silhouette photo of palm trees

In a move that could significantly impact Florida’s burgeoning medical cannabis industry, Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill introducing more stringent regulations on the advertising and manufacturing of medical marijuana.

The new law prohibits any products or messages promoting recreational cannabis use and imposes stricter eligibility requirements for industry workers. This legislation marks a major shift in Florida’s existing medical cannabis law, potentially reshaping the market landscape, especially if an adult-use legalization measure is approved by voters next year. The law now forbids cannabis manufacturers and retailers from producing or advertising products that appeal to children or promote recreational use.

This is a departure from the previous policy, which did not explicitly ban the promotion of non-medical use and only applied restrictions to infused edibles. However, the legislation does not clearly define what constitutes promoting recreational use. This ambiguity could potentially clash with a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize adult-use marijuana that advocates and industry stakeholders aim to include in the 2024 ballot. If a product is designed for adult recreational use, it raises questions about how it can be legally marketed without promoting such use, unless the new law is amended or overturned by courts for violating a potential new constitutional protection for adult-use cannabis.

The Smart & Safe Florida campaign has already gathered enough signatures for a legalization initiative to be certified for ballot placement. However, the state attorney general is actively trying to convince the state Supreme Court to invalidate it, arguing that its title and summary are misleading. The court previously invalidated an earlier legalization measure, but advocates believe they have learned from that experience and have crafted an initiative that meets the legal standards necessary for ballot placement. The new law also affects the medical cannabis industry’s workforce. It removes exemptions from employment background screenings for individuals with certain criminal records and expands the background screening requirement to all medical cannabis testing lab employees. The medical cannabis business will now bear the cost of federal fingerprinting processing and retention fees, rather than the individual undergoing the background check. This could result in a less diverse workforce, as prior marijuana-related convictions often resulted in misdemeanors and felonies.

The removal of exceptions and the expansion of screening requirements could exclude those most affected by the war on drugs, at a time when advocates are pushing for greater industry equity. Governor DeSantis has a mixed record on cannabis policy. While he has supported the state’s medical cannabis and hemp industries in some instances, he has also enacted certain restrictions. For example, last month, he signed legislation banning sales of any consumable hemp products, including cannabis “chewing gum”, to people under 21. However, he also signed a bill that resulted in two Black farmers in Florida being awarded long-awaited medical marijuana business licenses. The outcome of the ongoing state Supreme Court case could determine whether Florida enacts legalization, regardless of the governor’s stance.

By John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.