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Could Florida’s Next Governor Make It the 10th Legal Cannabis State?

August 28, 2018

In a surprise upset in the Florida state primary Tuesday night, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum defeated a heavily favored frontrunner to claim the Democratic nomination for governor.

Gillum, a strong legalization advocate, shocked the political world on Tuesday night.

Gillum, a 39-year-old rising political star, ran to the left of his party’s more heavily financed opponents—and embraced full adult-use legalization as the best path forward for Florida. His shocking victory, combined with an expected blue wave of motivated Democratic voters in November, raises the possibility of full adult-use legalization in the Sunshine State’s near future. Florida voters legalized medical marijuana in 2016 after coming up short two years earlier.

As Vox reported:

On Tuesday night, Gillum defied steep political odds, beating presumed frontrunner Gwen Graham, a former member of Congress and the daughter of a former governor and senator; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; and businessman Jeff Greene. He will face Trump-endorsed Republican Ron DeSantis in November’s general election, which forecasters have rated a toss-up.

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Centrist Dem Loses

Gwen Graham, who enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls going into Tuesday’s election, had won the endorsement of several well-known establishment Democrats. Gillum was backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer.

Two of Gillum’s primary opponents, Graham and Levine, adopted a position that favored decriminalization of cannabis, but not adult-use legalization.

In May, John Morgan, Florida’s leading legalization advocate, had tough words for the two centrist Democrats. Morgan told the Tallahassee Democrat:

“I’ll say this to Phil Levine and Gwen Graham . . . decriminalizing is a copout because decriminalizing is not legalizing,” said Morgan, adding that the public doesn’t care about marijuana laws.

“Decriminalization just means okay, you don’t have to serve any time. You still been arrested. It’s still on your record. And you still went to jail. And you know who the people are whose lives are ruined as a result? Poor people. Young people, minorities, that’s who gets arrested,” said Morgan.

Gillum, by contrast, made no apologies for his support for full legalization, which he included as part of a wider criminal justice plan to end the mass incarceration crisis in Florida. Gillum suggested using cannabis tax revenue to increase the pay of public school teachers.

“The bottom line is that teachers are making less than they did in 2000. We now rank 47th in America in average instructional staff salary,” said Gillum. “As governor, I’m going to inject new revenue into the state budget by legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana.”

Republicans OK With Medical

On the Republican side, both primary candidates—Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Congressman Ron DeSantis—opposed adult-use legalization.

During the first Republican primary debate in June, DeSantis said:

“I am not in favor in Florida, of doing recreational marijuana. Because I remember in high school, that was the number one reason why some of the people I went to school with ended up falling out, and didn’t do good in school, didn’t do good in sports.”

On Tuesday night, DeSantis defeated Putnam with the help of an endorsement from President Donald Trump.

The Republican Congressman is not likely to push for adult-use legalization in Florida’s future, but he has stated his support for both medical marijuana legalization and a state’s right to set policies free from federal intervention—positions that earned him a “B” on the most recent political scorecard published by NORML.

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image
Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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