Sunday, October 17, 2021
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Hill piece headlined "Crist says as Florida governor he would legalize marijuana, expunge criminal records." Here are excerpts:
Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) on Thursday said that he would expunge criminal records of those facing certain marijuana-related charges and legalize the drug if he is elected the governor of Florida. “Let me be clear: If I’m elected governor, I will legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State,” Crist said in a video posted on his Twitter on Thursday. “This is the first part of the Crist contract with Florida.”
Crist, who is running for the Democratic nomination to take on Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in 2022, discussed different elements of his gubernatorial platform focused on racial equity in the state, including expunging criminal records for those who have received marijuana-related charges, specifically third-degree felonies and misdemeanors, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The former Florida governor and Senate hopeful also said that he was in favor of decentralizing the marijuana industry, allowing people to personally grow marijuana plants. He noted that money made through marijuana sales would fund things such as drug treatment programs and police agencies, according to the news outlet.
Crist, who was a Republican while he was in the governor's mansion from 2007 to 2011, acknowledged that his stance, among others, had changed on marijuana use. As governor, he had signed harsh anti-marijuana legislation, which included targeting growing the plant.
His comments were criticized over Twitter by Democratic opponent Nikki Fried, who is also running to take on DeSantis. The state Agriculture commissioner, who has been previously supportive of legalizing marijuana and was a former marijuana lobbyist, according to Tallahassee Reports, accused him of imitating her political stance.
“Imitation is flattery, but records are records. People went to jail because Republicans like @CharlieCrist supported and enforced racist marijuana crime bills. Glad he's changed his mind, but none of those people get those years back. Legalize marijuana. #SomethingNew,” Fried tweeted.
Crist last year voted to end marijuana from being prohibited and criminalized federally. “We know that people across racial and income levels use marijuana at the same rate. And yet, for decades, it's been poor, Black, and/or Hispanic folks targeted for prison on marijuana charges,” Crist said in a statement in December. “That tells me that marijuana has been legal now for a while if you had the right skin tone or the right paycheck.”
I surmise that all major Democratic candidates have finally figured out that marijuana reform is a popular position. It will be interesting to watch if this issue could become significant debate topic is red-leaning swing states like Florida and Ohio that have big 2022 elections. I am inclined to believe this topic still is more fringe than fundamental in broader political discourse, but even topics that only move the electorate a little bit could prove consequential sometimes.