TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- Nearly half a million Floridians could be getting a legitimate high if voters approve a constitutional amendment making medical marijuana legal.
In the first of three estimating conferences dealing with the financial impact of the medical marijuana amendment, state economists on Monday learned that more than 1.6 million Floridians would be eligible for the treatment, according to state health officials. But just a fraction of those, between 175,000 and 450,000, would probably pursue the legal pot to cope with a variety of diseases, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
Department of Health officials estimated it would cost more than $900,000 to regulate in the first year, if voters sign off on the ballot measure in November 2014.
Those costs would go down after the start-up year, and would be offset by fees charged to medical marijuana treatment centers.
Economists haven't figured out yet how much money, if any, the state could garner if it taxes the medical marijuana, which would have to be grown or produced by the treatment centers.
The economists face a variety of unknowns as they grapple with the issue, including whether the pot would be an over-the-counter type drug which would be tax exempt.
Prominent Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan is chairman of the organization backing the proposed amendment. People United for Medical Marijuana is far from reaching the 683,149 signatures needed to get the amendment on the ballot, but the group has obtained more than 100,000 signatures, enough to prompt the estimating conferences.
The proposal would allow doctors to certify that their patients meet the criteria for medical marijuana treatment. Only treatment centers authorized by the state could distribute the drug.
The Department of Health would have to create a registry of patients and authorized care-givers and issue cards to them.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia now have laws legalizing marijuana in some form.
"The News Service of Florida contributed to this report."
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