If You Want Legal Weed in Florida, Vote for These People

Recreational marijuana is now legal in nine states and Washington, D.C., but here in the Sunshine State, more than 40,000 people are arrested each year for possession of personal amounts of marijuana, costing taxpayers billions. Thirty states, including Florida, have legalized medical marijuana, and a poll administered by the University of North Florida earlier this year found that 62 percent of Florida voters favor legalizing recreational weed too.

But not all Florida politicians are as progressive as their constituents. If you're looking for those who will legalize pot, here's a list of the candidates up for election next week who will fight for your right to light up.

Florida governor's race
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is a progressive who has earned the endorsement of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. When it comes to marijuana, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate says: "Legalize it. Tax it. Use the revenue to fix Florida's public schools and move us up from 29th in the nation to #1."

His opponent, Republican Ron DeSantis, is opposed to recreational marijuana. As for medical marijuana, DeSantis is supportive, if unenthusiastic, telling WPLG 10News earlier this year that he will "implement the will of the voters. They passed medical marijuana."

Congressional candidates
Charlie Crist
, endorsed by the Florida chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), brought a medical marijuana patient and advocate as his State of the Union guest this year. The St. Petersburg-based Democrat and former governor currently represents Florida's District 13 and has taken U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to task on several occasions for his old-fashioned stance on pot. Crist has a good track record of voting in favor of marijuana reform.

Believe it or not, Republican congressman Carlos Curbelo is also endorsed by NORML. He has stated time and again that he believes legally operated, licensed marijuana businesses should be supported, and has introduced legislation to do so. "As I've said before in this chamber, Mr. Speaker," the Congressional rep for Florida's District 26 said in April this year, "the best ally that illegal operators like drug cartels and drug traffickers [have] — who do not pay any taxes, who target children, who have no safety standards for their products — are the policies that the Attorney General has embraced."

Democrat Darren Soto, the incumbent in District 9 in Central Florida, has a good track record of sponsoring legislation legalizing medical marijuana and ending the federal prohibition on pot. "Floridians have spoken; it's now time for the federal government to recognize the well-known medical benefits of marijuana," Soto said in April last year.

Yvonne Hayes Hinson, a Democrat, is running for Congress in North Florida's District 3. She says we should "decriminalize and legalize the use of cannabis for citizens over 21 years of age and regulate it like alcohol."

Joceline Berrios is running as a Democrat against incumbent John Rutherford to represent Florida's District 4, which includes most of Jacksonville. When asked what her top three priorities are, Berrios told Ballotpedia: "Serve We the People, instead of corporations, the superrich, and the NRA. Medicare for all. Single-payer healthcare. Pro-choice. Lessen income inequality by increasing wages and strengthening unions. Free college education. Legalize marijuana."

Sanjay Patel, a Democrat battling Rep. Bill Posey to represent Florida's District 8, says he supports "legalizing and taxing marijuana."

Mayra Joli, the independent candidate running against Maria Elvira Salazar and Donna Shalala for Florida's District 27, supports federal decriminalization of marijuana. She is also a favorite candidate of the Proud Boys, one of whose girlfriends is a campaign manager for Joli. Shalala also supports medical marijuana and decriminalization, but Joli goes a step further by supporting the legalization, regulation, and taxation of pot.

State races
The incumbent for State House District 49, near Orlando, Democrat Carlos Smith, says he favors comprehensive pot policy reform at both the state and federal level. Smith, who identifies as LGBTQ Latinx, said the Pulse nightclub tragedy drew his attention to mental healthcare and the use of marijuana as a therapeutic alternative to prescription medication for treating PTSD symptoms. He has since set his sights on fully decriminalizing marijuana and has introduced legislation to do so.

"Recreational use of marijuana is good for the economy, state and local tax revenue, good for our criminal justice system, and good for our personal freedoms," said Audrey Asciutto, Democratic candidate for State House District 55 north of Lake Okeechobee. "It is no secret that Florida's current marijuana laws are outdated."

Ocala Democrat Bernard Parker, a candidate for State House District 22, said he is "in favor of making recreational marijuana legal... Then I would like to tax it and devote that money to education."

"I would support legalization of recreational marijuana," said attorney Tina Scott Polsky, the Democratic candidate for State House District 81 in western Palm Beach County.

David Silvers, who's running for the District 87 House seat in West Palm Beach, has a personal reason to support access to medical marijuana: He has a family member suffering from advanced multiple sclerosis, who has said that without access to medical marijuana to treat her debilitating symptoms, she would have killed herself from the excruciating pain. Silvers takes his support a step further and says marijuana ought to be legalized for recreational use, regulated, and taxed like alcohol. "We can use funds from the sale of marijuana and reinvest it in our state," said Silvers.

Cynthia Brown, the Democratic candidate for State House District 32 west of Orlando, supports legalizing recreational marijuana, which she says would "free up space in our jails, divert tax revenue away from the black market, and use new revenue to fund public schools and treatment programs for opioid dependency."

Gary Farmer, the Democratic state senator for District 34, has called for the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. He introduced a bill in the Senate to legalize smokable marijuana in 2017, but it died in committee. (The battle for smokable medical marijuana is currently winding its way through Florida courts thanks to Rick Scott.)

Current state senator for District 30, Democrat Bobby Powell, says he supports the full legalization of marijuana but would be careful to craft a policy that wouldn't negatively affect his district or the state of Florida.

Libertarian candidate Joanna Liberty Tavares is running against Democrat Billee Bussard and incumbent Republican Aaron Bean for a seat in Florida's State Senate District 4. She supports legalizing marijuana and says it would create a new funding stream for public schools and law enforcement.

Other races
"The time has come for full legalization" of marijuana, said Sean Shaw, Democratic representative for Tampa's State House District 61 who is now running for state attorney general. "We ought to tax it, regulate it, and have a revenue stream for the state." Shaw is up against Republican Ashley Moody, who takes a tough-on-crime stance, while Shaw believes the attorney general position should focus on social justice, fairness, and enforcing the constitution.

Nikki Fried had her Wells Fargo account frozen in August amid her run for Florida agriculture commissioner because she was getting so many donations from the legal cannabis industry. Fried, a Democrat, former marijuana lobbyist, and Fort Lauderdale-based attorney, is a native Floridian. She will face off against Republican Matt Caldwell.
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Meg O'Connor is a freelance journalist for Miami New Times. She moved to Miami from New York after earning a master's degree in investigative journalism from Columbia University. She previously worked for CNN's Investigative Unit.
Contact: Meg O'Connor