Crist says he’d legalize marijuana and expunge records as governor

Charlie Crist announced the plan to expunge misdemeanor and third-degree felonies on Thursday at the Florida Capitol
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, in July.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, in July. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Oct. 14, 2021|Updated Oct. 14, 2021

As part of his platform focused on equality for Floridians of color, Charlie Crist announced Thursday that he would legalize marijuana and expunge criminal records for those arrested on misdemeanors or third-degree felonies related to the drug if he were elected governor next year.

At the Florida Capitol, Crist said revenue from state marijuana sales would pay for police agencies, drug treatment and diversion programs and teachers.

Nikki Fried, Crist’s opponent in the Democratic primary and a former marijuana lobbyist, has previously called for legalization and expunging prior criminal records. She has been open about her medical marijuana use, and this September as Agriculture Commissioner she called on the U.S. Senate to end federal marijuana prohibition. She has financial ties to the industry, with about a $130,000 investment in a licensed medical marijuana treatment center in Florida.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face Gov. Ron DeSantis. In 2019, DeSantis said of marijuana legalization, “not while I’m governor,” according to WJHG.

In Congress, Crist voted last year for a bill aiming to end the criminalization of marijuana. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled U.S. House by a vote of 228-164. The Republican-controlled Senate didn’t take up the bill.

Soon after Crist announced his support of marijuana legalization, Fried tweeted that Crist had previously supported “racist marijuana crime bills” that people to jail.

“Glad he’s changed his mind, but none of those people get those years back,” Fried said.

Crist said he thinks most people’s stance on marijuana has changed over the last decade or so, including his, and that support for legalization is high.

“And for me, it’s personal,” Crist said. “I lost an older sister. She had brain cancer several years ago. And I think about Margaret, and I think about how it wouldn’t have been as painful for her perhaps if marijuana had been legalized and the stigma taken off of it.”

As Florida’s Republican governor from 2007 to 2011, Crist did sign bills cracking down on drug use into law. One law targeting grow houses made it a second-degree felony to grow 25 or more plants, lowering it from the 300 or more plants needed to prove intent to sell before. At the time, the American Civil Liberties Union opposed the bill. The grow-house law was passed almost unanimously in Florida’s legislature.

In a 2014 PolitiFact check, marijuana decriminalization advocates said Florida’s laws were harsh, but had been since the 1980s.

Under his proposed policy, people would be able to grow six marijuana plants for personal use. His platform also supports dismantling the marijuana industry by decentralizing it and supporting minority farmers.

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Crist’s marijuana plan is one of four points in his “Justice for All” platform, which he said on Monday is meant to reform a criminal justice system that has disproportionately impacted non-white Floridians. He said he would restore voting rights for non-violent felons and would crack down on gun safety by seeking laws to ban assault rifles and larger magazines.

On Thursday, he also announced sentencing reform plans, including assigning a commission to look at the state’s mandatory minimum laws and supporting legislation that gives inmates rehabilitation credit for various life-skills and education courses.

Crist also said he’d support sending money to state attorney offices to create conviction review units in each circuit. Hillsborough’s unit led to the release of Robert DuBoise, who had been imprisoned for 37 years and was exonerated.

Times reporter Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.