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Five Bills That Would Change Florida's Marijuana Laws

Lawmakers are scrambling to keep pace with the ever-changing landscape of the cannabis and hemp industries in Florida. As proponents of legalization lay the groundwork for a 2020 vote on adult use — more commonly known as recreational marijuana — officials are still trying to get a handle on the cannabis and hemp industries.

Some newly proposed bills would lay the foundation for legalization of recreational marijuana, and others indicate a more lax approach to drug sentencing. As it stands, lawmakers continue to grapple with their approach to licensing medical marijuana facilities and regulating public smoking now that hemp is legal. With that in mind, here's what state legislators have been working on lately.

1. Banning marijuana smoke in state parks (SB 670). The City of Miami Beach recently banned smoking marijuana in public, including parks and beaches. Now one lawmaker is looking to make an expanded version of that law statewide.

SB 670 was introduced by Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters. The bill would ban both smoking and vaping of all kinds within state parks. Gruters unsuccessfully introduced a similar bill earlier this year: SB 218 would have forced violators to pay a $25 fine or commit to ten hours of community service, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

If SB 670 became law, it would take effect next summer.

2. Relaxing minimum sentences for marijuana crimes (HB 339). This House bill would allow judges to deviate from minimum sentencing guidelines in the state for crimes involving the sale and trafficking of cannabis. Though the law would still include guidelines, it would give judges more agency to determine sentences on a case-by-case basis.

The bill would also change the range of grams of cannabis in several trafficking charges, mostly upping the thresholds for each increased charge.

According to Florida Politics, backers of the bill say it's meant to empower judges to make their own decisions when it comes to sentencing. The bill's approval would mark a major shift in the state's tough-on-crime approach of the past few decades.

Supporters say shorter sentences for minor drug offenses will save the state money and can help keep families together.

3. Redefining which companies can grow and sell cannabis (HB 149). This bill defines medical marijuana treatment centers and governs how the Florida Department of Health would dole out licenses to growers and dispensaries. The bill would also lift current limits on the number of applicants who can be licensed and remove the cap of 25 facilities per license granted.

The bill's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, recently tweeted that the high cost of medical marijuana licenses in the state is "just wrong."

Sabatini has also said he supports full legalization of marijuana, according to the Daily Commercial, which sets him apart from his Republican colleagues in the House.

4. Amending criminal penalties for marijuana crimes (HB 25). Under this bill, criminal penalties for the possession of cannabis and THC products would be reduced. Juveniles would also be eligible for civil citations or diversion programs for those crimes.

Those in favor of the bill hope it will reduce the number of minorities incarcerated under charges of marijuana possession. That's because the bill would decriminalize marijuana possession for up to 20 grams.

Anyone arrested on possession charges could also face lesser sentences and smaller fines. HB 25 would make possession of marijuana under 20 grams a noncriminal violation instead of a misdemeanor, according to ABC Action News WFTS Tampa Bay.

Democratic state Rep. Shevrin Jones of Broward County filed the bill. He recently tweeted, "Making our communities equitable and safer starts with ensuring that people have a fair shot. Floridians need reform of cannabis laws, and we will make sure we end the injustice of overcriminalization."

5. Allowing more businesses to sell medical marijuana and edibles (SB 212). This Florida Senate bill would revise the state's definition of edibles and low-THC cannabis products, as well as marijuana and marijuana delivery devices. In most cases, the definitions have merely been expanded to include medical marijuana retail facilities, alongside medical marijuana treatment centers, as legitimate places to obtain those products.

The bill would also make it illegal for qualified physicians and caregivers to have an economic interest in a medical marijuana retail facility.

SB 212 would have the most impact on medical marijuana retail facilities by authorizing them to sell marijuana, marijuana delivery devices, and edibles under a new set of requirements. If the bill became law, the state would begin issuing licenses to medical marijuana retail facilities in August 2020.

Approved facilities would have to work with a single treatment center to obtain and sell their products. The facilities themselves would not be allowed to produce the products. 

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