A Florida state senator is asking his colleagues to take a stand for common sense by legalizing cannabis for recreational use. Sen. Dwight Bullard, chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, has introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over. Rather than simply presenting the concept of legalization in a skeletal bill, Bullard’s measure creates a full-fledged system with built-in taxes and regulation. Citizens would be able to cultivate up to six plants and possess up to 2.5 ounces. The bill allows for a limited number of shops, based on the population of the city or town that houses them, and these municipalities would be permitted to ban cannabis retailers within their borders. The bill also creates a tax on marijuana, about 5% of which would be devoted to studying the effects of cannabis.
Bullard’s bill has a slim chance of becoming law this time around. Neither the Republican-controlled Florida Senate, nor Governor Rick Scott are likely to let it go through. That Bullard brought it forward, however, is news in itself. The South has been the laggard on liberalizing marijuana policy, but slowly states are warming up to the idea. A slew of Southern states, including Florida, legalized high CBD/low THC strains for specific medical conditions (often leaving the details of acquiring such a strain to the patient). Now the Sunshine State is considering taking this idea a bit further. Bills in both the House and Senate would legalize medical marijuana for a set number of conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy. The bills are basically identical, except that the Senate version disallows smokable cannabis (at least in part because leaders in the Florida Sherifs Association believe that smokables are associated with partying, and other forms are not). Both bills were introduced by Republicans.
Bullard’s legalization bill opens up a wider conversation, and provides cover for politicians to support the medical measure. Gradually, politicians and other leaders are becoming bolder in talking about the merits and safety of marijuana. As the Reefer Madness stigma of moral degradation wears off, lawmakers feel safer wading into commonsense policies. As this happens, the economic benefits of legalization make a powerful case.
“Marijuana, whether medical or recreational, could be another way of generating revenue in Florida,” Bullard told the New Times last year. “It has a potential for real positive economic impact with real small business growth.”
Though Florida’s politicians remain cautious, the people they represent are ready for better cannabis laws. They voted 57-43% in 2014 to legalize medical marijuana for a similar list of conditions as the bills currently in the House and Senate. Unfortunately, the measure needed 60% of the vote to pass. Still, Governor Rick Scott can’t have failed to notice that half a million more people voted for medical marijuana than voted for his reelection. As he was awarded a second term, perhaps he will provide the voters with a sensible policy that is demonstrably more popular than him.