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.
Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue
Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) October 6, 2018
Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”
And enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans https://t.co/TQdJ8fzkTM
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 6, 2018
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says
Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.
The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.
North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Winning In Latest Poll
North Dakota voters appear poised to legalize marijuana via a ballot measure next month, according to a new poll.
Measure 3, which would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over in one of the country’s most conservative states—and with no possession limits—is ahead among likely voters by a margin of 51 percent to 36 percent in the survey released on Sunday.
North Dakota has brought marijuana policy reform supporters pleasant surprises before. Medical cannabis was approved there by an overwhelming majority of voters in 2016, for example, and will be available to patients sometime in 2019.
And despite little pro-legalization funding and relatively large spending in opposition to the ballot measure—a flip of the usual paradigm seen in most other states with cannabis initiatives—libertarian-leaning and younger voters on the prairie appear to be pushing Measure 3 towards a slim victory.
The results sharply contrast to those of another poll released earlier this month, which found the marijuana measure losing, 59 percent to 30 percent.
And although legalization support was significantly larger than opposition in the new survey, 13 percent of the 412 respondents say they are still undecided, leaving the issue very much in balance in the lead up to Election Day.
Nonetheless, legalization advocates are pleased with the new polling result.
“Despite a big-money funded misinformation campaign from the opposition, this poll reveals that most North Dakotans are ready to end the failed prohibition of marijuana in the state,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a press release. “By voting ‘Yes’ on Measure 3, North Dakotans could save the state millions of taxpayer dollars currently being spent on arresting otherwise law-abiding adults for possession of a plant that is objectively less harmful than legal alcohol and tobacco, allow law enforcement to allocate their limited resources to focus on violent crime, and defend individual freedom.”
But activists know that the opposition has more money, and aren’t taking anything for granted over the next few weeks.
“The message of ending marijuana arrests is resounding in North Dakota, and these results demonstrate that voters are hearing our call for action. This is a dogfight, and LegalizeND will continue to set the record straight when it comes to adult-use marijuana,” Cole Haymond, a campaign advisory for Legalize ND, said.
Consistent with other states where medical marijuana has become legal, the measure performed best with voters under 50 in the new poll. Fifty-seven percent of respondents were 50 or older, suggesting that if younger voters turn out on Election Day, the measure may stand an even better chance of success.
“Passage of Measure 3 is greatly dependent upon the voters under the age of 50 voting in at least their historical percentages,” reads a polling memo by The Kitchens Group, which conducted the survey. “If the electorate is skewed toward the older, more conservative voters, passage could be problematic.”
But Measure 3 is being sold to voters on a personal responsibility platform, with emphasis on harsher penalties for sales to minors—and on marijuana’s proven ability to alleviate opiate-related overdoses and deaths.
When these aspects of the ballot measure were mentioned to poll respondents, support increased by the end of the eight-question survey.
Both before and after the push-polling, the percentage of voters who said they would “definitely” vote no stayed at a consistent 29 percent, suggesting that North Dakota has only a hardcore minority of prohibition-minded voters, with many more undecideds and pro-legalization voters.
The ballot measure is very far-reaching compared to those proposed in other states. It would allow possession, cultivation and sales of marijuana, with no set limits, though lawmakers would almost certainly enact regulations in the event of the measure’s passage. It would also expunge prior cannabis convictions.
The poll was conducted between October 11 and 14, and has a margin of error or +/- 4.9 percentage points.
Voters in seven states will consider marijuana ballot measures on Election Day this year.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Measure 3 legalized only small amounts of marijuana. The text of Measure 3 legalizes marijuana for adults 21 and over with no possession limits. This article has been updated.