Cannabis has become a key issue in the Florida primaries, particularly on the Democratic side. Perhaps the state’s current disarray with regards to its medical cannabis program might explain the preoccupation amongst voters. But Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates have practically tripped over one another trying to out-endorse recreational cannabis.
Four out of the five candidates participated in a debate last weekend. By all accounts, it was a testy affair, except when the topic of cannabis broached the stage. The candidates were asked how they would make medical marijuana more accessible to patients who have been kept waiting.
“Medical marijuana was approved by the people two years ago by the people,” Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine said. “Today people still can’t get in the state of Florida. Let me tell you the reason. It’s because the Kremlin—oh, I mean Tallahassee—doesn’t want to listen to the people of Florida.”
Perhaps more interesting was watching the candidates try and top one another on their stances on cannabis legalization.
— Andrew Gillum (@AndrewGillum) June 9, 2018
As Mayor of Miami Beach, we decriminalized marijuana because it was the right thing to do—ruining people’s lives is the wrong approach. With overcrowded prisons and an opioid epidemic ravaging our communities, it’s time to take this one step further. #FLGovDebate pic.twitter.com/hvirFRIq69
— Mayor Philip Levine (@MayorLevine) June 9, 2018
Our criminal justice system disproportionately targets minorities — in Pinellas County, African Americans are 6X more likely to be arrested for marijuana. That's wrong. Chris will be a Governor determined to fight against that. #TeamKing #FLDemDebate
— Chris King (@ChrisKingFL) June 9, 2018
But that’s not all. Heading into the debate, Levine and the affordable housing investor Chris King reiterated their plans regarding legalization to impress potential voters. What this represents is staggering when it comes to politics and cannabis; typically voters can only choose between candidates who support cannabis legalization and those who do not. Now, voters can actually chose the pro-cannabis candidate who has the best plan, not just the positive one.
There are times when doing the right thing may not be easy but it’s morally clear. We’ve come to one of those moments. If elected Gov, I will carefully move to legalize the sale of rec. marijuana for adults. Through responsible reform, Florida can generate $600M annually. #flapol pic.twitter.com/fYkF6JeNHI
— Mayor Philip Levine (@MayorLevine) June 8, 2018
#FBF to last month, when we rolled out our plan to legalize and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana, end private prisons and the death penalty, and fight the mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders here in Florida. https://t.co/tM9uQCE1JN
— Chris King (@ChrisKingFL) June 8, 2018
We haven’t mentioned Gwen Graham, who was also participated in the debates. When it comes to cannabis, Graham’s been analogized as the tortoise competing against the hares in this race. She’s fully endorsed decriminalizing marijuana and fully realizing Florida’s medical marijuana program. But she hasn’t endorsed legalizing recreational cannabis like the rest of the pack.
“For me, I believe you accomplish change by incrementally approaching it and having a plan for how do you get there,” Graham told Orlando Weekly last week.
Related Story: Why Intelligent Cannabis Reform Is Good Politics For 2020
“The state of Florida has not fully implemented medical marijuana,” she continued. “I mean we need to get that fully implemented, and hav[e] people across the state of Florida having the opportunity to take advantage of medical marijuana.”
The Florida primaries will be held Aug. 28, but it’s already clear how marijuana has shaped the campaign trail. As Tom Angell of Marijuana Moment pointed out, we’re potentially witnessing “the new politics of cannabis.”