Legalizing medical marijuana could cost Florida in excess of $1.1 million each year, but any other financial or tax impact of offering the drug to the seriously ill is unclear, according to a state economic panel.
The Office of Economic and Demographic Research's Financial Impact Estimating Conference finished its analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative Monday and concluded that "increased costs from this amendment to state and local governments cannot be determined."
Aside from the Department of Health, which estimated that it would cost an estimated $1.1 million yearly to regulate the medical marijuana industry, most agencies said the cost would not be significant or did not yet have any hard numbers.
The report stated the health department's costs "will likely be offset through fees charged to the medical marijuana industry and users."
The report estimates that about 417,000 to 452,000 people will use medical marijuana based on figures from other states.
The campaign to put a medical marijuana amendment on the ballot was launched by United for Care, spearheaded by high-profile Orlando trial attorney John Morgan.
The ballot initiative has been opposed by Republican legislative leaders, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has filed a challenge to the wording of the amendment with the Florida Supreme Court. Bondi wrote that the court has "long rejected proposals that hide the ball."
The court must review the constitutionality of all amendments and is expected to hear oral arguments Dec. 5.
Organizers said United for Care has collected more than 200,000 petitions, with 121,592 validated. The group will need 683,149 by Feb. 1 for the amendment to be eligible for the 2014 general election ballot.
Crist ally: 'LeMieux is a skunk'
Amid the many valid criticisms of Crist, the newly announced Democratic candidate for governor, it's jarring to hear attacks come from George LeMieux, Crist's former political adviser, chief of staff, and appointed U.S. senator.
"Charlie Crist has done something which in my mind is really breathtaking, not only in Florida but in the country. … In my view this is the largest change of positions by a leading American political figure in as quick a period of time as we've had in recent political history," LeMieux said Monday in a conference call organized by the Florida GOP.
"Anyone who wants to be in high political office has to have a guiding set of principles upon which they can make decisions and those principles are certainly in question here," said LeMieux, calling Crist "my friend."
The comments prompted Buzz to dig out a notebook from a recent conversation with John Morgan, Crist's boss, who told us that despite regular encouragement, Crist never says a negative word about LeMieux.
"LeMieux is a skunk," Morgan said. "If I look like George LeMieux and I have the personality of George LeMieux, and you make me a United States senator, I never, ever am going to do anything against you for the rest of my life. I mean, even if I was going to lose the United States Senate primary, I'm going to say, 'Listen, if you want me to bad-mouth Charlie Crist, it's not going to happen because he made me a United States senator, and he's my friend.' "
Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.