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Politics, Policy, and Progress: Cannabis Legalization is on the Right Side of History

Nicole Heather Fried


  • Bipartisan Cannabis Support: 60% nationwide; Democrats, Republicans, and Independents back legalization.
  • Florida's Cannabis Progress: Successful hemp program; positive economic impact; emphasis on education and outreach.
  • Medical Cannabis Advocacy: Patient-focused policies; landmark victories; and opposition to proposed THC caps.
Politics, Policy, and Progress: Cannabis Legalization is on the Right Side of History

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Cannabis legalization is nonpartisan — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all agree. In fact, support for legalization is at its highest ever, at about 60 percent nationwide. It’s this political landscape that has allowed me to press forward as Florida’s most pro-cannabis statewide elected leader.

Upon taking office, I immediately made cannabis a priority of my administration, knowing that cannabis was an issue that needed a strong advocate to bring about meaningful change for Floridians. If popular opinion were enough, adult-use cannabis would be legal and all cannabis products would be safe, adequately regulated, and available nationwide.

Having watched the industry’s development closely, though, I have found that the politics of cannabis removes that simplicity and adds a lot of unnecessary barriers. Unfortunately, for more than 70 years, American entrepreneurs, farmers, and consumers were denied the boundless opportunities presented by cannabis – and in many ways, continue to be confounded today.

As a policymaker and political leader, I’ve been pushing to modernize Florida’s and the nation’s outdated cannabis policies and keep current with the needs and desires of the people, because our government should pass policies that meet us right where we are without missing a beat.

Hemp, cannabis’ cousin, has been our first historic opportunity to do just that, vaulting Florida into the cannabis economy. By working closely with farmers, processors, retailers, and consumers, Florida’s state hemp program is becoming a model for the nation, setting a gold standard for this emerging industry, and creating billions in economic opportunity for our state. In its first year alone, Florida’s hemp industry has created an estimated $370 million economic impact, supported over 9,000 jobs, and generated over $17 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.

One of the greatest hurdles to tapping into the cannabis economy has been education and outreach. In fact, our department has found that language and culture have been a barrier to adopting hemp by many of Florida’s consumers. To overcome this, we’ve worked to increase multicultural and multilingual public education and outreach on the benefits of hemp and supporting hemp producers, processors, and retailers in meeting consumer needs and increasing demand.

In our hemp program’s second year, we’re working on advanced research and testing, ensuring Florida Hemp products meet the rigorous quality and safety standards that the law requires and consumers deserve. I’m proud of our department’s work on this new green economic driver, and I believe that Floridians will enjoy the benefits of this commodity for generations to come. The sky’s the limit for hemp in Florida – which tells me that cannabis would be no different.

Cannabis legalization will also likely require education and outreach that is linguistically and culturally sophisticated. Reaching everyday Americans where they are, in a relatable way, to push lawmakers for even more progress, is the boost we need. Florida has watched as more than a dozen other states have moved the ball forward, and with the increased support of our residents, I have faith that we can accomplish this in our home state.

Five years ago, 71 percent of Floridians voted for access to medical cannabis, a life-changing medicine for so many patients. Though my agency does not directly oversee medical cannabis, I have been a consistent advocate for it, working to ensure patient access and collaborating with the agency that regulates it. In March 2019, we reached a landmark victory for patients across Florida and for our democracy with the passage of smokable cannabis. Subsequently in June 2019, my department collaborated with the Florida Department of Health and other entities to create the first-ever Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee to help improve the state’s medical cannabis policies.

From affordability to accessibility and safety, we have a moral obligation to act in the best interest of Florida’s patients, make progress upon our state’s current medical cannabis policies, and deliver this important medicine to the people. And yet, even something as straightforward as medical care – a decision that should be made between a patient and their physician – has been met with political resistance. In this year’s Florida legislative session, we dealt with a proposal that would create arbitrary THC caps on medical cannabis. These caps would have been a tax on medical cannabis patients already forced to pay too high a price for medicine. These are political solution in search of a non-existent problem. I asked the Florida Legislature to vote no on THC caps that don't improve health and don't serve the public. Thankfully, the bill did not pass – but we still have more work to do.

In Florida, we have unfortunately seen too many examples of dedicated professionals, from teachers to social workers, who have been unfairly denied, stigmatized in, terminated from, and discredited for employment because of cannabis usage. This form of discrimination is a serious concern that requires both a shift in culture but, more importantly, a drastic rewrite of public policy in order to protect patients and consumers.

At the federal level, I encouraged President Biden to enact personnel policies that reflect America’s position on cannabis, of which nearly seven in ten adults approve and more than half have used, and asked Congress to modernize cannabis banking by passing the SAFE Act. While the Biden Administration has taken a more responsible approach than previous administrations to prior cannabis usage by staff, we face a pivotal moment in our nation’s relationship with this unfairly stigmatized substance.

Prejudicial cannabis policies have also disproportionately and unevenly impacted communities of color and socially disadvantaged individuals. Too many have been absorbed into our broken criminal justice system, losing their rights as American citizens, because of the decades of counterproductive prohibition on cannabis. As a former assistant public defender, I have seen this injustice up close. America’s political mismanagement of cannabis has done more harm than good, ruining lives and opportunities along the way, costing billions in needless criminal justice system costs, and foregoing billions more in tax revenue and economic impact.

While many lawmakers fail to see how updated cannabis policies can contribute to the public good, the public understands what is in their best interest. The majority of states have legalized cannabis in some fashion, and an estimated five million Americans are registered medical cannabis patients at the state level, including more than 500,000 Floridians.

Floridians are joining other Americans to support officials who embrace the benefits of legalizing cannabis for adult use – and to work around or against politicians who refuse to accept those health and economic benefits. They have learned that their representation in Tallahassee is not listening to them and have taken matters into their own hands. As more voters are educated on the truth about cannabis and cultural attitudes continue to shift, we will continue to see demand for change.

We are in the midst of a historic sociopolitical awakening on cannabis that will right the wrongs and injustices of the past century. Americans and Floridians need now only to make their choices heard loud and clear at the ballot box, particularly to those who stand in the way of the will of the people. When we look back at this moment in time – as citizens, attorneys, and activists – I believe that the politics and policy we undertake today to expand access to cannabis in all its forms will place our efforts on the right side of history.