The state senator who helped pass legislation to repeal Florida’s smoking ban on medical marijuana admits the public’s  perception of marijuana use is changing and the state needs to make sure it’s ready to handle what is likely to be an inevitable scenario — the legalization of marijuana use for recreational purposes.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, says an effort to amend the Florida Constitution to allow the use of marijuana for general use is expected to make the ballot in the next 2 to 4 years.  He admits it will likely pass.

“I think the state needs to be preparing for, or at least getting our laws prepared for recreation (use),” Brandes said Friday. “I think you got to setup the process, that sets up a system that contemplates both medical and expanding into recreational.”

Brandes says it’s not unrealistic to expect passage of an amendment permitting the recreational use of cannabis in the near future.

“If you read the tea leaves, they kind of show that the public perception on recreational is changing and we know that it was likely to be on the ballot in ‘20, ‘22, or ‘24,” Brandes added. “As I’m looking at the changing demographics and I’m looking at the states that are adding recreational, It doesn’t seem too far-fetched that Florida would have recreational marijuana in the next few years.”

A citizens initiative called Sensible Florida hopes to put an amendment on the 2020 ballot that would legalize the use of of marijuana for recreational purposes.

“We feel like we have had some great effort and momentum with our efforts and where we are at right now,”  Michael Minardi who chairs the amendment drive said last week.

The group has collected 55,777 of the 766,200 voter signatures required to place an initiative on the ballot.

The group needs 76,632 to trigger a financial impact review of the proposed amendment by state economists, as well as a review of the ballot summary by the Florida Supreme Court to make sure the summary falls within the parameters of the law.

Minardi is hopeful that the initiative will reach the number of signatures to trigger the review by the state Supreme Court within the next couple of months. At that point he expects momentum and funding will both build in support of the amendment.

“We’re confident where we are and where we’ll be going over the next 3 to 6 months,” Minardi insisted.

Brandes says the state needs to prepare for the possibility that Florida will soon allow recreational marijuana.

“We’ve looked at polling (on the issue), it polls right around the mid 50’s to low 60’s,” Brandes explains. “I have to believe that that number is radically different than what it was 10 years ago and in a few years from now will pass the 60 percent threshold (for an amendment to pass).”

Brandes stresses the need for Florida law to be geared up and ready to handle that  possibility. He says Florida needs to work with states that have already been through the transition and learn from their best practices, especially in the area of licensing.

Brandes calls the current licensing system for medical marijuana a “cartel.” The system is vertically integrated.  That means the grower is responsible for producing the products, distributing them, and controlling the retail locations.  Thus the use of the word “cartel.” The result is a few companies controlling the production, distribution and pricing of the cannabis.

“The challenge you have right now, and one I have talked to a number of lawmakers about, they are very unsatisfied with the current system,” Brandes explained. “That they feel their constituents, hardworking taxpayers they represent, cannot participate in this marketplace.”

He says with recreational marijuana likely becoming a reality in Florida in the coming years, Florida needs to accept that likelihood and make sure it’s ready with adequate laws for when that day comes.