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Is it high time for marijuana legalization?

Mark Parker



Brady Cobb is a former attorney and marijuana lobbyist. He also named his dispensary chain after his father, one of Pablo Escobar's top pot smugglers. Photos provided.

The son of a 1970s cannabis smuggler, Brady Cobb took a decidedly different path into the industry by becoming an attorney, lobbyist and, more recently, a local medical marijuana dispensary owner.

He also believes that Florida stakeholders have never been closer to putting recreational marijuana use on ballots. Adults in 20 states and Washington, D.C., can legally purchase cannabis products without a medicinal card, contributing to $3.7 billion in additional taxes.

The total tax revenue from 38 states allowing some form of legal marijuana purchases reached $11.2 billion by March 2022.

Cannabis enthusiasts have another reason to celebrate their unofficial 4/20 “holiday” today. A recent University of North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab survey found that 70% of all respondents support allowing adults to purchase and possess small amounts of marijuana.

“This is the best shot on goal that we’ve gotten thus far,” Cobb said of the proposed constitutional amendment. “And honestly, it would be a game changer if it happened. Florida would become one of the top-two markets in the country, if not the world, right out of the gate.”

That would exponentially increase local coffers, as state statute exempts medical marijuana from excise taxes. Colorado, which legalized cannabis across the board back in 2012, levies a 15% sales and 15% excise tax on purchases.

A spokesperson for Colorado’s governor’s office told NewsNation that they expect to receive $365 million in revenue this year. Cobb noted Florida, and St. Petersburg’s preponderance of visitors,  would also contribute to the tax base.

The push to allow anyone over 21 to buy marijuana is riding a wave of momentum. As of April 12, a political action committee has submitted 635,996 valid signatures for the ballot initiative in under nine months.

That is over 71% of the 891,589 needed by Feb. 1, 2024, to initiate the constitutional amendment process. Medical marijuana conglomerate Trulieve, a pioneer in the Florida market, contributed $30 million to the cause.

“From a ballot language standpoint, it’s drafted very well,” Cobb said. “I think it’s probably the one that has the best chance of surviving the (Florida) Supreme Court review, which we’ll find out here in the coming months.”

Once on the November 2024 ballot, Cobb expressed his confidence that “the public support will be there.”

Brady Cobb’s father, Bill, bought a racing team with his marijuana smuggling earnings.

The family business

Cobb’s father, Bill, was one of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s top U.S. pot smugglers in the 1970s and early ’80s. Born “dirt-poor” in the Florida panhandle, Bill imported around 1.5 million pounds of Columbian marijuana and made around $320 million.

The elder Cobb and his crew bought the distribution rights to Sun System, a French sun care company. They raced cars at the Indy 500 and Daytona, and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans under the Sun System banner.

Their glamorous and brazen lifestyle would eventually catch the FBI’s attention, and “Operation Sunburn” ensued. Bill was arrested in 1983 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

However, with the help of Johnny Cochrane, Alan Dershowitz and F. Lee Bailey – the attorneys who later represented O.J. Simpson – Bill served just 27 months. He would later start a successful spring water company before he died in 2010.

“There’s a certain mystique to smuggling in Florida,” Brady Cobb said. “It’s kind of part of the fabric of Florida’s evolution as an economy.”

While Cobb confessed to a “natural affinity” for cannabis, he also sought to avoid federal prison. “So, I went to law school to try and change the law,” he added.

Cobb was 30 when his dad died; he served as his healthcare surrogate. He then started a family and opened a chain of medical marijuana dispensaries named Sunburn Cannabis, after his father’s operation.

While Cobb said he and his business partner began planning the endeavor 22 years ago, the company launched in August 2022. A St. Petersburg location opened in January, and there are now 10 Sunburn Cannabis dispensaries throughout the state.

He also operates two marijuana farms outside of Orlando.

Cobb said he sold the ongoing family story to a production studio but bought the publication rights when the show failed to premier. While the focus is now on building the Sunburn brand, he continues documenting his journey for a later release.

The inside of Sunburn Cannabis dispensary. Brady Cobb stressed the personal importance of opening a location in the city.

St. Petersburg

Cobb has extensive ties to the city and frequently visits. His aunt is a longtime resident, and his uncle, Thomas Rongen, served as the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ head coach from 2014 to 2015.

“I love the downtown community in St. Pete,” Cobb said. “I’ve got a lot of great friends there – we do a lot of stuff with the Urban Stillhouse and the Horse Soldier guys.”

He explained that the city was a deciding factor when acquiring Med Men dispensary properties, as it had a St. Petersburg location. Cobb’s company also embraces the loud, rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that was an integral aspect of “Southern Americana” in the late 1970s, and he called the city’s music scene “incredible.”

“Culturally, it (St. Pete) is such an on-brand and such an interesting and unique part of Florida’s fabric that it was somewhere that we just had to be,” Cobb added. “It’s a big deal for us.”



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  1. Avatar


    April 20, 2023at3:14 pm

    It is way past the time to get this through..

  2. Avatar

    Ron Ogden

    April 20, 2023at6:45 pm

    Why do we need more lanes on the highway to the land of uselessness and vacuity?

  3. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    April 20, 2023at6:54 pm

    NO!! Do not legalize. We have enough impaired drivers on the roads, enough vacuous pedestrians seemingly unable to safely traverse the streets, and too much loss of intellectual prowess. Look at California to see what fifty years of dope smoking looks like!

  4. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    April 22, 2023at2:04 pm

    Legalize it and move on to more important stuff, please

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