Republican 2024 presidential candidate Francis Suarez says federal cannabis policy needs to “catch up” with states that have enacted legalization, citing safety concerns related to the ongoing barriers to banking services in the industry. As Miami’s mayor, however, the GOP contender enters the national stage with a mixed record on cannabis issues locally.
“Federal policy on cannabis needs to catch up with the will of the American people and the 40 states which have legalized medical and/or adult use,” Suarez wrote in a Twitter post on Saturday. “If congressional leaders can’t find a responsible path to ending prohibition, deferring to state policy for regulating cannabis is the best solution.”
“Current federal policy poses a serious risk to public safety as most state-legal cannabis businesses are prohibited from accessing the banking system and must operate in cash,” he added. “This endangers the lives of many industry workers and increases violent crime in our communities.”
The position from the mayor of Florida’s second most populous city—which comes as activists work to secure placement for a marijuana legalization initiative on next year’s statewide ballot—stands in contrast to all of the other major Republican presidential candidates to date, none of whom have suggested that they would proactively move to end federal cannabis prohibition as Suarez is doing.
That said, Suarez’s comments have elicited some criticism from Floridians who say that they were blocked from obtaining medical cannabis licenses in Miami under the mayor’s administration. The city had argued amid years of litigation that ongoing federal prohibition takes precedent over the state’s medical marijuana program.
The blockade finally lifted in 2022 after a federal judge sided with medical cannabis dispensary license applicants who had sued the city the prior year, denying the local officials’ request to have the lawsuit heard in federal court, ruling that it would best be handled at the circuit court level in Florida, as the petitioners had requested.
The city’s Planning and Zoning Appeals Board had previously voted to approve a certificate for the applicant’s dispensary. And while the zoning director had sought to appeal that decision in 2021, the City Commission ultimately rejected the appeal and cleared the way for the medical marijuana business.
Still, while the ban ultimately ended, some still fault Suarez for not playing a proactive role to support the entrepreneurs who had struggled for years to open shop.
Meanwhile, as a member of the Miami City Commission in 2017, Suarez was absent for a vote to give police discretion to issue civil citations for simple cannabis possession offenses, though he subsequently said that he supports the reform.
Even so, police continued to make thousands of arrests—principally affecting young Black men in the city—despite the policy change. While Suarez might not have been directly responsible for the enforcement actions as a city commissioner and later mayor, it doesn’t appear he publicly spoke up about the issue.