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DeSantis Moving Toward Vetoing Bill to Regulate Cannabis Products in Florida

Florida Cannabis

While Governor Ron DeSantis opposes a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana in Florida, he is expected to veto a bill that would regulate and limit the sale of cannabis products such as Delta 9, according to four sources familiar with the discussions within the governor's office.

Senate Bill 1698, if signed into law, would restrict the sale of THC products like Delta 9 and prohibit the manufacturing and sale of the increasingly popular Delta 8 and Delta 10 products. Hemp supporters argue that the bill would devastate the hemp industry, resulting in job losses and significant economic impacts.

By vetoing the bill, DeSantis would be providing a lifeline to the hemp industry in a strategic move. According to insiders, DeSantis hopes the hemp industry will finance the campaign against Amendment 3, which aims to legalize recreational marijuana for individuals 21 and older.

"It's been flying under the radar, but he's going to veto," said one official, who requested anonymity to avoid angering the governor. "The marijuana people are furious, and they are scrambling."

"There was never a thought the Governor would veto the bill," said a second source. "But they are now signaling that they are going to veto, and I think it would be fair to say he is leaning toward a veto."

A third source, frustrated by the governor's possible maneuvering, noted: "I don't know how you can be against recreational marijuana and be in support of hemp. It doesn't make sense, unless what you are really looking for is money from the hemp industry."

A spokesman for the Governor declined to comment, stating that the public will be informed when a decision is made.

The hemp and marijuana industries, though both derived from the cannabis plant, are distinct and often at odds in Florida. Hemp products, made from male plants with lower THC levels, have surged in popularity due to their legal status and accessibility. Marijuana, from the female plant with higher THC levels, is tightly regulated and available only to medical patients.

In 2016, Florida voters approved medical marijuana, which is sold through licensed dispensaries to patients with specific diagnoses. By 2023, the medical marijuana industry in Florida generated approximately $2 billion in sales.

The 2018 U.S. Farm Bill legalized hemp products, leading to a boom in the hemp industry and the proliferation of "smoke shops" across the state. In 2022, hemp sales in Florida were estimated at $10 billion, significantly surpassing those of medical marijuana.

Critics argue that the lack of regulation on hemp products allows dangerously high THC levels and other contaminants. They also worry about the easy accessibility of these products to children.

"If he vetoes the bill, he runs the risk of more kids overdosing and ending up in emergency rooms," said a hemp critic. "And that will piss off a lot of moms. So, there is a risk to vetoing the bill."

The conflict between the hemp and marijuana industries has created unusual alliances. The chair of the Republican Party of Florida, Evan Power, is a leading lobbyist for the hemp industry, while Nikki Fried, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, has been a prominent hemp advocate.

"I've had conversations with staff on the bill," Power told CBS Miami. "And he is moving toward a decision. And we hope he doesn't sign it."

Fried told CBS Miami: "Expanding access to cannabis is a non-partisan issue with broad support in Florida. Hemp products provide relief to millions of Floridians — including veterans, seniors, and patients with chronic pain. Any attempts at regulation should protect consumers, while considering the impact on accessibility for patients and the ability of small businesses to compete."

Last week, DeSantis's chief of staff, James Uthmeier, informed Senator Colleen Burton, the bill's sponsor, of the governor's intention to veto. Burton, reportedly irate, urged a reconsideration of the bill.

"She pushed back pretty hard," said one person briefed on the call.

Burton declined to comment on the call, telling CBS Miami, "The Governor is in the process of reviewing the bill."

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has yet to formally transmit the bill to the governor, holding it back to try to persuade him to sign it.

Despite these efforts, expectations of a veto are growing. One source noted, "The governor wants to kill the marijuana amendment," and sees the veto as a strategy to reduce support for the amendment and secure financial backing from the hemp industry.

Ironically, if the marijuana amendment fails in November, DeSantis could potentially reintroduce the hemp bill in the next legislative session.

If the governor vetoes the hemp bill, he could cite various reasons, including concerns from veterans and gun owners, as well as parents worried about losing access to non-euphoric hemp products like Charlotte's Web, used to treat epileptic seizures.

DeSantis has also expressed concerns about the odor of smoked marijuana, preferring to avoid the issue entirely. He recently remarked, "Look what's happened in Denver, Colorado. Look what's happened in Los Angeles, New York City. You know, I've talked to people that have moved from New York and they're like, they used to have, you know, an apartment somewhere and it used to (smell differently). Now, what does it reek of? It reeks of marijuana. I don't want the state to be reeking of marijuana."

(However, DeSantis did not mention that, if passed, the legislature could regulate marijuana use to non-smoking forms.)

Another possible reason for a veto could be to wait for the outcome of Amendment 3 and then address both hemp and marijuana regulations in the 2025 legislative session.

"We should have a decision soon," said one of the sources.


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