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Cannabis businesses await Florida Supreme Court review of recreational pot amendment

 Rembert Family Farms grows close to 200 pounds of hemp flower on their five acres of land every year.
Randy Rembert
Rembert Family Farms grows close to 200 pounds of hemp flower on its 5 acres of land every year.

Officials with some medical marijuana treatment centers say they are excited about the opportunity to expand their product variety outside of the medical scope, while others are sticking to what they know.

Randy Rembert started growing hemp four years ago at his Hawthorne farm. In April 2022, he applied for a medical marijuana cultivation license.

If granted, he’ll join the 5% of Florida licensed hemp farm owners who are Black.

The medical marijuana license will allow the fourth-generation farmer to sell recreational products on his farm.

He may be the first of many to expand his cannabis-based business. An initiative proposed by Smart & Safe Florida surpassed the number of votes needed to request a legal review from Florida’s Supreme Court to put recreational marijuana on the 2024 ballot.

“When our military veterans run out of their weed allowance with the state of Florida with their medical cards, they usually come over to us for the delta-8 gummies,” Rembert said. “It also helps with the medical side of things as well. Chronic pains and different depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress that, you know, while it gets you high, it also still gets you help.”

On June 1, the petition’s tracker reported that the proposed ballot measure had gathered 967,528 verified signatures – over 70,000 more than the 891,589 signatures needed to put it on the ballot in 2024. The Florida Division of Elections reported that once an initiative petition is certified for a ballot position, the total currently reported as valid may exceed the official totals at the time of certification, and the count is not official until it is verified by the Secretary of State.

The amendment would allow licensed medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs) to sell to individuals 21 and older without a medical marijuana identification card. Those without a medical basis to ingest the drug would have to pay additional fees in tax.

The petition was endorsed through circulation by several outside organizations, including NORML, a statewide marijuana advocacy group. The Smart & Safe Florida campaign has received over $39 million from Trulieve, one of the state’s leading providers of medical marijuana.

Recreational marijuana legalization has been attempted at Florida’s state level before, for the 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2021 election ballots. In the most recent attempt by voters in 2021, the initiative was tossed out before reaching the high court review because the language was deemed misleading.

Smart & Safe Florida’s petition is the first to have verified the minimum thresholds of signatures from electors across 14 counties to have the initiative placed on the 2024 ballot.

The deadline for the ballot language to be finalized is Nov. 5, 2024, and if Floridians vote “yes,” the amendment will take effect six months after voter approval.

Officials with some MMTCs said they are excited about the opportunity to expand their product variety by offering marijuana products outside of the medical scope, while others are sticking to what they know. The mere opportunity to sell to recreational customers may signal a step in the right direction for Florida’s economy, said Dr. Mark Hashim, chief medical officer of The Herbal Clinic MD in Tampa.

“You can make, this rec, a system that’s very beneficial to the state,” Hashim said. “If you want to use the taxes in a way to really assist the state, perhaps assist the underprivileged or any student with the ability to go to school.”

Some states that have locally decriminalized marijuana use the sales tax revenue to fund state programs. In Colorado, for example, retail marijuana excise taxes fund the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund.

Yasmine Egozi is the founder of Planta RX, a cannabis business in Miami. She said since her business is focusing more on the medical aspects of the plant, it has had to get creative with products that yield a similar "high" effect since she is not able to supply recreational products.

“We’ve created products such as olive oil, coconut oil and pink patches that you don’t really see in the community,” Egozi said. “We’ve developed a whole line of legal functional mushroom products to be able to follow in that same vein.”

In other states where marijuana is decriminalized, recreational marijuana sales have been reported to far outpace medical marijuana sales. Illinois’ commercial retail market opened in January 2020 and has reached almost $4 billion in cumulative cannabis adult-use sales since then. Illinois also boasted the highest marijuana tax revenue — $435 million in 2022 — in the country from cannabis sales.

Copyright 2023 Health News Florida