DeSantis Presses Lawmakers For Pot Changes

DeSantis Presses Lawmakers For Pot Changes

By Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Saying they failed to heed the will of voters, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered Florida lawmakers Thursday to eliminate a ban on smokable medical marijuana and, if they don’t comply, threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court ruling that found the prohibition ran afoul of a 2016 constitutional amendment.

DeSantis, who had been widely expected to announce he was going to drop the appeal, instead delivered the unambiguous ultimatum, which he called the “sword of Damocles” hanging over the head of legislative leaders.

The Republican governor said he also wants lawmakers to address other components of a 2017 law that was passed to carry out the constitutional amendment. DeSantis said lawmakers should revisit a cap on the number of medical-marijuana licenses and a “vertical integration” system that requires operators to grow, process and distribute cannabis products.

“This is all about doing the people’s will,” DeSantis told reporters at a news conference in Winter Park.

DeSantis made the announcement while flanked by Congressman Matt Gaetz, a former state representative who played a key role in the Legislature on medical marijuana issues, and Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the constitutional amendment and who initiated the legal challenge to the smoking ban.

DeSantis accused the Republican-dominated Legislature of failing to implement the amendment “in accordance with what the amendment envisioned.” The amendment, approved by more than 71 percent of voters, broadly legalized medical marijuana in the state.

An overwhelming number of Floridians, “about as big a majority as you can get in this day and age,” wanted patients with debilitating conditions to have access to medical marijuana, under the supervision of physicians, the governor said.

“Whether they have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that? I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved. I don’t think this law is up to snuff,” he said.

DeSantis, a Harvard-educated lawyer, said he would prefer to have lawmakers deal with the issue rather than leave it to the courts, noting that the state is involved in several marijuana-related legal challenges.

“I want to use the fact that we are in litigation as leverage to get better laws passed,” he said.

The Legislature held a special session in 2017 and passed the law that included the smoking ban and limits on licenses. Supporters said, for example, that the smoking ban was needed because of health dangers from smoking.

But DeSantis on Thursday used harsh words to critique the medical-marijuana system created by the Legislature and gave lawmakers a short timeframe to address what could be a thorny issue. The governor said he would ask the courts to put the appeal in the smokable marijuana case on hold until mid-March; the 2019 legislative session begins on March 5.

“I want to have the elected representatives write the law in the way that the people intended. We’ll give them a couple weeks in session to address the smoking issue. And if they don’t do it, we’re going to dismiss the case. We’re going to move on,” he said. “The Legislature can’t just decide not to implement it (the constitutional amendment) the way it was intended. So I hope by giving them this notice, by giving them a deadline, they’ll get the job done.”

DeSantis also appeared to take a swipe at his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott.

“Look, we’ve got a lot of fish to fry in Florida. The last thing I want to be doing is cleaning up for something that should have happened two years ago. This thing should have been implemented. We should have moved on. I don’t want to continue fighting some of these old battles,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also used the threat of dropping appeals in other marijuana-related lawsuits to goad the Legislature into addressing issues that could include the cap on the number of medical-marijuana licenses and the “vertical integration” system. Moving away from a vertical integration system could involve opening up the system to businesses that wouldn’t be responsible for all of the aspects of growing, processing and distributing the products.

“We need to have the people’s will represented in good law that is doing what they intended. I look at how some of this was created, where they (lawmakers) created a cartel, essentially,” DeSantis said.

But an unrestricted medical-marijuana market could raise concerns in an industry in which licenses have sold for more than $50 million.

In a lawsuit separate from the smokable marijuana case, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson found that caps on the number of licenses, limits on the number of dispensaries and the vertical integration system are unconstitutional. The state has also appealed that ruling.

DeSantis instructed lawmakers to revisit vertical integration, which he said is problematic.

“I don’t know that the amendment necessarily prohibits that, but that is not good policy. So I’d like them to address that as well,” the governor said. “The way they did this vertical integration, that is not free-market principles, for sure. So I would rather it be opened up. If you’re going to do it, do it according to sound economic principles.”

Vertical integration “is not worthy of continued defense,” said Gaetz, a close ally of DeSantis who is playing a major role in the governor’s transition.

“We wrote the legislation that way not because it was necessarily best for patients but because that’s how we had to do it to get the votes,” Gaetz, a lawyer who was elected to Congress in 2016, said.

Following DeSantis’ remarks, state House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano issued statements indicating support for a repeal of the smoking ban.

“We are encouraged by the announcement the governor made today and accept the challenge he has laid before us,” said Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican whose family fortune was made in the cigar industry.

Implementation of the constitutional amendment “has been an ongoing problem mired in complex and protracted legal challenges,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

“A legislative solution has always been my preferred course of action, and we will certainly honor the governor’s request to bring a bill forward early in session that addresses both his concerns and those raised in litigation,” he said.

Morgan — who goes by the moniker #PotDaddy on Twitter — said he was “very pleased” by DeSantis’ move, noting the expedited schedule DeSantis laid out Thursday.

“You can’t ask for more than that,” Morgan said. “I like him. DeSantis Claus came to town.”

8 Responses to "DeSantis Presses Lawmakers For Pot Changes"

  1. First – I am a medical marijuana user, so I DO have some skin in this game. I am also a professional, homeowner, and responsible adult. I have been living with AS now for going on 6 years. It is excruciating pain on a daily basis, and I do not want to go on opioids, so I am super thankful for the voters of this state having some compassion for those of us who are suffering. I could care less if flower is legalized, as I loathe the burn associated with smoking flower. I use the capsules, vape, and concentrate. I do think patients should be able to purchase flower, as it is cheaper and the vape and other forms are extremely expensive.

    It is my hope that those who who are narrow minded and think we are all “pot heads” would actually sit down with someone who’s life has been changed for the better by this law passing. I am able to vape when I get home from work to soothe the intense pain from sitting at a desk all day. My tissues, muscles, and ligaments along my spine are calcifying into bone – fusing my spine together. I am only 38! This has changed the game for me and I hope all of you reading this will put down your preconceived notions and understand that this alternative is far better than narcotic drugs.

  2. Since 2012, the year when Colorado voters passed recreational marijuana legalization, the number of crimes in Denver has grown by about 44 percent, according to annual figures the city reported to the National Incident Based Reporting System. In the past, police have argued that system potentially overcounts crimes and have preferred instead to cite the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which shows a 3.5 percent increase over the same span. Both of those increases are tempered when taking population growth into account.

    But, regardless of the counting system, marijuana’s contribution to the measurement is small.

  3. When I voted for medical marijuana, I was under the impression it was in a non-THC form of oi, put under the tongue. Not smokeable, which I’ve read is a poor way to deliver a therapeutic drug. Now, the potheads are at the gate, clamoring for more, more, more. And DeSantis seems to be buying it.
    This is just like the progressive shift in policy on gay marriage. From “no way” to civil unions to flat-out “here’s your marriage license, Tom & Jerry.” Morals get chipped away until crazy is the law of the land.

  4. Medical marijuana is fine, if regulated and enforced as is should be and not be a stepping stone to full and open marijuana use. Otherwise, Florida will turn into another Denver with a pot shop on every corner, an invasion of drug users from all over the country to our tourist and family oriented state, petty and serious crime skyrocketing, and housing and medical services taxed way beyond their limits, with both’s consumer pricing going out of reach for the average family with these same families who previously supported a fair tax base, leaving town for a better life. Yes, this is what Denver has turned into.

  5. I just hope we dont eventually become another Denver with a Pot Shop in every corner, have an invasion of drug users from across the country, resulting in tremendous pressure on housing and medical services, children as young as elementary school using pot, and petty and serious crime increasing exponentially!

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