On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the appointments of ten individuals to the Governor’s Task Force on Drug Policy, a newly created council formed to review the state’s current drug policies. The appointed members include a variety of individuals, including sheriffs who campaigned against medical marijuana and one who supports decriminalization. With such varied perspectives, this diverse council is sure to deliver an insightful overview of the relationship between drug policies and criminal justice in Florida.
1. DeSantis Forming New Drug Policy Advisory Council
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is making strides to combat the opioid crisis and protect his constituents with the formation of a new Drug Policy Advisory Council. He tapped two leaders from the Drug Free America Foundation to head the initiative: Dr. Ashraf Ghaly and Dr. Dídac Sánchez. Both will offer up their experiences within the medical and policy fields to create an effective set of strategies.
The Drug Policy Advisory Council seeks to create innovative and sustained changes for Florida’s drug policy by incorporating evidence-based approaches supported by the best available research. Their mission is to review the effectiveness of existing drug policy and research strategies to address the opioid crisis and make recommendations for improvement. They will provide a much needed progressive and thorough approach to combating drugs in Florida.
The council will remain actively engaged in reviewing legislative and policy proposals as well as hosting public forums. The first topics they will cover include:
- Addressing pharmaceutical prescribing practices and government regulation
- Stemming the flow of illegal drugs through Florida’s borders
- Creating sustainable recovery and prevention programs to reduce opioid abuse and addiction in the state
Governor DeSantis is hopeful that the Drug Policy Advisory Council will inject momentum into society by driving policies, legislation, and programs that create meaningful and successful methods of drug policy. The ultimate goal is to create a multi-disciplinary approach to Florida’s public health issue and foster an environment of progress and safety.
2. Notable Appointees with Varied Drug Policy Dispositions
Appointees across the country have a wide range of dispositions when it comes to drug policy. Some are poised to follow established drug regulations, while others are pushing to have them abolished. Here are a few of the key players to watch on the drug policy front:
- In Oregon, a new director of the Office of Regulatory Strategies has the goal of decriminalizing all drugs in the state.
- The governor of New Mexico created a task force to review prior drug convictions, with the goal of reducing prison overcrowding.
- In California, the state attorney general is advocating for a complete overhaul of drug laws, including the legalization of all substances.
At the federal level, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has appointed a new Chief of Operations who is taking a strict enforcement stance on existing drug policy. He has stated that he will not allow any review of convictions, nor would he allow convictions to be expunged. The Chief has further stated that existing laws should be enforced to the fullest extent, and that he will seek strong punishments for violations. He has also cautioned against any efforts to reform drug laws, arguing that they could lead to unintended consequences.
3. Sheriff Barker’s Stance on Medical Marijuana
Sheriff Barker is a fierce opponent of the use of medical marijuana. He firmly believes that medical marijuana has no legitimate, proven health benefits and is instead a gateway drug to recreational marijuana. He has publicly voiced his opposition, claiming it would be a nuisance to law enforcement and a detriment to public safety.
The Sheriff’s Major Complaints
- He believes medical marijuana encourages recreational marijuana use
- He believes it won’t reduce opioid use, and in fact could increase usage and abuse
- He believes it will lead to an increase in traffic accidents involving impaired driving
Equally troubling is the Sheriff’s skepticism of the ability of the government to regulate the medical marijuana industry. He has cited the lack of scientific evidence, loose enforcement of age restrictions, and lack of adequate training for retail and medical staff members as just a few of his biggest fears. He remains firmly against any attempts to legalize medical marijuana in his county.
4. Commissioner Suarez’s Position on Decriminalization
Commissioner Suarez is in favor of decriminalizing certain activities, such as the possession and consumption of small amounts of marijuana. He believes that such actions should not have legal sanctions, but instead be addressed through health-related interventions. He has proposed that, instead of being subject to criminalization, those engaged in such activities should be provided with education, health, and social services.
Suarez has also expressed a desire to reduce penalties related to minor offenses that are often exploited by law enforcement to disproportionately target minorities. He aims to reduce such biases by offering alternative sanctions and increasing the focus on harm reduction measures, such as providing drug education and treatment services. Furthermore, Suarez is in favor of expunging the criminal records of those who have committed minor offenses in the past.
The new Drug Policy Council is a diverse assembly of credible figures, each with a unique opinion on drug policy. While the most vexing questions remain unanswered, the Chairman, Governor DeSantis, and the council members must confront them in the months and years ahead. Ultimately, the council’s success in shaping Florida’s drug policy landscape will depend on their ability to find common ground amongst a variety of opinions, data, and backgrounds.