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Florida Democrats File Marijuana Related Legislation In Advance Of Session

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Florida legalized medical marijuana in 2016. Since then, state lawmakers have tried to make changes. This year is no different. Proposals for full legalization and one providing employee protections for medical marijuana users are on the table.

Last year, a Marion County high school dean and retired marine was fired after testing positive for Marijuana. 51-year-old Mike Hickman was offered a suspension if he agreed to stop using his doctor-prescribed medicine to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder. Hickman refused and lost his job. That’s a loophole, Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton) is trying to fix.

"So you’re allowed to use medical marijuana if you have a proper license but if you get drug tested at work having nothing to do with your performance you can be fired for using a legal substance," said Polsky.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, even though a growing number of states have decriminalized it.

"There are plenty of other legal substances that people can be concerned about specifically opioids but those people would never be fired for using that," said Polsky.

Polsky has a bill that fills the hole by preventing public employers from firing, demoting, or suspending someone who tests positive marijuana if they can show they have a prescription. She’s working with Rep. Nicholas Duran (D-Miami). He explains how the bill would work.

"In the event someone takes a drug test and they test positive for marijuana they should be able to sort of explain and show that they are registered," said Duran. "That they are using medical marijuana and that’s the reason why their drug test came back positive for it."

Under the proposal, public employees could still be fired for poor performance or using medical marijuana on the job.

Polsky filed similar legislation last year that would have extended those protections to private employers, but it got pushback from the Chamber of Commerce. She’s hopeful the plan will get a hearing this year.

"We legalized this drug and so we need to make it fair to all of our residents who work in the public sector," said Polsky. "Then hopefully once this goes we can add the private sector, but we’ve learned in Tallahassee that you have to take baby steps sometimes to get important policy across."

Also up before the legislature again: full marijuana legalization.

"It doesn’t include everything I’d like to see as a progressive but it’s a fresh start that Floridians deserve to finally move past the draconian cannabis prohibition era," said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando).

He's talking about his bill for recreational marijuana use. The proposal has bipartisan support from the start. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is that chamber’s sponsor. Guillermo Smith says they knew it’d be best to find a common ground.

"Knowing how important it is to have a pro-cannabis majority in the legislature we’ve been doing our part in putting together a bi-partisan framework that a majority of the legislature can get behind," said Guillermo Smith.

The bill would also eliminate vertical integration—that’s how the current system enables the same companies to grow, transport, and sell the plant. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis last year likened the system to a cartel.

“I look at how some of this was created where they created a cartel essentially. (I) don’t know that the amendment necessarily prohibits that, but that is not good policy. So I would like them to address that as well," said DeSantis.

Guillermo Smith says the new proposal would allow more businesses to be involved.

"We create multiple license categories including growing, processing, and retailing and the creation of a transportation license as well," said Guillermo Smith.

Guillermo Smith hopes tearing down the current framework will lead Republicans to a yes vote. He says there’s also another incentive not directly written in the bill.

"And I hope as an additional incentive the legislature takes a look at the reality that legalizing cannabis for adult use in the state of Florida will bring additional tax revenue to the state at a time when we have over the two-billion-dollar budget deficit in the state of Florida," said Guillermo Smith.

That’s something that might run afoul of Senate President Wilton Simpson. He was asked in December whether he would support legalized marijuana to raise money. He said no.

Currently, 15 states have legalized marijuana. Nearly all were done by a ballot amendment, in Illinois they were the first to pass it through legislation. Doing it that way allowed legislators to establish taxes and direct money to programs they sought necessary.

Brandes says that’s what he wants in Florida. However, if the bill doesn’t get passed he says he’d throw his support behind a marijuana legalization ballot initiative for the 2022 gubernatorial election.

Copyright 2021 WFSU

Blaise Gainey is a Multimedia Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.