DeSantis Seems To Concede He Vetoed Hemp Ban Bill, In Part, To Engage Industry In Marijuana Legalization Opposition Campaign

June 21, 2024 · Marijuana Moment

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) seemed to tacitly acknowledge that part of the reason he recently vetoed a bill to ban intoxicating hemp products was because he hopes the industry will aid in his campaign opposing a marijuana legalization ballot initiative.

Amid reports that the governor rejected the hemp legislation to earn the industry’s favor, DeSantis was asked on Wednesday to weigh in on his rationale.

While he started by saying the legislation “had some problems” that would have disrupted an industry that was intentionally made legal in the state, he also notably conceded that he believes “the marijuana industry wanted this hemp bill” to pass, and he took that into account when making his executive decision.

DeSantis, who recently launched a political action committee called the “Florida Freedom Fund” to oppose the marijuana ballot initiative, said it wasn’t the “primary thing” that led him to veto the legislation, but the idea that the “marijuana industry [was] trying to support this” factored into his thinking.

“Some of these people that are funding the marijuana, they came in when we did the medical marijuana, which I implemented because the voters passed it, and they said, ‘We don’t believe in recreation. We just want to do medical. We think it can help alleviate pain or whatever,’” he said. “And those same people that were saying that are now trying this amendment.”

He said the legalization initiative “needs to go down” and “needs to go down hard,” adding that, “even if you’re somebody that kind of likes marijuana for whatever reason, which I don’t—but even if you do, this is so far beyond just saying you’re not going to criminalize it. This is saying that it’s going to be rampant all across the state.”

DeSantis also downplayed concerns about the intoxicating hemp cannabinoid market, saying it’s “already illegal” for youth to buy the products.

“We already have things in law that can go after that,” he said, seemingly making the case for imposing regulations over prohibition to mitigate underage access for hemp, while opposing a similar regulatory framework for marijuana.

“Now, looking at it there, the marijuana industry was supporting this hemp bill. I mean, I think the marijuana industry wanted this hemp bill,” he said. “They wanted to curtail that industry, and then they want to be able to get this Amendment 3 passed.”

At the congressional level, there have been recent examples of conflicts between the hemp and marijuana businesses over a proposal attached to House spending and agriculture bills that would effectively ban most consumable intoxicating hemp cannabinoid products.

But DeSantis again said that one of his concerns with the state-level marijuana legalization bid is partly rooted in his disdain for the smell of the smoke that he says will be widely prevalent if voters approve the ballot measure.

The “stench” of cannabis is “everywhere you go—whether it’s New York City, whether it’s San Francisco, whether it’s Denver” post-legalization, he said. “So let’s not do that here.”

While he said his “primary” reason for vetoing the hemp ban bill wasn’t to give the industry a giveaway so that it would actively oppose marijuana legalization, he notably didn’t deny that it was at least part of the reason.

“I’d say the primary [reason] was I felt an obligation to protect Florida small businesses,” he said. “I was concerned that this bill, as implemented, would potentially hurt businesses that we have green lighted to basically go forward.”

The governor also signaled his willingness to reevaluate potential hemp industry regulations in the next session, after voters decide on the marijuana legalization initiative.

“I do think we’ll be able to do something next year that will be targeted at the problems—because any industry has got some problems—but that’s targeted in a way that’s going to go after the bad actors, but not drop the hammer on people that are just trying to make a living,” he said.

Meanwhile, DeSantis also recently claimed that if voters approve the marijuana legalization initiative this November, people “will be able to bring 20 joints to an elementary school”—and he again complained about the prevalent odor of cannabis that he says would result from the reform.

While the governor also suggested that he was confounded by the state Supreme Court’s decision to allow the marijuana measure to make the ballot following Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s (R) constitutional challenge, he previously predicted that exact result while he was running for the Republican presidential nomination.

According to a Fox News poll released this month, two in three Florida voters support the cannabis initiative—with the issue proving more popular than the governor himself. The survey showed majority support for legalization across the political spectrum, too.

The governor, who predicted voters will reject the marijuana initiative in November, has argued that the state shouldn’t go beyond the existing medical cannabis program and that broader reform would negatively impact the quality of life for Floridians. The Florida Republican Party also formally came out against Amendment 3 last month.

Smart & Safe Florida, the campaign behind the legalization initiative, separately announced in March that it was working to form a coalition of veterans to build voter support for the reform, and the campaign has since formally launched that initiative.

The campaign additionally released an ad arguing that cannabis currently available on the state’s illicit market is dangerously unregulated.

Here’s what the Smart & Safe Florida marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish:

  • Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis for personal use. The cap for marijuana concentrates would be five grams.
  • Medical cannabis dispensaries could “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute marijuana products and marijuana accessories to adults for personal use.”
  • The legislature would be authorized—but not required—to approve additional entities that are not currently licensed cannabis dispensaries.
  • The initiative specifies that nothing in the proposal prevents the legislature from “enacting laws that are consistent with this amendment.”
  • The amendment further clarifies that nothing about the proposal “changes federal law,” which seems to be an effort to avoid past legal challenges about misleading ballot language.
  • There are no provisions for home cultivation, expungement of prior records or social equity.
  • The measure would take effect six months following approval by voters.

Here’s the full text of the ballot title and summary:

“Allows adults 21 years or older to possess, purchase, or use marijuana products and marijuana accessories for non-medical personal consumption by smoking, ingestion, or otherwise; allows Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, and other state licensed entities, to acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute such products and accessories. Applies to Florida law; does not change, or immunize violations of, federal law. Establishes possession limits for personal use. Allows consistent legislation. Defines terms. Provides effective date.”

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. 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.

Unlike the governor, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) said in April that he does believe Florida voters will approve the legalization initiative. (Full Story)

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