Federal efforts have Florida advocates hopeful for weed legalization in 2022

'I think we are very close,' Melissa Villar says
Posted at 6:05 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 18:05:45-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Will the green plant get a green light in Florida next year? Recreational marijuana advocates remained hopeful.

Melissa Villar, NORML Tallahassee's executive director, believed new efforts to decriminalize the drug on the federal level would motivate the state legislature in the coming legislative session. If Congress passes, Florida might be inclined to again follow suit as it did with hemp, she said.

"That's what we hear over and over," said Villar. "'Well, it's federally prohibited.' Descheduling will move the needle, absolutely, to the next song."

Melissa Villar, recreational marijuana advocate
Melissa Villar speaks about the possibility of marijuana becoming legal to use recreationally in Florida.

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the federal bill last week. He doesn’t yet have the votes but has secured the support of major corporations like Amazon.

"I think we are very close," said Villar. "I think we are on the cusp."

Recent findings by Public Policy Polling suggested a majority of Floridians support recreational legalization. A survey of more than 500 Florida voters in March of this year found 59% approved of legalization, 31 percent were opposed, 10 percent unsure.

Despite the support, the Florida Legislature has been resistant to take up the issue. For years, bipartisan efforts have yet to receive scheduling for a committee hearing.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, has filed at least three bills for adult legalization. He plans to offer a fourth in the coming session.

State Rep. Carlos Smith
State Rep. Carlos Smith says he will once again helm a marijuana legalization bill in 2022.

"Decriminalizing cannabis in the United States is a huge deal," Smith said. "It’s a reminder that we’re moving in the right direction. Even though it might be painfully slow, we’re moving in the right direction."

Smith expects to again partner with Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, to move the bill in both chambers. The two believe legalization would add millions in new state tax revenue and ease the burden on Florida's criminal justice system.

There have been setbacks on other fronts. Grassroots efforts to put the issue on the 2022 ballot have hit a snag. The Florida Supreme Court recently struck down two of the biggest proposals for misleading language.

Villar had helped with one of the petitions and saw the ruling as an opportunity to learn, create a better proposal, and try again in the future. For now— she said her hopes were hanging on Congress and the state legislature to take the next steps.

"Deschedualing at the federal level, that opens up the door for legalization in Florida," she said.