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Where Florida’s Gubernatorial Candidates Stand On Marijuana

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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.

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.

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.

In any case, November’s election is shaping up to be particularly consequential for marijuana in Florida.

Florida’s US Senate Candidates Clash On Medical Marijuana

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Idaho Senator Files Bill To Decriminalize Drug Possession

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A new bill filed by an Idaho senator would decriminalize possession of currently illegal drugs in the state, though it also contains a provision that advocates consider troubling, allowing the government to involuntarily commit people convicted of certain offenses to treatment.

Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D) introduced the legislation, which would remove criminal penalties for drug use and possession by “requiring intention to deliver for criminal trafficking.”

Burgoyne told Marijuana Moment the bill has been referred to the Judiciary and Rules Committee, where Chairman Todd Lakey (R) has agreed to hold a hearing on it.

“We have too much of a focus on prosecution and punishment and not enough on treatment,” Burgoyne said in a separate interview with KTVB. “We don’t have a functioning mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment capability for the needs of our people. We need new strategies, how we draw the lines between what is criminal conduct and what is not criminal conduct when it comes to drug possession and usage.”

The bill sets different possession thresholds for different drugs. Having just two grams of heroin could be considered trafficking, while for cocaine and methamphetamine, the amount is set at 28 grams. One pound of marijuana, or 25 plants, could be treated as a trafficking offense.

Any amount of LSD could be considered a trafficking offense, as could any amount of a “simulated controlled substance,” possibly referring to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Using drugs with friends would also be harshly penalized, as “sharing or providing a controlled substance for use by another person shall constitute intent to deliver.”

“This will reduce arrests, but how much is very hard to predict,” Burgoyne told Marijuana Moment. “Unfortunately, illegal drug use, even in private, is too often accompanied by the commission of other crimes, which my bill does not excuse and which could lead to arrest.”

Burgoyne’s bill would also allow people using drugs to be “placed in protective custody” or “admitted for community-assisted behavioral health treatment.” This would apply to people under the influence and in various circumstances, such as being pregnant, posing a risk to themselves or others or in withdrawal.

But existing research on mandatory drug treatment suggests it is not helpful for people with substance use disorder. A 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal, for example, found that when people are ordered to undergo drug treatment without their informed consent, the practice does more harm than good and does not reduce their drug use. The researchers explained that harm reduction efforts like syringe exchanges and drug education were more effective.

“Although there is some theoretical danger of adverse consequences to mandated drug treatment, we already mandate it for prisoners with drug issues,” Burgoyne said. “I’d like to shift treatment out of our jails and prisons to a more appropriate place. Furthermore, a civil commitment is not an easy thing to obtain, and I think our courts will be conservative in how they handle them.”

If the senator’s legislation passes, it remains to be seen what effect it would have on drug arrest rates in Idaho. According to the FBI, in 2017 Idaho had 8,432 arrests for “drug abuse violations,” which is a little over 16 percent of all arrests that year.

Burgoyne’s reform proposal comes amid a growing national debate about the value of decriminalizing drug use over more arrests. Last year in May, Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms. Oakland’s City Council followed the next month by decriminalizing a wide range of psychedelics.

Advocates are also raising the issue on the national stage. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed decriminalizing drug consumption in November. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has proposed decriminalizing drug possession and reducing sentences. His primary opponent, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), recently called for legalizing and regulating drugs in order to treat substance misuse as a public health issue.

Tulsi Gabbard Endorses Legalizing Drugs

Photo coutersy of Markus Spiske.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Politics

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Pushes For Marijuana Legalization In Annual Speech

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The governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) repeated his call for marijuana legalization in his annual State of the Territory address.

Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. (D), who called the legislature into a special session last month to begin taking up cannabis reform legislation, stressed that establishing a commercial marijuana market would bring in needed tax revenue to support a variety of government programs.

The proposed amendment to the territory’s existing medical cannabis law, which Bryan signed last year, would allow adults 21 and older to obtain a license from the government in order to purchase and cultivate marijuana. It would also promote participation in the industry by small farmers and local businesses, as well as providing for automatic expungements of prior cannabis convictions.

“Most importantly, it creates a taxing regime for the local industry that will generate higher revenues than the current law allows,” he said in the speech last Monday, noting that tax revenue will be distributed between the Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) fund (75 percent), implementation of regulations (20 percent) and services for senior citizens (5 percent).

“The revenues generated from this industry can benefit the system as a direct contribution,” the governor said. “However, the goal is to create a funding stream that is reliable enough to ultimately support a revenue bond that can provide a needed cash infusion to the system.”

Watch Bryan’s marijuana comments, first reported by Vibe High, about 36:24 into the video below:

“This is by no means the panacea or final solution for the GERS crisis, but a small part of a larger solution,” he continued. “It begins the process of generating the new revenues required to stave off the insolvency of the System. It takes existing policy, approved by this body, and leverages it to support this critical area of need.”

“We must acknowledge the opportunities that regulated expansion of this industry can bring to the territory and the potential benefits to the GERS,” he said. “I urge this body to take the necessary action to approve the amending legislation we have proposed.”

Bryan’s proposal calls for a 30 percent tax on marijuana sales, with revenue expected to be upwards of $20 million annually. His administration is also expecting the policy change to stimulate tourism, and visitors interested in participating in the market would be charged a $10 per day fee to access legal cannabis.

If approved, that would make USVI the third U.S. territory to legalize cannabis for adult use—after Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

This year has seen several governors voice support for marijuana reform during their high-profile annual addresses and in legislative agendas. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) reaffirmed his commitment to legalization in his State of the State speech and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) pledged to pursue decriminalization, for example.

In New Mexico, the governor included legalization in her 2020 agenda, and lawmakers followed suit by filing a cannabis reform bill on Thursday. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) proposed legalizing marijuana through a state-run model in a budget proposal released on Thursday.

Rhode Island Governor’s Budget Includes Legal Marijuana Sales In State-Run Stores

Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Tulsi Gabbard Endorses Legalizing Drugs

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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is calling for the U.S. to legalize currently illicit drugs.

“If we take that step to legalize and regulate, then we’re no longer treating people who are struggling with substance addiction and abuse as criminals and instead getting them the help that they need,” the 2020 presidential candidate said at a campaign stop in Merrimack, New Hampshire on Friday.

Please visit Forbes to read the rest of this piece.

(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)

Photo element courtesy of Lorie Shaull.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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