The race to become Florida’s next governor has already been marked by divisive politics and controversy in the hours following the state’s primary election on Tuesday. And when it comes to marijuana, the gubernatorial primary winners are sharply divided.
On the Democratic side, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has positioned himself as a squarely pro-legalization candidate. Gillum, who received an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and would become Florida’s first black governor if elected, wants adult-use cannabis to be legal and accessible in the Sunshine State.
“I’ve said before and was proud to lead the pack by saying we ought to make legal all forms of marijuana,” he told WPLG 10News in June.
“Now obviously I will enforce the laws as they exist today, but it’s our goal to change these laws so that they represent, again, what I think is a 21st century mindset that disrupts the prison pipeline, and the prison industrial complex, and also brings revenue into this state that we can fund public education.”
In a tweet from earlier this year, Gillum shared an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that showed 60 percent of Americans favor full legalization. Florida should legalize it, tax it, and use revenue to “fix Florida’s public schools and move us up from 29th in the nation to #1,” he wrote.
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) January 24, 2018
That 60 percent figure Gillum cited is roughly consistent with polling results that focus on Florida, too. Voters in the state, who overwhelmingly approved a 2016 initiative to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, also feel adult-use marijuana should be legal. A February 2018 survey from the University of North Florida found that 62 percent of adults in the state think marijuana should be legal and regulated like alcohol.
But don’t expect a big push to actualize that voter sentiment if Gillum’s Republican opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is elected. While the Trump-backed gubernatorial primary winner appears more amenable to medical cannabis than incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R), he’s on the record opposing legalizing marijuana in Florida.
“I am going to implement the will of the voters,” DeSantis told WPLG 10News. “They passed medical marijuana overwhelmingly, and my view is is we have a process in Florida when that happens, then we shouldn’t play games with it. We should just simply implement it.”
“Now I’m not somebody that thinks having recreational marijuana for young people is good. I think that will make it more difficult for people to succeed. And I think parents right now—it’s very difficult to raise children in the modern technological environment, you’ve got so many different distractions, to throw marijuana into it and make it more prevalent, I think would make it harder for parents. But on the medical side, we’ve got to respect the will of the voters.”
DeSantis does enjoy a “B” rating from NORML, however, based on his voting history on Capitol Hill. The congressman has supported U.S. House amendments to protect state medical cannabis and recreational legalization laws from federal interference
However, DeSantis voted against amendments that would ease cannabis access for military veterans.
It isn’t just the race for governor that could have a significant impact on the future of marijuana policy in Florida.
The U.S. Senate battle between incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and Scott, who’s reached the term-limit of his governorship, is another race to watch. Scott said he personally voted against the state’s bid to legalize medical marijuana and has faced criticism over the government’s rollout of the voter-approved initiative.
Meanwhile, the incumbent senator has voiced support for medical cannabis access.
“I don’t want a government or a politician to get in the way of a doctor recommending what should be the treatment, the medical treatment for the doctor’s patient,” Nelson said. Even so, he remains opposed to adult-use legalization.
The direction of marijuana policy in Florida could also be affected by elections in smaller offices, including the role of agricultural commissioner. The Democratic primary winner, Nikki Fried, is a former marijuana lobbyist who made headlines this month after Marijuana Moment reported that her Wells Fargo account had been shuttered over campaign contributions from the cannabis industry.
It’s well known that many banks are reluctant to open accounts for marijuana businesses, but Wells Fargo’s action appears to be the first time a bank is refusing to work with a political candidate because of cannabis industry donations.
— Tom Angell 🌳📰 (@tomangell) August 20, 2018
Fried’s competition, Republican primary winner Florida Rep. Matt Caldwell, hasn’t taken an especially vocal position on legalization, but he’s tweeted about his work on cannabis reform legislation and celebrated the work of colleagues implementing Florida medical marijuana program.
— Matt Caldwell (@mattcaldwell_fl) May 2, 2017
— Matt Caldwell (@mattcaldwell_fl) June 9, 2017
In any case, November’s election is shaping up to be particularly consequential for marijuana in Florida.