Democratic lawmakers push for dialogue on marijuana reform

Democrats aren’t alone.

Success is a subjective term, especially in politics. But in the case of Florida Democrats who want to legalize marijuana, simply sustaining a conversation on the issue in Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature is something they deem as an accomplishment in and of itself.

Democrats have filed at least 10 marijuana-related bills in the 2022 Legislative Session. One proposal would outright legalize marijuana (HB 467), while another would decriminalize the drug and other addictive substances.

It’s a long shot, the sponsors concede. But many insist the conversation alone is legislatively fruitful.

“It’s probably more a matter of time than it is anything else,” House Minority Leader Evan Jenne told reporters Monday on the Democratic-led effort to shape Florida’s drug policy.

Democrats aren’t fighting alone. In trying to legalize marijuana, they enjoy the support of activists, and even some Republican lawmakers, who they say opt to stay silent on the issue.

Many voters are on board, too. A 2019 poll by the University of North Florida shows most Floridians support legalizing marijuana for adult consumption.

At a news conference inside the Capitol Monday, Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph of Miami rallied supporters around the effort, even while acknowledging the road is long.

Joseph is the sponsor of a measure (HB 725) that would decriminalize the possession of cannabis and other addictive drugs.

The bill would further change the penalties for possession to a $50 noncriminal fine, which would then help fund drug rehabilitation programs and more.

The measure, she told supporters, would effectively end Florida’s involvement in America’s “war on drugs.”

“This bill prioritizes people by encouraging treatment and safety in an effort to preserve lives and freedom rather than discarding them through criminalization and incarceration,” she added.

Joseph highlighted ways the proposal and others like it are fruitful, even if they don’t reach the Governor’s desk. The dialogue, she suggested, can raise awareness, shape prosecutorial discretion and reframe an employer’s position on medical marijuana.

“My goal is actually to preserve lives and not just pretend to,” she said alongside a crowd of cheering supporters.

There are a variety of ways Florida can reform its marijuana policies. In 2016, Floridians OK’d a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the sick and ill access to medical marijuana.

Now, however, many activists say it’s time to go further.

“Negative views toward drugs and people who use them is a major factor in the overdose crisis,” said Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson of Gainesville. “By reshaping the way Floridians think about drugs, we can talk about drug use more openly and more honestly.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is among those supporting decriminalization. A former public defender, she contends even a minor drug offense can impede a person’s ability to live and thrive.

“HB 725 is a monumental step forward in addressing the unintended consequences of these convictions that create barriers to gainful employment, housing, property ownership and educational opportunities, which ultimately hurt our communities and Florida’s economy as a whole,” said Deputy Chief of Staff Shelby Scarpa Monday on Fried’s behalf.

The NAACP also is on board, calling the bill a good “first step.” They assert Florida’s current drug laws disproportionately impact the lives of minorities.

“This whole war on drugs has become a war on Black and Brown communities,” said NAACP lawyer Mutaqee Akbar.

States including New York, Virginia and New Mexico legalized recreational marijuana in 2021 via voter initiatives.

Meanwhile, three states — Arizona, Montana and New Jersey — OK’d recreational marijuana use in 2020 via legislation.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.


5 comments

  • Impeach Biden

    January 24, 2022 at 4:38 pm

    When all else fails with the Biden platform then you start legalizing drugs. Keep em doped up and completely un aware what is going on

    • John Thomas

      January 26, 2022 at 3:50 am

      Research shows marijuana is about HALF as intoxicating as alcohol and lasts for a shorter time period.

      That makes all the booze hounds the unaware dopes.

  • Charles

    January 24, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    I’m a long term Republican and it’s overdue for legalization and expungement of prior cannabis non violent arrests.
    Republicans legislators better wake up and SOON or they will lose votes ( and more then they think)

  • Ron Kirkland

    January 25, 2022 at 7:19 am

    Its been over due for over 50 years of repression that I know of! Why does our elected representatives debate this? Legalize cannabis and stop repressing so many folks in employment and housing issues! Not to mention folks in jail over small amounts of cannabis?

    • John Thomas

      January 26, 2022 at 3:52 am

      Right. – Kicking the can down the road is the cowardly way of killing legislation – not to mention disregarding the will of the people!

Comments are closed.


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