You know the story of the tortoise and the hare: In theory, slow and steady wins the race.
On the issue of legalizing marijuana use in Florida, former congresswoman Gwen Graham is the tortoise, and the other candidates in the Democratic gubernatorial primary – former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, Winter Park businessman Chris King and Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum – are the hares. That is, for the sake of this story.
(Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene joined the Democratic race earlier this week, but has yet to voice his stance on marijuana reform.)
While Graham has so far endorsed decriminalizing cannabis for personal use and fully implementing the state’s medical cannabis program, she hasn’t indicated support for recreational legalization. It’s an issue that separates Graham from the Democratic pack – aside from the fact that she’s the only woman, the rest of the candidates have articulated their enthusiasm for legalizing the herb. (Though Levine only recently steered toward that course after Orlando attorney and marijuana advocate John Morgan berated him in a press conference last week.)
But Graham says she has her reasons. In an interview on Tuesday, Orlando Weekly brought up the sticky topic – which is sure to be a key issue on the campaign trail leading up to the Aug. 28 primaries, and which has become a litmus test of sorts for progressive candidates in the Sunshine State and across the country leading up to the 2018 midterms.
“For me, I believe you accomplish change by incrementally approaching it and having a plan for how do you get there,” Graham says.
“The state of Florida has not fully implemented medical marijuana,” she continues. “I mean we need to get that fully implemented, and hav[e] people across the state of Florida having the opportunity to take advantage of medical marijuana.”
What’s she’s tiptoeing around discussing is the decriminalization of cannabis for personal use, and implementation of medical cannabis is a brick in the road on the path to eventual full legalization, though Graham never goes so far as to say those exact words.
“We’ve seen challenges in other states that have legalized marijuana through referendum, and maybe that’s the path that Florida will go,” Graham says. “But for me, as someone that recognizes when you talk about getting something done, you actually want to have a path to do it – I think the path on this issue is to get medical marijuana fully implemented and start working towards broadening the decriminalization of marijuana and moving towards a discussion of legalization where the people of Florida are comfortable with that.”
She adds: “I don’t want to see anybody in prison for marijuana possession.”
But will it make a difference among progressive voters? That remains to be seen.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that Graham currently has a “B” grade as a candidate from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – which is kind of like the opposite of a high National Rifle Association rating, unburdened with the violent dog whistles of gun lobbyist and former NRA president Marion Hammer.
It’s also worth mentioning that the medical cannabis amendment was approved by an overwhelming 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016. But even so, Gov. Rick Scott and his administration, as well as many of the rest of the GOP’s elected officials in Florida, have managed to keep their foot on the bureaucratic brake when it comes to implementing the program.
The country’s perception of marijuana use as both a type of medication and as a run-of-the-mill everyday sort of thing is steadily evolving. According to a poll released earlier this week by Gallup, 65 percent of Americans now find it “morally acceptable” to smoke pot, as compared to the 31 percent who disagree with it on a moral level.
So will the slow and steady approach win this race – or will it be a sticking-point issue that leads to Graham’s campaign eventually going up in smoke?
Just like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, it’s a race that’s hard to call from this far out.