The governor of Florida signed a little-noticed bill that took effect last month, expanding medical marijuana advertising and manufacturing restrictions to prohibit any products or messages that promote “recreational” cannabis use, while adding more stringent eligibility requirements for workers in the industry.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, approved the large-scale health legislation in May, making significant changes to the state’s existing medical cannabis law that could significantly impact the market, especially if an adult-use legalization measure makes the ballot and is enacted by voters next year.
The new law makes it so cannabis manufacturers and retailers cannot produce or advertise products that are appealing to children or promote recreational use. Previously, the policy didn’t explicitly prohibit the promotion of non-medical use—and the restrictions only applied to infused edibles.
The legislation doesn’t define what constitutes promoting recreational use. But the new rule that became effective on July 1 could come into conflict with a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize adult-use marijuana that advocates and industry stakeholders are working to put on the 2024 ballot.
If a product is specifically meant to be consumed by adults for recreational use, that would raise questions about how it could be legally marketed without promoting such use, unless the newly enacted law is changed or struck down by courts as violating what would be a new constitutional protection for adult-use cannabis.
A legalization initiative from the Smart & Safe Florida campaign received enough signatures to be certified for ballot placement, but the state attorney general is actively working to convince the state Supreme Court to invalidate it, arguing that its title and summary are affirmatively misleading. Part of the argument Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) is making is that voters could be trusted to understand that state-level legalization wouldn’t change federal prohibition.
While the court did invalidate an earlier legalization measure, advocates are confident that they’ve taken lessons from that experience and crafted an initiative that meets the legal standards necessary to achieve ballot placement. The court could soon schedule oral arguments in the case.
Meanwhile, the bill that DeSantis signed will also likely cause the pool of workers who are eligible to participate in the industry to shrink.
It does that by removing exemptions from employment background screenings for people with felonies after three years have elapsed, misdemeanors after they’ve completed the terms of their sentence, felonies that have since become reduced to misdemeanors under statute and offenses that would have been felonies if they were committed by an adults after three years have elapsed.
Further, the law expands the background screening requirement to include all medical cannabis testing lab employees—not just owners and managers as was previously the policy. The legislation also makes it so fees for federal fingerprinting processing and retention will need to be paid by the medical cannabis business, rather than the individual completing the background check.
Given that prior marijuana-related convictions could have resulted in misdemeanors and felonies—in addition to the widespread racial disparities in cannabis enforcement—the effect of removing exceptions and expanding screening requirements could be a less diverse workforce that keeps out those historically impacted by the drug war at a time when advocates are fighting to promote industry equity.
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For his part, DeSantis has said he would not decriminalize marijuana if elected to the Oval Office. But his record as governor is also mixed—scattered with examples of him taking action to support the state’s medical cannabis and hemp industries, while also making other moves to enact certain restrictions.
Last month, the governor also signed legislation 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.
A bill that DeSantis signed in June did recently result in two Black farmers in Florida being awarded long-awaited medical marijuana business licenses.
He separately signed a measure last month that 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.
Depending on the outcome of the ongoing state Supreme Court case, however, the governor may not have a say in whether Florida enacts legalization.
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. And 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.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.