Even “Chain Gang Charlie” supports fully legalizing marijuana and clearing low-level pot offenses from the criminal records of Floridians.
The position represents quite a shift for Charlie Crist since the mid-1990s, when he earned the “Chain Gang” nickname after pushing to bring back chained prison work crews to Florida. Of course, a lot has changed since then — including Crist’s party.
Much has changed in the country as well. Since then 37 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, while 18 states and Washington, D.C, have completely legalized marijuana for adult use. It’s time for Florida to stop losing out on the tax revenue that fully legal marijuana brings — and, more importantly, stop ruining people’s lives over pot possession.
Clearly Crist sees the issue as a political winner. Elected as Florida’s governor as a Republican in 2006, he later left the party and became a Democrat. Now a U.S. representative and running for governor again, Crist recently unveiled his plan to legalize and tax recreational marijuana in Florida.
“This is a billion-dollar industry that we’ll put into public education and law enforcement,” Crist said during a campaign stop in Pensacola.
Crist’s position brought a response from one of his Democratic opponents for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. A one-time medical marijuana lobbyist with investments in a medical marijuana company, Fried wrote in a Tweet that “people went to jail” because Crist “supported and enforced racist marijuana crime bills” back when he was a Republican.
Politico reported that Crist brushed aside questions about his newfound support by noting that “lot of people have evolved” on the issue. Whatever his motivations, it’s the right position to take — and one that Gov. Ron DeSantis could defuse as a 2022 campaign issue by getting on the legalization train himself.
At the very least, DeSantis should support marijuana decriminalization. After all, other Republicans have backed criminal justice reforms that cut down on the costs of the criminal justice system while actually improving public safety by reducing recidivism.
More from Nathan Crabbe:
Gainesville Republican state Sen. Keith Perry, for example, is for the fourth time sponsoring legislation that would broaden the ability of juveniles to expunge their arrest records in Florida. DeSantis vetoed a version of the bill that passed during the last legislative session, but Perry told Florida Politics that he expects the governor to sign the measure into law this time.
Children who have been arrested deserve a chance to turn their lives around. The same can be said for people with marijuana convictions, who for too long have been blocked from jobs, schooling and other opportunities due to their criminal records.
Like medical marijuana, Florida voters might take the issue into their own hands by passing a ballot measure completely legalizing marijuana. But ultimately, change is needed on the federal level. President Joe Biden should get on the same page as Democratic leaders in Congress and fully back marijuana legalization.
Much like Crist, Biden would demonstrate that he has evolved from his support of unnecessarily harsh mid-’90s policies such as a crime bill that contributed to the mass incarceration. Supporting marijuana legalization would show that both “Chain Gang Charlie” and “Crime Bill Joe” have truly changed, as has the country.
Nathan Crabbe is The Sun’s opinion and engagement editor.
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