Tampa mayoral candidates weigh in on legalizing recreational marijuana

Who's on the strain train?

click to enlarge Tampa mayoral candidate Harry Cohen favors legalization. - Anna Bryson
Anna Bryson
Tampa mayoral candidate Harry Cohen favors legalization.

Tampa loosened its laws on marijuana possession in 2016, but some candidates running for mayor want to make recreational cannabis legal, too.

 Mayoral candidate and city councilmember Harry Cohen announced that he will fight for full legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana.

 “I think that for the state, it is an opportunity to actually get some revenue by taxing the product,” Cohen said. “I feel very strongly that the marijuana laws have disproportionately disadvantaged people of color and people without resources, and that it’s an extremely unfair and arbitrary way in which the laws have been enforced.”

 Cohen said he would use the tax revenue to give teachers and first responders an increase in pay.

 “I am the person who proposed and had passed the ordinance that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city of Tampa in 2016,” Cohen said. “We passed an ordinance that basically turns possession of marijuana into the equivalent of a parking violation, as opposed to something that will put you on the road to a criminal record.”

 The ordinance made Tampa the first major city in Florida to fully decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

 Small business owner Topher Morrison is another candidate strongly in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, although he’s never smoked weed before.

 “I can’t stand [marijuana],” Morrison said. “But that being said, man, you’ll be you. I’ll be me. Let’s leave each other alone and do what we want. It’s not harmful.”

 Morrison said that Cohen has flip-flopped on the issue and was originally only in favor of medical marijuana, which Cohen denies.

 Jane Castor, who is leading the polls, also sees it as a must. 

“Individuals should be allowed to make that choice for themselves, the choice of using marijuana,” Castor said. 

Because it’s already decriminalized in Tampa, it’s pretty much a “foregone conclusion,” she said. 

Not everyone is all aboard the strain train. Candidate Ed Turanchik said he has “mixed feelings” about the recreational use of marijuana and wants to better understand it before making a stance.

 “Addiction is not a crime. Addiction is addiction,” Turanchik said. “I think we have ruined a whole generation of people’s lives by turning an addiction into a felony.”

 Turanchik has smoked weed before but said he didn’t like it too much.

 “A long time ago. Yeah, it just made me sleepy,” he said.

 Dick Greco Jr., the last candidate to file for mayor, said he would support efforts to legalize marijuana — with some boundaries.

“I still would not be in favor of, you know, larger amounts than (20 grams) being possessed and sold... near schools and in other places,” Greco said.

 “With certain rules and regulations along those lines, I think it would be something that would be beneficial to both the public and the state because, I mean, I think it could be taxed,” he said. “I certainly hate to see especially young people’s lives ruined with an arrest for a minuscule amount of marijuana.”

 Greco said he doesn’t smoke pot (he’s a former judge), but if it were legalized, he might.

 “I have to applaud the efforts of the city of Tampa to... go to that system where... a minuscule amount of marijuana results in a civil citation, like a speeding ticket,” he said.

Candidate Mike Suarez isn’t too concerned with the question because it’s not up to the mayor to decide. 

“I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “But you have to say so in the legislature.”

If recreational use of pot is legalized, he wants to see the money coming back to the city. 

“If this is going to be something that is done, we have to make sure that we’re a big part of it,” Suarez said. 

Tampa passed an ordinance in April 2016 levying only civil citations on people caught with 20 grams or less of marijuana. The first citation costs $75, the second $150 and subsequent citations cost $300. Before this legislation, those caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana were charged with a misdemeanor. The ordinance has resulted in more than 2,500 civil citations instead of arrests.

 Seven candidates are running for Tampa mayor; elections are March 5.