With talk of shifting federal marijuana policy, Nikki Fried says it’s time for Florida to legalize it
Nikki Fried greets Democrats at the Kennedy-King Dinner in Sarasota. Image by Jacob Ogles

Nikki Fried in Sarasota
The U.S. House just passed the MORE Act. Will Florida consider full decriminalization?

Following a U.S. House vote legalizing marijuana, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Florida has a chance to lead on weed.

Fried, a candidate for Governor and a former industry lobbyist, sat down with Florida Politics for an exclusive interview. She said Florida is behind on cannabis law and needs to do more to make sure the growing industry lifts minority communities often targeted by bad drug policy. With the possibility of federal decriminalization on the horizon, Fried said that must change.

“We have not moved the ball forward,” Fried said. “The Department of Health keeps hurting the patients all across the state every time they keep doing new rule-making that limits the amount of dosing and making it more difficult for patients and having to jump through hoops.

“And the only way to fix this is to have me as Governor.”

The House last week voted in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3617). The 220-204 vote broke down nearly along party lines. Of note, two of the three Republicans to cross the aisle in favor of the legislation were from Florida: Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast.

The legislation still has a hazy future in the Senate, and it’s still unclear what President Joe Biden will do if the legislation lands on his desk.

But whatever happens with this particular bill, Fried said it’s clear the relationship between the federal and state government has fundamentally shifted in the last few years when it comes to marijuana enforcement. It used to be that the federal government continued raiding dispensaries even if a state changed its laws. That strategy has shifted as Florida and 36 states legalized marijuana in some form.

Fried’s election in 2018, the only Democrat to win statewide in Florida that year or any since 2012, was powered by industry dollars — sometimes to the chagrin of financial institutions.

On the cusp of change, she said Florida should have a chief executive who understands the importance of evolving legislation. She sees this as a matter of economic development, criminal justice reform and health care.

“It’s a win-win for our state. The people want it. And as Governor, I’m going to listen to the people,” she said.

Florida voters in 2016 passed a constitutional amendment allowing marijuana for medical use.

Fried has pushed forward from her perch leading the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on issues from edibles to hemp, but feels discouraged a more progressive approach did not endure.

“I am very surprised because, unfortunately, I hear from patients and doctors every single day that keep saying that it is becoming more and more difficult to get people through the program, to keep people on the program,” she said.

“The costs are still very expensive for patients. So we need to be doing more to actually help our patients. Telehealth should have been something that should have been continued from the pandemic. We should be doing reciprocity. There are a lot of rules that are in place that are making it more expensive for the dispensaries. And certainly, there should be some kind of requirement that dispensaries open up in low-income communities. If you see where dispensaries are all over our state, they’re in high-traffic areas and are not in minority communities and low-income communities where it could help in getting more jobs, but also accessibility for patients.”

That’s especially troublesome as the war on drugs at its peak often had disparate negative impacts on minorities, Fried said. Even today, the implementation of laws regulating the industry has institutionally resulted in benefits that leave behind those same communities.

“We’ve got 22 license holders in our state. None are minority-owned,” she said. “There is one that just recently bought into the marketplace. And that’s cookies. But that is it.”

She blames the lack of diversity on the limited number of licenses issued by the state and vertical integration requirements that state operations must grow and sell their own wares.

“The fact that everything is so vertically integrated creates an extremely high cost to get into the market and doesn’t allow an opportunity for somebody who wants to grow just one strain to go out and specialize in one specific product,” she said.

The marketplace needs to allow more joint ventures, she argued, which will create opportunities. The state also needs to dispose of a Level 2 background check when it comes to drug possession charges.

“That so many in our minority communities who have been disadvantaged and have been the targets in the war on drugs now can’t participate in this booming lucrative business is a travesty,” she said.

As Governor, Fried said she will fight for updates to the law. This could be a winning issue politically at a time when polls show a majority of Americans of all political ideologies favor legalizing marijuana to at least some degree.

Fried will continue her push for change from the Florida Cabinet. But she said the results she’s already achieved in pushing against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration should win public notice. She’s running now for the Democratic nomination for Governor against U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist — who voted in favor of the MORE Act in Congress — and state Sen. Annette Taddeo.

Fried is the only one with much success, she said, in battling against the DeSantis agenda.

“I have been able to push him to do things like bring down SNAP benefits and educational funding last year, including exposing when he has not been honest with the people of our state,” she said. “I also am the only one who’s been able to win statewide as a Democrat while having the largest vote total in certain counties across our state-swinging areas that no Democrat has swung before and overperforming from the rest of the ticket in 2018.

“I am our most reliable candidate to run against Ron DeSantis based on the things that I’ve been able to accomplish not just as Commissioner, but my entire life of service to our state. The things that I fight for show that I’m an advocate and that I don’t back down during hard times.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected]


14 comments

  • TONY

    April 6, 2022 at 7:45 am

    Doesn’t Her, her Hubby and a Friend own own one of the largest Pot Companies in Florida?

    • Charlotte Greenbarg

      April 6, 2022 at 8:00 am

      They’re in the business. Blinding conflict of interest

      But he’s not her hubby, just her married boyfriend

      • John Thomas

        April 8, 2022 at 3:23 pm

        To be a conflict of interest, there has to be someone that benefits from continuing the insane persecution of millions of good citizens who prefer near harmless marijuana over addictive, very harmful alcohol.

        Who would that be?

        So, no. There’s no conflict of interest. And silly personal attacks highlight you have zero valid arguments. – Just typical Republican dishonesty.

  • James William Heffner

    April 7, 2022 at 9:29 am

    I’ve been pushing for Re-Legalization since my retirement in 2006. Somehow $ and Biig Biz have taken the center stage and not the Human Rights of the consumers. I just want to consume and grow my own Herb. Over regulation and over taxation will guarantee the continuance of the Black and Gray Markets. More laws will produce more criminals.
    and it harm none do what you will
    The worst addiction in the World is the need to control others.

    • John Thomas

      April 8, 2022 at 3:25 pm

      Right. -Science and widespread experience have shown marijuana has no significant harms. Those who shout about serious harms are lying. Polls show 68 percent of all Americans want to end the monstrously destructive, insane war on marijuana consumers. – 75 percent say leave it up to the states. More than 90 percent approve of medical marijuana. Now, even a majority of Republicans want to end this sick, witch hunt. – So why do we still have it?

      Because police and prosecutors build their careers and empires on the fraudulent marijuana prohibition. Because industries like alcohol and pharmaceuticals don’t want the competition. Because other interests like the bogus “treatment” quacks, the drug testing industry and the prison industries depend on it for their life’s blood. Because many banks and shaky corporations couldn’t exist without the laundered money. Because it’s a Republican tool weaponized by Richard Nixon to attack and oppress Blacks and Progressives.

      But we’re still winning. 8^)

  • andrew sanders

    April 7, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Isn’t Corcoran’s wife the CEO of a charter school corporation? What your point? That political parties are corrupt? Welcome!

    • John Thomas

      April 8, 2022 at 3:27 pm

      Not near as corrupt as Republicans. — There’s no honest reason why anyone would support the continued persecution of millions of good citizens who prefer near harmless marijuana over addictive, very harmful alcohol. — That’s corruption with MONSTROUS consequences.

  • Tray

    April 7, 2022 at 11:32 am

    Conflict of interest!?? That term disappeared after 2016. There’s nothing left to compare

  • Silence Dogood

    April 7, 2022 at 1:59 pm

    If Commissioner Fried feels so strongly about the topic, I’d encourage her to continue to pursue it, as a private citizen. That eliminates to perception of conflict of interest.

    • John Thomas

      April 8, 2022 at 3:28 pm

      No thanks. – Million of citizens are counting on Fried to do the right thing and stop the insane witch-hunt that is destroying so many lives.

  • Comment

    April 7, 2022 at 4:52 pm

    You government taxes you for tabacco. Addiction sent you penny less on the churches door step that is why that is illegal either way both are the middle man. I do not see a little smoke as a hindrance.just if you cross the lines with it. Those people were just caught

  • blogspeir

    April 9, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    don’t hold your breath about biden unless the feds add an ‘oval office tax’ at the dispensary.

  • It's Complicated

    April 11, 2022 at 1:49 pm

    The U.S. House has done what they can in the 117th Congress, and it is unlikely the U.S. Senate will concur and repeal federal criminal MJ laws before the year’s end. GOP will almost certainly control the U.S. House in the 118th Congress, so that initiative will be on hold for a while.

    Honestly cannot see the Florida Legislature legalizing recreational MJ any time soon irrespective of who is Governor.

Comments are closed.


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