Marijuana Legalization Could Turn Florida Gubernatorial Race

Florida’s three top Democratic contenders for governor have all come out in support of full, adult-use marijuana legalization.
Marijuana Legalization Could Turn Florida Gubernatorial Race

In 2016, a wide majority of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis. Two years later, the Florida Department of Health is still dragging its feet on implementing the law. Floridians are growing impatient. They don’t just want the state to follow through on medical cannabis, however. They also want marijuana legal for adult use. With anti-cannabis Republican Gov. Rick Scott on his way out of office, and a chance to flip the legislature, Democrats are recognizing that marijuana legalization could turn Florida gubernatorial race in their favor.

Three of Florida’s top Democratic primary contenders for the governorship—Tallahassee Mayer Andrew Gillum, Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine—support adult-use cannabis legalization, reports The News Service of Florida.

A fourth contender, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, backs decriminalization. She says she doesn’t endorse locking up people for possessing personal amounts of marijuana. But Graham’s refusal to support full legalization has renewed criticisms of her conservatism.

The three Democratic gubernatorial candidates who support legalization each have a different vision for how to go about achieving it.

Gillum’s campaign is putting the emphasis on the revenue Florida stands to gain from a regulated and taxed cannabis market. During a debate between the primary candidates in April, Gillum also said that legalization will halt the “over-criminalization of young people.”

Echoing Gillum, King is also making legalization part of his comprehensive criminal justice reform platform. “Florida should legalize and regulate marijuana to end the practice of over-criminalization predominately affecting communities of color,” the candidate said in an email. King also said he would invest tax revenue from cannabis sales in programs that “reverse the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Taking a somewhat different approach, Levine’s campaign said the candidate would back a legislative effort to legalize marijuana. That strategy would almost certainly require a Democratic state legislature. Without support from Florida lawmakers, Levine said he would “let the people decide,” likely through a referendum.

The more tepid proposals gave King an opening to chide his opponents. “Half-measures from conventional politicians such as ‘decriminalization’ or ‘following the will of voters’ are answers straight from the political establishment playbook,” King wrote.

Fresh off a legal victory over smokable medical marijuana, Florida lawyer John Morgan is warning Democrats not to oppose adult-use legalization. According to Morgan, candidates who oppose legal weed might as well oppose same-sex marriage.

“You’re dead. You’re DOA,” Morgan said.

Last year, Morgan sued Gov. Scott on behalf of Florida’s medical cannabis patients. Last week, a Tallahassee judge agreed with Morgan that the Scott administration’s ban on smokable medical marijuana was unconstitutional and a violation of voters intent.

The Florida Department of Health immediately appealed the ruling. And this week, Morgan called on Gov. Scott to drop the appeal.

All four Democratic primary candidates for governor support permitting medical cannabis patients to smoke marijuana.

John Morgan’s efforts are forcing Republicans to play their anti-cannabis cards. That gives Democratic challengers an opening on a key issue. Top candidates have already seized it.

More than 71 percent of Florida primary voters support medical cannabis legalization, and more than 60 percent are in favor of fully legalizing the drug.

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