Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ ultimatum to Florida lawmakers to reform the state’s cannabis law wouldn’t have come at all if his self-proclaimed “cannabis consigliere” had his way.
U.S. House Rep. Matt Gaetz, who served as a chairman of the governor’s transition team, told Cannabis Wire this week that he had counseled DeSantis to use his executive authority to better implement Florida’s medical cannabis law. But DeSantis, who is new to state government and had gotten to know Gaetz as both Republicans served on the House Judiciary Committee, pushed back on the suggestion.
Instead, DeSantis wanted to give the legislature one more chance to drop a ban on smokable medical cannabis and do away with so-called “vertical integration,” where one company has to control all aspects of their cannabis product in order to do business in the state.
Both have been the subject of litigation against Florida’s Department of Health, which DeSantis could settle and roll out new rules and regulations for medical cannabis. He said last week he will do so if the legislature doesn’t act by March 15.
“I encouraged the governor to seize the mantle of the executive and resolve this litigation in the absence of legislative input,” Gaetz said. “And I say that because the legislature has had the opportunity to comply with the Constitution and they have not done so. But the governor gave me a lot of pushback on that suggestion.”
DeSantis announced the move alongside Gaetz and medical cannabis backer and attorney John Morgan, who has sued the state over its no-smoke ban. “The last thing I want to be doing is [clean] up something that should have been done two years ago,” DeSantis said at the press conference. “I don’t want to continue fighting some of these old battles.”
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DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.
Morgan criticized DeSantis publicly during the campaign and didn’t believe the Republican would work to do away with the no-smoke ban.
Gaetz said that when he told Morgan he might want to apologize, Morgan offered to do him one better by attending the press conference. He said DeSantis’ staff was “very reticent and concerned and anxious” but “it couldn’t have been any calmer if we were passing around the bowl.” Morgan did not return a message seeking comment.
Some have expressed surprise at the new governor’s pragmatic turn on cannabis and other issues, as the pro-Trump congressman and candidate ran at times a bombastic, controversial campaign.
But Gaetz said that on the subject of cannabis, DeSantis had been open-minded and peppered Gaetz with questions about problems with the medical cannabis status quo, which Gaetz had insight on as an author of the medical cannabis legislation when he was in the Florida House.
He said the smoking ban and vertical integration requirements were put in because the conservative politics of the Florida House demanded them if the measure was going to pass.
“He frequently asked why I had written a smoking ban into the law. And I explained that that was in order to get votes,” Gaetz said. “And then he asked why we had a vertically integrated system and I gave him the same answer. He wasn’t ideological. He was thoughtful and curious… And what he said to me is that he basically wanted a moment with the public to acknowledge that he was going to follow the law.”
Florida House Speaker Josè Oliva, however, is reportedly reluctant to overturn the no-smoke ban. The cigar company owner told reporters Wednesday “I’ve been in the smoke business my entire life, and I’ve never heard anyone say it’s good for you.”
Gaetz said the legislature has a chance to get the law right. Lawmakers should “start with a blank sheet of paper and begin with the organizing principle that it is the patients of Florida and the Constitution of Florida that have primacy not some of the recalcitrant older, whiter, Republican-er or Baby Boomers who for a previous generation had smothered cannabis reform in our state.”