When Senator Bill Nelson came out squarely in favor of Floridians’ right to smoke medical marijuana, it surprised many political observers in the Sunshine State. Nelson, a conservative Democrat who promotes his reputation as a ramrod former astronaut, has mostly kept out of the fray during the years-long battle over medical marijuana—both before it passed in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote and in the year and half since, as supporters have battled the state’s Republican leadership over how to implement the new law. “It’s just not in Bill’s constitution,” one marijuana advocate and former Nelson staffer had told me just the day before the senator’s big reveal.
But the timing of Nelson’s endorsement—as quintessentially stiff as it sounded: “I support, and have with my vote, medical marijuana recommended by a physician”—perhaps should not have been so surprising. Less than a week earlier, a judge ruled the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana was unconstitutional. Governor Rick Scott, who is running to unseat Nelson in November, quickly appealed the judge’s ruling, placing him on the opposite side of 6.5 million Florida voters, 1.9 million more than had voted for President Donald Trump. Even Republicans in Florida saw the potential advantage that this could give Nelson.
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“Any politician who thinks they can alienate over two-thirds of the