CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Could recreational marijuana use soon be legalized?
That’s the question being asked tonight after a supreme court judge says federal laws against marijuana may no longer be necessary. It’s a topic that is stirring debate within the Supreme Court. Are the federal laws making marijuana possession illegal now out of date?
“It’s a huge issue for the medical marijuana companies and recreational companies across the whole nation," says Amanda Barton, Senior Associate with Mr. Cannabis Law.
Marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 illegal drug under the federal government. Here in Florida, medical marijuana programs have been passed making it legal. But just because you have a license in the state, does not mean you are not breaking federal law.
“While they may be licensed under their state regulators and they might be operating under all the laws and might be completely compliant, there is still that scare that the federal government could come in anytime and shut them down or, at worst, arrest one of the owners or operators," says Barton. "It’s definitely very daunting for people in the industry.”
One challenge medicinal marijuana dispensaries are facing is banking. Due to the federal laws, dispensaries cannot conduct business with federal banks making their options limited.
“They can’t bank with a federal bank. They can’t bank with someone who is FDIC insured so they’re having to go to local banks, credit unions in order to get their banking services done. So that poses a big problem for a lot of the companies in the state.”
And yet, despite all of those setbacks, Florida has seen a boom in medicinal marijuana dispensaries. According to Barton, there are close to 350 locations throughout the state. Dispensaries are popping up in vacant spaces like strip malls.
“Our population here in the state of Florida, we do have a lot of retirees and older people so these are medications that don’t necessarily have the side effects of the harsh pharmaceuticals," says Barton. "So we have a lot of people who are very interested in medical marijuana here in the state.”
While the industry has seen a boom here in Florida, it may be some time before marijuana is deemed legal for recreational use.
“I, personally, don’t think we’re going to see it until 2024; until it actually makes the next primary election year ballot," Barton said. "It doesn’t seem like our legislatures are going to do it on their own so, unfortunately, it may come down to a vote of the people.”
When medical marijuana was legalized in the state back in November of 2016, the issue had to go through a voter referendum. It may require another presidential election year for recreational use to pass. Federal prosecutors have been instructed by the Department of Justice not to pursue cases against marijuana businesses that follow state law. Since 2015, Congress has prohibited the Justice Department from spending federal money to prevent states from carrying out their own laws.