumption” just like the state does for smoking tobacco products.

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

This week’s most recent comments aren’t the first time the governor has questioned medical marijuana.

“There are people that have these cards,” he said at the event earlier this month. “You know some of them do not have really, truly debilitating—we know how that works. That is what’s happened.”

“I did that,” he repeated. “I see the stores in all parts of the state. Do we really need to have, like, 10 times more of that than we do? No, we don’t.”

Floridians would need to pass the medical marijuana industry-backed legalization initiative with at least 60 percent of the vote for it to become law. Recent polling released by USA Today/Ipsos suggests that might be a tall order, however: The survey found that 56 percent of Florida registered voters and 49 percent of Florida adults overall back the cannabis measure.

A separate Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Mainstreet Research poll found that only a 47 percent plurality of voters back the cannabis initiative, compared to 35 percent opposed and 18 percent undecided.

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.

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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. Last week, 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.

As noted by the outlet Florida Politics, which first reported DeSantis’s comments on Wednesday, the governor himself received a $25,000 campaign donation from Trulieve back in November 2020.

The company’s CEO 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.”

The Smart and Safe Florida campaign is soliciting veterans in an effort to build voter support for the reform, saying in an email update that the “goal is to raise awareness among voters about the importance of cannabis as a safer alternative to synthetic opioids for treating PTSD and related conditions among veterans.” Organizers are “looking to engage with veterans across the state of Florida to support our cause.”

Despite his opposition to the initiative, DeSantis, the 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.

DeSantis also weighed in on another relevant cannabis policy issue earlier this year when, while still a presidential candidate, he said that he doesn’t believe the federal gun ban for state-legal marijuana consumers is constitutional. Florida’s former agriculture commission, Nikki Fried, brought a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the rule, though the governor did not get involved.

Prior to dropping out, DeSantis also said that if elected president, he would “respect the decisions that states make” on marijuana legalization despite his personal view that the reform has a “negative impact.”

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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