Could Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis be the weed whisperer?

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pot plants
Cannabis plants at a marijuana grow house. By St. Pete Police (April 2016).

Backroom Briefing: Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida

By Dara Kam and Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Could Gov. Ron DeSantis be the weed whisperer?

The governor ignited a firestorm in cannabis circles this week after he predicted a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow adults 21 and older to use recreational marijuana will get on the November ballot.

DeSantis was asked about the issue by Don Murphy, a cannabis lobbyist who is director of government relations for the Marijuana Leadership Campaign, during a campaign stop last week in New Hampshire. The governor dropped out of the 2024 presidential race a few days later.

“‘It’ll be on the ballot,’ the governor of Florida told me when I asked about the prospects for adult-use #cannabis being on the November ballot. Thanks to Tom and Kyle at MM for the story below. #PotPolitics,” Murphy posted Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter. Murphy was referring to a Marijuana Moment story that first reported the governor’s comments.

Murphy told The News Service of Florida that he asked DeSantis if he thought Florida voters should be allowed to vote on the marijuana legalization, “and before I could finish saying, ‘ballot initiative?’ he said, ‘I think the court is going to approve it. So, yeah, it’ll be on the ballot.’

The Florida court heard arguments about the proposal in November but hasn’t issued a ruling on whether the initiative meets the requirements to go before voters. Those requirements, in part, focus on making sure the proposed ballot wording would be clear. DeSantis appointed five of the court’s seven justices.

DeSantis also weighed in on another marijuana issue when questioned by Murphy. The governor said he doesn’t think a federal restriction prohibiting people who use medical marijuana from possessing guns is legal.

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t think that’s constitutional, to be honest with you,” DeSantis said at a different event in New Hampshire. “If you’re using a legal product, I don’t see how that can nullify a constitutional right.”

Former state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who now chairs the Florida Democratic Party, filed a federal lawsuit against the Biden administration challenging the restriction. A federal judge sided with the U.S. Department of Justice on the issue, but an appeal is pending.

I’M BACK

DeSantis wasted little time sending a message to state lawmakers that he’s back from his time-consuming presidential campaign that ended Sunday.

After state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis heralded support Monday for a bill seeking up to $5 million to cover legal fees of former President Donald Trump and any other presidential candidate from Florida, DeSantis expressed his opposition, noting online he “wields the veto pen.”

Senate bill sponsor Ileana Garcia, R-Miami, then made clear the idea didn’t come from her, and quickly announced plans to withdraw the bill, which had been filed just before the start of the legislative session.

“This bill was filed on January 5th amidst a crowded primary, including two Florida residents,” Garcia posted online Monday night. “My concern was the political weaponization against conservative candidates, and while @JimmyPatronis brought me this bill at a time when all candidates were committing to campaign through the primary, one frontrunner now remains, and he can handle himself.”

Patronis has been pushing the proposal since the Republican Party of Florida’s “Freedom Summit” event in November. Garcia’s measure would have led to Patronis’ Department of Financial Services overseeing the “Freedom Fighters” Fund.

Before DeSantis posted the veto threat, the Florida Democratic Party was ahead of Garcia in piling on Patronis.

“This bill should inflame any Floridian who cares about where their tax dollars are going,” the party posted on social media.

“The CFO is the person responsible for regulating insurance in Florida … and this is what he is focused on,” added former House member and former state insurance-consumer advocate Sean Shaw, D-Tampa.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Amid DeSantis’ return to Florida, speculation has swirled about how he will govern until his term ends in January 2027 and about his future political ambitions.

In his first interview after the presidential campaign on the conservative Steve Deace Show, DeSantis said, “I’ll be a much better governor these last three years for having done it. I’m certainly a better candidate for having gone through the gauntlet of what you do in a campaign.”

While he didn’t elaborate on a reinvigorated governing style, DeSantis compared Florida and Washington.

“I think that in Florida, we say that governing means, you know, big, bold colors, big victories, defeating the left. That’s what our voters want to see with governing.” DeSantis said. “Inside the D.C. swamp, governing basically means capitulating to the Democrats, that the Republicans serve basically as the junior partners in the D.C. ruling class.”

As for bringing the band back together for a 2028 national run, DeSantis expressed concern about “tough sledding” if there are Democratic victories this year. “We’ll see if we have a country left by 2028,” he said.

As for the 2024 contest, DeSantis expressed some concerns for the Republican Party, as “there’s an enthusiasm problem.” He said some voters have checked out and that the “corporate media” is reporting Trump is “bleeding moderates.”

“Iowa showed there’s big warning signs,” DeSantis said. “When I have people come up to me who voted for Reagan in ‘76 — and have been conservative their whole life — say that they don’t want to vote for Trump again. That’s a problem.”

SOCIAL MEDIA POST OF THE WEEK

“Bye, bye.” — Susie Wiles (@susie57) a top strategist for former President Donald Trump after reports that Gov. Ron DeSantis would end his presidential campaign.

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