Folio Weed February

February 17, 2022
3 mins read

Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried has emerged as the leading contender to unseat Ron DeSantis in the governor’s race this year, which is kinda like being the No. 1 contender against Mike Tyson in 1989: Odds of winning are slim, but if she’s patient, he might eventually beat himself. Clearly, he is not the same person he was four years ago, but none of us is.

To defeat DeSantis, a challenger must first dispatch former governor Charlie Crist and four other random people in the Aug. 23 primary. Given the internecine tendencies of Florida Democrats, the nominee will be limping to a general election against an incumbent who boasts superior fundraising and a permanent bunker mentality, which serves him well in an election year but terribly the other 75% of the time. The opposition research will fixate heavily on Fried’s connections to the cannabis industry, both personal and professional. No need to get into those details until someone else does it first, but it now makes perfect sense why DeSantis basically let Fried handle the execution of medical marijuana protocols with little or no interference. He correctly recognized that, when left to her own devices (so to speak), Fried would end up giving him all the material he needed.

DeSantis has openly inveighed against the concept of vertical integration, which has effectively kept the state’s cannabis market restricted to large corporations that are almost entirely white.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, 22 marijuana licenses have been issued in Florida, so far, and not a single one has been issued to a Black farmer. That’s not for lack of trying, but the fact is that minorities wishing to do business around here are best-advised to find some good-looking white people to front for them. “Representation” is largely performative among progressives, and largely repellent to conservatives, so Blacks looking to profit from the industry will remain segregated to the Black market.

All this could change dramatically if recreational marijuana were ever legalized in Florida. It would immediately foment a flood of minority investment in the industry. But that’s the rub: It won’t be fully legalized. Not now, and probably never. Despite Democrats’ lascivious lip-service to public sentiment, which currently leans heavily toward legalization, it now seems clear that  D.C. Dems are weaker than strip club cocktails on this subject, as well as most others. They’ve expressed support for legalization since at least 2008, but it was always a lie. 

Despite Democrats holding the majority in both houses of Congress for over a year, Biden has made no effort to push the legislation that already exists, and the subject is rarely raised in public lately, mostly because they’re too busy writing Taylor Swift-style songs about the folks who tried to kill them last year. Meanwhile, advocates for legalization in Florida have failed spectacularly to get the issue on the ballot, in two straight electoral cycles, despite knowing that all polls fall strongly in their favor. Why, you ask? Money—it’s always about the money.

At first, it seemed medical marijuana was intended as a temporary stop-gap between the drug war and drug peace, but that was before everyone saw the money to be made from having a closed shop. According to the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), as of Feb. 4, there were 675,957 people holding medical cards in Florida, at a cost of $75 each. That’s about $51 million a year coming into state coffers, just for the application fee. 

Now, consider that each of those patients also has to pay a doctor to verify the conditions they’re claiming on the application. That can cost them between $100 and $400 each year, with the average cost falling somewhere in the middle. Taking the low end as gospel, that’s another $68 million in basically free money for the state. This is probably much less than whatever tax revenue would be generated in a fully legalized market, but this system allows certain people to keep the money circulating among a very specific cadre of people. And at least some of them are friends of Fried, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Laws and sausages, etc.

There are currently 2,825 qualified medical marijuana physicians, more than a hundred of whom are based in Folio’s distribution area. Each of them has to be certified by the state, at a cost of roughly $250 each. That’s a little over $700,000. Note that I’ve written this entire column while sitting on hold with OMMU, 26 minutes, simply to verify that one specific detail, which only took 30 seconds to answer. So, I don’t know what they’re doing with their $5.5 million budget, but I guess they’re not spending it on phones. The current cannabis system in Florida grosses over a billion dollars annually, and there is really no reason to change anything.

I would love to offer some comments directly from Fried herself, but that’s not gonna happen. This paper’s requests for an interview have been ignored, consistently, for almost four straight years, and now that she needs us more than we need her, there will be no more requests. But she is always welcome to call me; she can get my number from Mrs. DeSantis. 

 

Shelton Hull has been writing for Folio Weekly since 1997, but his resume goes back even further. He has written for almost every newspaper, magazine and zine in Northeast Florida, as well as publications like Orlando Weekly, Narrow GNV, Creative Loafing Tampa, Charleston City Paper, Ink19 and The Atlantic.

He currently writes the "Folio Weed" column, which he created in 2018; he remains one of the widest-read and most influential cannabis writers in the world today. He also compiles material for "Weird Wild Stuff" column, and he previously wrote the legendary "Money Jungle" column for Folio Weekly from 1999 to 2009.

He is a regular contributor to "First Coast Connect" on WJCT, as well as the Jacksonville Music Experience. He is a co-host of "The Contrast Project" and the "Bold City Civics" podcast. He is also a co-founder of the record label Bold City Music Productions. He can be reached at sheltonhull@gmail.com.

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