Florida’s agriculture commissioner is calling out Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over his decision to cancel an executive clemency board meeting that she hoped would be used to facilitate pardons for people with marijuana convictions on their records.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) sent a letter to the governor on Wednesday to express her frustration over what she described as a “dereliction of duty” by cancelling the final Clemency Board meeting of the year.
Fried previously sent a letter to DeSantis in October requesting that he place cannabis clemency on the board’s agenda for the now-cancelled December meeting.
Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones (D) separately urged the governor to take steps to grant clemency to Floridians who’ve been criminalized over marijuana.
Those asks came after President Joe Biden issued a mass pardon for people with federal marijuana possession convictions and called on governors to follow suit at the state level.
Today I wrote @GovRonDeSantis over his cancellation of our final Clemency Board meeting. With only one held this year he is abandoning his duty, especially the consideration of pardons for state level marijuana offenses. Floridians expect and deserve more from their leaders. pic.twitter.com/nOdcJZM75C
— Commissioner Nikki Fried (@NikkiFriedFL) November 30, 2022
“You have once again chosen to cancel our Clemency Board meeting, as well as another Cabinet Meeting,” the commissioner wrote. “Given that we have only had one meeting of the Clemency Board this year, this is a dereliction of duty. We might have taken the first critical step towards rectifying past wrongs and moving state policy in line with the prevailing thoughts of most Floridians, and most Americans. Instead, you chose to delay justice to tens of thousands of your fellow Floridians.”
About a month after Biden’s presidential pardons, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that she was granting a mass pardon for state-level marijuana possession offenses that will provide relief to an estimated 45,000 people. The president cheered Brown’s action last week.
“Like those in Oregon, Floridians should never face barriers to housing, employment, or an education because of a simple marijuana possession offense,” Fried, who campaigned on marijuana reform during her unsuccessful bid for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nomination said in the new letter. “Your pardon, executed through the State Clemency Board, would have removed these barriers for tens of thousands of Floridians, particularly Black and historically disenfranchised Floridians who are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”
“As I said last month when I made the initial request to you to give this a hearing at the Clemency Board, the right decision and the popular decision are not the same. This would have been an historic opportunity to accomplish both. In 2016, 71 percent of Floridians voted in favor of creating a state medical marijuana program. That now includes 713,000 medical cannabis patients. A recent University of North Florida poll found 75 percent of Floridians support the legalization of marijuana, a sentiment seen across other state polls.”
Fried serves as a member of the clemency board, and she’s been especially outspoken about the urgency of facilitating relief in the state since the president issued the federal pardon proclamation last week.
While a number of governors around the county have already reacted to Biden’s request that they take cannabis clemency action on the state level, DeSantis has declined to weight in so far.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) came out in support of marijuana decriminalization in October, saying it’s time to “end the stigma” and announcing steps he’s taken to explore his options for independently granting relief to people with existing convictions.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D), meanwhile, signed two marijuana-related executive orders last month: one to protect patients who meet certain criteria and possess medical cannabis legally obtained from dispensaries in other states, and another to regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products. The medical cannabis move is based on the governor’s clemency powers.
Meanwhile, at the same time that the Florida commissioner is applauding the Biden administration for taking this step, she’s also pursuing litigation against the Justice Department over the federal ban on firearm purchases by state-registered medical cannabis patients.
A federal judge recently dismissed Fried’s lawsuit—but the state official isn’t ready to give up the case just yet. The commissioner and her patient co-plaintiffs appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit last month.
Read the new letter from Fried to the Florida governor on cannabis clemency below: