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Cannabis Crossroads: Florida to Vote on Recreational Marijuana

Gov. Ron DeSantis says the measure to legalize recreational marijuana is too 'radical’ for Florida. But advocates say it will be good for business and will increase access to those who use it for pain and various medical conditions, but find it cumbersome or costly to get a dispensary card.

A recreational marijuana dispensary in Denver, Colorado. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Carlos Schiappacasse | MediaLab@FAU

Apr 7, 2024

Medical marijuana is already legal in Florida, but this November voters will have the opportunity to legalize it recreationally. The new initiative, which qualified for the November ballot to be put up as a constitutional amendment, has the potential to bring significant changes to the medical industry. According to Forbes, the global legal cannabis markets are projected to reach approximately $58 billion in 2028.


The bill aims to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults aged 21 and older, allowing individuals to possess and purchase limited amounts of cannabis for personal consumption. This marks a significant transition from the current framework, which permits medical marijuana use only for qualifying patients with specific debilitating conditions.


On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana – as well as a referendum that would put the right to an abortion on the ballot in November – were too “radical” for Florida voters.

“Once voters figure out how radical both of those are, they are going to fail,” Desantis said during a news conference while visiting Davie on . “They are very, very extreme.”

But business owners in the medical marijuana industry are optimistic, emphasizing the potential benefits the bill could bring to both patients and entrepreneurs alike. 

“We have so many people that are just visiting and passing through and people that don't necessarily want to pay so much to have a medical card for six months or a year if they’re not going to be here for more than a week,” said Danielle Palaza, 29, the general manager at a Boca Raton medical marijuana dispensary, Sanctuary Cannabis. Dispensaries like this one became legal only after Florida voters passed a referendum in November 2016, with more than 71 percent supporting the initiative.


Proponents are enthusiastic about the economic opportunity of recreational marijuana. According to the Florida Department of Revenue, medical marijuana sales have increased by 20% since 2022. With this boom in the industry, advocates of the ballot initiative think legalization for recreational use could offer another significant boost.


“As far as sales numbers and foot traffic goes, it absolutely would be more of a benefit. I don’t think there would be much con, besides the fact that medicinal patients might not get as much quality attention that they’re used to,” added Palaza, who advocates for legalization. “But if businesses stand by their ‘why they do it,’ then they absolutely should be able to give their undivided attention to anybody that needs it.”


While Palaza focuses on the positive, others are advocating for a cautious approach to the legalization of marijuana, emphasizing its medicinal potential above all else. 


“Marijuana is medicine, so it should only be used as medicine. Those who aren’t going to continue as medical patients are probably people who weren’t using it medically to begin with,” said Sherri Kaplan, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Cannactd Wellness in Boca Raton.


“There are clinics that prescribe medical cards to people who aren’t using properly, to people who are just using it recreationally, but we’re not those doctors,” added Kaplan, 66, acknowledging the growing benefits of marijuana, but cautioning against its indiscriminate use.


The counter at a Sanctuary Cannabis, a Boca Raton medical marijuana dispensary. (Photo: Carlos Schiappacasse)

At Cannactd Wellness, Kaplan and her partner Dr. Michelle Weiner treat a variety of conditions. Patients with neurological problems, cancer, chronic pain, autism, ALS, cerebral palsy and other diseases depend on the medical marijuana industry to examine and prescribe them with what they need to go about their day calmly and with significantly less suffering. 


With discussions surrounding the medical marijuana industry continuing to unfold as the ballot approaches, critics also point to the broader implications of marijuana legalization on public safety.


The movement to put the question of legalizing recreational marijuana to Florida voters was launched by Smart and Safe Florida. They state in their proposal that there is no evidence that legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use at the state level has boosted underage consumption from the regulated marketplace.

 With the attention brought back to the potential benefits of legalization, some recognize the economic opportunities and consumer demand that such legislation could bring to businesses in South Florida. 


“It might just open up more space for the industry to be more lax, more understanding, more open, it’ll draw more people,” said Caleb Dean, 30, manager of Electric Smoke Vapors in Boca Raton. “Ultimately creating new jobs and new opportunities and, you know, new kinds of breakthroughs, through cannabis. So, in the long run I think it’ll help everybody out.”


Dean added that the store gets around 30 customers daily looking to purchase cannabis products and if the legislation passes, he also expects to see a 5-10 percent boost in profits for the shop.


As the November ballot approaches, Floridians face a critical decision regarding marijuana legalization. With a 60% majority vote required for approval, the fate of this budding issue lies in the hands of voters. 


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