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By Kyle Jaeger
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a 2024 GOP presidential candidate, said he would not federally decriminalize marijuana if elected to the White House—arguing that cannabis use hurts the workforce, inhibits productivity and could even lead to death if contaminated.
At a campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday, a person who said they were representing wounded veterans asked DeSantis if he would “please” decriminalize cannabis as president.
The governor responded directly: “I don’t think we would do that.”
He then talked about Florida’s medical marijuana program that was enacted by voters, saying veterans are “actually allowed access” to cannabis under that model. But he said the issue is “controversial because obviously there’s some people that abuse it and are using it recreationally.”
DeSantis rattled off a number of concerns he has about cannabis use, starting with the potency of marijuana that “they’re putting on the street” and his understanding that illicit products are being laced with other drugs such as fentanyl.
“If you do something with that, it could be goodnight right then and there,” he said. “You could die just by ingesting that, so I think that that’s problematic.”
Experts and advocates have questioned law enforcement claims about the prevalence of fentanyl-tainted cannabis in the illicit market. In any case, DeSantis also didn’t acknowledge that creating a regulatory regime where marijuana is subject to testing before consumers can buy it could mitigate instances of contamination.
“I think that we have we have too many people using using drugs in this country right now. I think it hurts our workforce readiness. I think it hurts people’s ability to prosper in life,” he said, adding that people he knew in high school who used marijuana “suffered.”
“All their activities, all their grades and everything like that—so particularly for the youth, I just think we have to be united,” the candidate said. He also plugged a Florida program overseen by his wife that involves sending athletes to schools to warn students about “the stakes of using some of these drugs nowadays, and this is not something you want to mess around with.”
He went on to say that, in order to address the fentanyl issue, “you’ve got to fight the supply, put the dealers in prison for a long time—but you also got to work on demand, and you also have to work on treatment for people once they get addicted.”
DeSantis’s opposition to legalization isn’t anything new, though this is the first time he’s addressed the issue since launching his presidential campaign.
Former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a cannabis reform advocate who now chairs the state Democratic Party after unsuccessfully running for her party’s gubernatorial nomination last year, reacted to the DeSantis’s comments by pointing out that polling shows widespread public support for legalization and decriminalization among Floridians.
“Ron doesn’t care what the people want,” she said.
Several Republican 2024 presidential hopefuls have addressed drug policy issues in recent weeks.
For example, former President Donald Trump seemed confused during a recent interview when he was confronted with the fact that his proposed plan to impose the death penalty on drug traffickers would have condemned a woman he pardoned and promoted as an example of a key criminal justice reform achievement during his administration.
At a CNN town hall event this month, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said that he would “end” the war on drugs if elected, emphasizing the need for a treatment-based approach to people experiencing addiction—while at the same time maintaining that he’d seek to increase enforcement against those who sell drugs.