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State analysts discuss financial impact of proposed medical marijuana law


A proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana is still well short of the signatures needed to make it on the 2014 ballot. But enough people have expressed support for the referendum that a team of state analysts has started the process of drafting the financial impact statement that would have to be included in the ballot language.

Today's Financial Impact Estimating Conference meeting included an overview of how other states have implemented medical marijuana laws and reviews of national studies on the topic. The analysts discussed different ways the law could be implemented in Florida, if voters approve, and how it could affect the state's bottom line.

For example, depending on how medical marijuana is classified, there could be new sales tax or property tax revenue coming into the state. The law will bring new costs, as well. State agencies will have to oversee implementation and enforcement. A representative of the Florida Sheriff's Association also warned about increases in drug dependency and traffic crashes.

Led by prominent attorney John Morgan, supporters of medical marijuana have turned in 109,310 valid signatures so far, according to the state Division of Elections website. They need 683,149 signatures in order for the proposed amendment to appear on the November 2014 ballot.

Enough signatures have been turned in to trigger a review of the ballot language by Attorney General Pam Bondi and the drafting of a financial impact statement.

That committee hopes to reach an agreement and finalize that language by Nov. 4. Their next meeting is Oct. 28 to review more information about potential costs and revenue associated with the law, as well as estimates of the number of Floridians who would elect to participate in a medical marijuana program.

Chief state economist Amy Baker said the number will likely fall between 175,000 and 450,000 Floridians, but additional information will help narrow the window. 

The ballot initiative aims to legalize marijuana use for "individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician." It also would allow caregivers to legally assist these patients with using marijuana.

Federal laws that prohibit carrying marijuana across state laws would remain in effect, and the Florida law would not allow the use of marijuana for non-medical purposes. As the law currently reads, the state would be solely responsible for regulating distribution centers that produce and dispense medical marijuana.