Two Democratic Frontrunners for Florida Governor Back Legal Recreational Weed

From early Reefer Madness panic to the '70s hippie weed cult that took over Star Island to the glory days of '80s smuggling in Everglades City, Florida has a long, deep, and complex relationship with marijuana — as New Times explores in this week's cover story. Though Florida has finally legalized medical pot, full-blown, Colorado-style recreational dope still feels a long way away in the Sunshine State.

Two of the leading Democrats running for governor, though, say they're all about legalizing the herb. In the first televised debate yesterday among the four candidates gunning for the nomination, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said they'd be down with adopting the Colorado model.

"If the people of Florida vote that they want it and I'm governor, I will carry it forth immediately, and we will use that tax revenue to fund education," Levine said.

Gillum stressed he sees marijuana legalization as a civil rights issue.

"The overcriminalization of our young people, of communities of color off of the use of a plant, while I respect the laws that currently exist on the books, I believe Colorado provides a great example of how you can grow a state's economy and have a clean industry," Gillum said. "We have to end this prison industrial complex built all around a plant that provides much more redemptive use than harmful."

Levine echoed that point, noting Miami Beach decriminalized small amounts of pot while he was in charge. "We don't want to ruin people's lives, careers, or their opportunities to join the armed services or go to university, so we did it in Miami Beach," he said.

Former Rep. Gwen Graham, meanwhile, said she would want the state to fix its flawed medical marijuana system before she would consider full legalization.

"I believe we have to get the medical marijuana firmly implemented and start taking advantage of it, and then we can talk about further steps," said Graham, who later clarified on Twitter that she believes in decriminalization efforts in the meantime.

The fourth candidate onstage, entrepreneur Chris King, punted on the recreational pot question, instead stressing like Graham that the state had failed to listen to voters who overwhelmingly passed a medical marijuana initiative in 2016.

The state is facing multiple lawsuits over medical pot after writing restrictive rules that severely limit the number of companies that can provide medical weed and banning any smokable forms of the drug. All four candidates said they would force the state to open the marijuana marketplace and loosen rules for patients.

An effort to place full, recreational medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot fell well short of the signatures it needed, but organizers say they're planning to try again in 2020.