9 Investigates

Recreational marijuana in Florida? Not so fast

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — David McKinney of the Florida Cannabis Action Network traveled to the Florida State Capitol in 2010 to discuss with lawmakers the benefits of cannabis.

McKinney's cause was dismissed as a fringe lobbying interest that lacked political support.

Eight years later, things have changed.

"We’ve really seen a transformation. We’ve seen some people come around," McKinney said. "We’ve been working with legislators trying to build their knowledge and spread the message, but it’s been a lot of work."

9 Investigates' Christopher Heath met with McKinney at "Cannabis 101," an event at the Florida State Capitol to educate lawmakers about marijuana.

A U.S. Navy veteran, a medical marijuana advocate and members of a group supporting minority-owned medical marijuana businesses were among those who manned booths at this year's event.

"We have 30 states and the District of Columbia that have some form of medical marijuana,” said Josephine Cannella-Krehl, of Cannabis Therapeutics. "People are wanting safe and legal access."

Such access in Florida is protected by two state laws and a constitutional amendment.

The Florida Legislature in 2014 passed a law legalizing a strain of medical marijuana called Charlotte’s Web, which has a low amount of THC.

The Legislature in 2015 expanded medical marijuana access to people with terminal illnesses.

Voters in 2016 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution to fully legalize medical marijuana.

But that might be as far as Florida goes -- for now.

It takes an average of 13 years for states to transition from legalizing medical marijuana to legalizing it for recreational use. Some states have also voted to decriminalize it.

"Across the county, we will see full legalization. And in Florida, we will as well,” said Erik Range of Minorities for Medical Marijuana. "My hope is that we will move faster than the federal government here at the state level."

How quickly Florida fully legalizes marijuana could depend on which party is in power.

Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, both Republicans, told 9 Investigates that they oppose decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

Neither gubernatorial candidate supports full legalization either.

A spokesman for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor, told 9 Investigates that recreational marijuana increases crime and threatens the state's safety and security.

But Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat who's running for governor, said he supports the decriminalization and legalization of recreational marijuana, saying that it should be regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco.

The gubernatorial campaign of former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who's also a Democrat, said the state should uphold the will of the people by making medical marijuana accessible to those who need it.

"Florida should embrace the principle that no young person should go to jail or have their lives ruined over an incident of marijuana use," a Graham campaign spokesman said in a statement. "We can and should decriminalize."

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who's also running for governor as a Democrat, said he also is calling for decimalization.

"Floridians deserve an opportunity to weigh in on a constitutional amendment for recreational marijuana that’s controlled, regulated and taxed to fund vital state services," Levine's campaign said in a statement.

There are no bills currently being considered in Tallahassee to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but there are two bills that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Hearings haven't been scheduled for either proposed bill for this legislative session.

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