TALLAHASSEE — With one of his chief advisers tweeting the hashtag “NoSmokeIsAJoke,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday he will “very soon” announce changes in how the state is carrying out a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
DeSantis, a Republican, said many voters believe the state has been “foot dragging” in implementing the amendment, largely bankrolled by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan and approved by more than 71 percent of voters in 2016.
The new governor and his lieutenants have indicated DeSantis intends to abandon an appeal of a court decision that said a ban on smoking medical marijuana violates the constitutional amendment. Former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration appealed the decision to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which heard arguments in the case Tuesday, the same day DeSantis was sworn into office.
DeSantis said Monday his medical-marijuana announcement will deal not only with “the litigation” but also with “legislation that I think is needed to implement the people’s will.”
The smoking ban was included in a 2017 law that was aimed at carrying out the constitutional amendment. The law also capped the number of medical-marijuana licenses and the number of dispensaries in the state. Court decisions in other lawsuits also ruled those limitations were in conflict with the amendment.
Echoing remarks he made while campaigning for governor last year, DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, indicated the state has not properly implemented the constitutional change.
“I think a lot of voters were frustrated that they don’t think that it has been. They think there’s been a lot of foot-dragging. So my job is, when the people speak, you have to listen,” he told reporters when asked about the lawsuit involving the smoking ban.
DeSantis said he wants to make sure the amendment is carried out “in a way for the folks that voted for it that they can feel that that’s what they voted for.”
“And I think a lot of ‘em don’t feel that way right now. So we’ll see some changes,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who was instrumental in the passage of Florida’s initial medical-marijuana laws and has been an outspoken proponent of medical marijuana, is one of DeSantis’ top transition advisers.
“I personally think the fight over smoking is silly. I also know Gov. DeSantis to feel duty-bound to execute the will of the people,” Gaetz said in a text Monday.
The shifting stance on medical marijuana isn’t isolated to the governor’s office.
Days after taking office, new Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who previously lobbied for medical marijuana operators, created a “director of cannabis” position within her department.
Lawmakers aren’t likely to put up a fight if DeSantis drops the appeal regarding the smoking ban, Senate budget chief Rob Bradley said. The prohibition was included in the law based on feedback from medical experts about the dangers of smoking.
Bradley said “it’s starting to have the feel of an issue we sort of need to have behind us and move on."
Dropping the appeal could come as early as this week, based on a social-media post by Gaetz.
On Saturday, Gaetz said in a tweet he was looking forward to seeing Morgan “next week,” using the hashtags #NoSmokeIsaJoke, popularized by Morgan and others who unsuccessfully pushed Scott to drop the appeal, and #PotDaddy, referring to Morgan.
“Air Morgan is fueled and ready to fly,” Morgan, a longtime fundraiser for Democratic candidates, replied, repeating the same hashtags. “#PotDaddy is looking forward to seeing his favorite Republican, other than my wife!! Let the people speak and be heard.”
Ditching the appeal would be in keeping with the political muscle DeSantis has flexed since taking office last week. Since Tuesday, the Republican governor has appointed two Florida Supreme Court justices, suspended two elected officials — including embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel — and unleashed sweeping plans to address the state’s water woes.
Morgan said Monday he is encouraged by DeSantis’ “commitment to the environment and science.”
“This guy is very smart," he said. "While we as citizens can disagree on some issues, we can agree on many more."