Are lawmakers hearing both sides of the recreational marijuana debate?

Published: Dec. 11, 2019 at 5:12 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

December 11, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- With the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana appearing on the 2020 ballot, the Florida House Health Quality Subcommittee continued hearings on the potential consequences of legalizing cannabis Wednesday.

Pro-legalization advocates have raised concerns that lawmakers have focused too much on the negatives and given little time to the positives.

Members heard from economics professor Dr. Rosalie Pacula with the University of Southern California.

She cautioned of regulatory mistakes made by previous state’s that have legalized.

“States cannot regulate cannabis like alcohol or tobacco,” said Pacula.

Colorado DEA Agent Ray Padilla took aim at a number of claims made by pro-legalization advocates.

“I have never been busier when it comes to marijuana and organized crime in our state,” said Padilla.

And a drug testing lab, which suggested its research shows employees have steadily been increasing marijuana use over the past decade.

“There's been a 70% higher self reported use of marijuana among those respondents not subject to employer drug testing,” said Dr. Barry Sample with Quest Diagnostics.

Through multiple hearings witnesses called by lawmakers have been primarily against legalization, prompting concerns from marijuana advocates that lawmakers may try to water down recreational marijuana, if voters were to approve it.

“There certainly needs to be some time spent on talking about what the benefits potentially could be, particularly if 70-plus percent of the population thinks it's a good idea,” said Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida.

Committee Chair Rep. Colleen Burton said lawmakers intend to carry out the will of the people, should legalization pass.

“That's why we're having these meetings so that if it does pass we're not starting from square one so to speak,” said Burton.

But advocates like Melissa Villar with NORML Tallahassee point to lawmakers' intense pushback when voters approved medical marijuana in 2017, including an initial ban on smokable cannabis and a restrictive business model.

“They implemented a vertical integrative structure and had a selection of ten companies. So it was highly selective,” said Villar.

The leading recreational ballot initiative still needs slightly over 600,000 more signatures by February to secure a place on next year’s ballot.

Rep. Burton did note if the legalization amendment were to pass, it would provide another opportunity for additional hearings that would include testimony from a wide array of advocates.