Folio Weed: Choose or Lose

Words by Shelton Hull

 Happy New Year to all those who celebrate. Some of you might still be celebrating by the time you read this, in which case you probably need some help, and I hope you get it. The year ahead looks very interesting, in particular, as it relates to cannabis, a subject that “Folio” is now in its seventh year of covering. Yes, 2004 stands to be quite momentous on that front and many others, so let’s talk a bit about that, while things are still relatively quiet and peaceful because that is not gonna last for long.

This year is what the cool kids call a “superelection,” deemed as such because the U.S. presidency is on the line, which always means a greatly enhanced voter turnout. Of course, the United States still lags far behind most developed countries in voter turnout, and that is probably the root cause of whatever you are currently hating most about politics. But we also have 34 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats up for grabs, roughly 11 state governorships (mostly conservative, ick), plus territorial governorships in Puerto Rico and American Samoa, as well as all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. So that’s almost 600 seats, just on the national level, and that doesn’t even include the thousands of state and local elections slated for this year. 

The average Floridian could end up having to choose between dozens of candidates, a process sure to nauseate even the most assiduously civic-minded of us. With a slew of weirdos, maniacs and mad men vying for a position that, frankly, none of them really deserves, both parties are keen to stack their state ballots with all kinds of initiatives and amendments, plebiscites and panaceas, an open buffet of handouts and hate speech with a little something for (and against) everyone. As we’ve seen in earlier election cycles, the weed thing is expected to help boost turnout in several key states, especially Florida, which should, in theory, help the Democrats, who always need help.

The Florida primary on March 19 is where the Trump-DeSantis blood feud will be resolved, and by that point we should know for sure if recreational adult use will be on the general election ballot on Nov. 5. The ongoing court challenge is predicated on the fact that all polls suggest an easy passage, so the only way, really, to stop it is via shenanigans — and nowhere does that better than Florida.

But Florida is hardly the only state weighing this option for 2024. At least four states (Hawaii, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and South Dakota) are currently debating  whether to fully legalize marijuana, but only South Dakota is seeking to fully democratize the process. The other states are trying to push legislation through, well, their state legislatures, which in most cases means these initiatives could be overshadowed by everything else going on politically this year. Four other states (Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin) are looking to take baby steps by allowing for medical marijuana in 2024, but they’re all still in the early stages of the legislative process, and none of them is moving with any urgency, so it seems unlikely to happen this year, though we can always dream.

Meanwhile, as the states continue taking matters into their own hands, the federal government continues to dither on the subject. From January 2021 to January 2023, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, and that would have been the time to push through any one of several pieces of legislation that have lingered in limbo for years, waiting for a critical mass that will never come. Instead, Biden basically ceded the House to MAGA Inc., thus, effectively killing his legislative agenda, whether that involves cannabis or anything else. And now, in 2024, instead of pushing hard to take the House back from a slate of weakened, compromised incumbents, they’re gonna be lucky if they can still maintain control of the Senate. 

After the Department of Health and Human Services recommended rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III, which would effectively decriminalize the plant, the DEA has spent six months saying “maybe, maybe not.” It’s hard to imagine them ever doing anything to reduce their ability to destroy people’s lives, and it’s also hard to imagine the federal government ever publicly admitting that the only reason cannabis was ever illegal was because government officials openly lied for decades, appealing to the same racist, nationalist tendencies that are sadly resurgent today. So this presents an opportunity for Florida to actually lead on an issue, and even weirder, we might actually end up doing the right thing this time. We’ll see!



About Shelton Hull

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 [email protected].