“DeSantis has taken a far more extremist position in his run for president, adopting a full-tilt Reefer Madness approach to marijuana rhetoric and policy.”
By: Justin Strekal, BOWL PAC
Believe it or not, Ron DeSantis used to be one of the coolest Republicans when it came to weed.
Unfortunately, spineless Ron DeSantis has capitulated and fallen in line with the majority of his fellow career-politician Republican prohibitionists. The facts show he is now squarely opposed to the super-majority of Americans (including a majority of Republican voters) who support legalization. This is yet another reason why he must not be elected president.
To be fair, before I continue to trash him, here are the two receipts for why DeSantis used to be decent on cannabis—if only to underscore how pathetic he is for deciding to take a dramatically anti-cannabis turn:
- In 2015, DeSantis was one of only 45 Republicans who voted to not waste taxpayer dollars to enforce marijuana criminalization against states that had legalized—when 198 of his Republican colleagues voted to maintain the status quo of oppression.
- In critiquing the hyper-restrictive licensing structure of Florida’s medical cannabis program in 2019 after being elected governor of Florida, he said, “We need to have the people’s will represented in good law that is doing what they intended. I look at how some of this was created, where they [lawmakers] created a cartel, essentially.”
DeSantis’s previous positions serve as an example of what the ideal position for elected members of the Republican Party to take would be: a liberty-first, more free-market approach. While no ideology is perfect, from that position, conservative lawmakers would be able to have a reasonable, candid conversation about how to reform cannabis laws to protect the freedoms of their constituents and promote a competitive legal marketplace and reduce the illicit market.
But DeSantis has taken a far more extremist position in his run for president, adopting a full-tilt Reefer Madness approach to marijuana rhetoric and policy.
In June of 2023, DeSantis said he would not federally decriminalize marijuana if elected to the White House. Why? He argued somewhat incoherently that cannabis use hurts the workforce, inhibits productivity and leads to death if contaminated.
What provoked this bold, if not completely absurd, position? A veteran who spoke up on behalf of “broken veterans…with service-connected disease, illness, and injury,” asking DeSantis if he would decriminalize cannabis as president.
This position is to the right of even former President Donald Trump, who was always much more quick to pivot to his expressed support of medical marijuana (despite doing nothing to advance protections or access to medical cannabis while in the White House).
DeSantis’s anti-cannabis turn is further reflected in his recent actions as Florida’s governor to support and sign a new law in August of 2023 that makes it much harder for people with cannabis-related convictions to be able to gain employment in the restrictive Florida cannabis industry.
According to Marijuana Moment, the new law removes “exemptions from employment background screenings for people with felonies after three years have elapsed, misdemeanors after they’ve completed the terms of their sentence, felonies that have since become reduced to misdemeanors under statute and offenses that would have been felonies if they were committed by an adults after three years have elapsed.”
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In other words, DeSantis felt compelled to ensure that the oppressive boot of the police state would remain on the necks of drug war victims far into the future, depriving them of an avenue to earn a living in a growing legal industry.
As for the rest of the GOP field, while cannabis advocates don’t have many signs of hope to point to in the top-two polling GOP contenders for the presidency, there is hope on the back bench. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has a strong history of working in a bipartisan fashion to advance positive criminal legal reforms in spite of not yet embracing legalization, and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley recently said that legalization is best decided by states and that they have the right to do so. Other lesser-known candidates have made similar statements, particularly Vivek Ramaswamy.
But one thing is certain: Given the complete inaction by the previous Trump administration on anything resembling favorable cannabis policy and the recently displayed derangement of Ron DeSantis, there are no friends of the marijuana reform movement polling more than single digits in the Republican race for president as of time of writing.
We can hope that will change, but as long as extremism grips the Republican party, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Justin Strekal is the founding organizer of Better Organizing to Win Legalization and BOWL PAC. Prior to that, he served five years as the political director and lobbyist at NORML and has over a decade of campaign and legislative experience. (Disclosure: Strekal supports Marijuana Moment’s work with a monthly pledge on Patreon.)