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Shaping the Future Now

A new governor may mean more delay

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Not a month has passed since that mixed-bag for progressives called the 2018 mid-terms, and the buildup for 2020 has already begun. This is especially true concerning cannabis and related matters, as all sides have immediately begun marking their territory on the issue, in preparation for another cycle in which it looks to play a decisive role, notably here in Florida. Pro-pot activists were not pleased with the hand they were dealt, but they can still succeed if they play that hand right.

The biggest takeaway, as national media has noted, is that Agricultural Commisioner-elect Nikki Fried was the highest-ranking statewide winner for the Democratic Party, and she did that primarily by pushing the most aggressively pro-cannabis position that any politician ever has in this state. Despite much initial skepticism, criticism from her opponents and outright interference from her own bank, Fried was able to keep her margin of initial defeat against Matt Caldwell close enough to trigger an automatic recount, during which enough ballots were found to flip the score in dramatic fashion. She was, in fact, the only one of three Dems who went into recount and actually won.

It’s worth noting, as that goes, that Bill Nelson long aped the establishment Democratic style of not embracing medical marijuana until the voters had already made it politically advantageous to do so. He never really had any chance at all against Rick Scott–not because Scott was better, but because he didn’t really try. Never has an incumbent looked quite so clearly doomed as did Nelson, from the very start of the run. The only reason he came anywhere close to winning was because his candidacy was buoyed by the tsunami of swag that was Andrew Gillum, who all but singlehandedly saved Florida Democrats from what could’ve been a bloodbath.

But he lost, too, against a candidate who was nowhere in his league, by a margin so narrow it boggles the mind. Gillum read the tea leaves and smartly hitched his wagon to decriminalization, as well as felon rights restoration. Gillum deserves credit for helping carry felon rights restoration to victory. Some would say he erred by tabling the pot stuff in favor of a more moderate message, and they may be right–after all, 70 percent support makes it quite mainstream. But knowledgeable insiders have cited the pot thing as just another example of significant strategic mistakes made when Gillum switched up personnel on his campaign staff, bringing in certain people from elsewhere in the party and marginalizing some folks who’d played key roles in securing that improbable primary win.

The bottom line is, with Ron DeSantis in the governor’s mansion, and Republicans retaining control of the State House, there will probably be no chance of full legalization unless it makes the ballot in 2020. In concert with this, any pending action in the courts (like smoking, juicing or growing) seems to be a fait accompli, as well. At least we will have AgCommish Fried in place as a bulwark against the expected GOP pushback, but it’s unclear just how much power she’ll actually have to resist. I guess we’ll find out in January.

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