As the 2018 Congressional primaries take center stage, you may be wondering where Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who is up for re-election this November, stands on cannabis legalization.

Clarence William Nelson II, better known simply as Bill Nelson, has served as the senior senator from Florida since 2001. Nelson began his career in public service as a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 1972-1978, followed by service as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1979-1991, during which time he became the second sitting member of Congress to fly into space, acting as Payload Specialist on the 1986 flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. In 2000, Nelson was elected to the U.S. Senate, and he has since held the seat through two state-wide elections.

Considered one of the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, Nelson firmly believes that cannabis legalization is a decision “best left to the states,” though he has yet to vote on significant legislation on behalf of the state of Florida. Nelson did vote in favor of the 2014 Farm Bill, which allows the planting of industrial hemp for research purposes in certain states, and that bill became law under President Obama.

Nelson has conveyed his feelings that we should no longer ignore the scientific and anecdotal evidence supporting the effectiveness of medical marijuana, saying to the Tampa Bay Times in 2014:

“Marijuana used as a medical relief for people that are desperate, I agree that ought to be legal...Just listen to the personal testimonies of people that nothing will help them as they are dying and marijuana gives them comfort and relieves the pain.”

However, even though the sitting Senator came out in support of Amendment 2 to legalize medical marijuana in Florida (which passed in 2016), he opposes the outright legalization of the herb, saying to the West Palm Beach Libertarian in 2012:

“I believe we must provide our law enforcement community with adequate resources to combat the use and sale of illegal drugs. I have been a strong supporter of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program that fights crime through community partnership and engagement programs. At a time when local and State governments are slashing budgets, this money is vital to ensuring that sheriff and police forces have adequate staff and equipment to maintain public safety...However, more should be done to reduce the demand for illegal drugs through education and rehabilitation. In these tough economic times, we need real solutions to our problems not lawmakers blindly slashing programs without careful evaluation of their merits.”

Our Grade: B-

Though his recognition of the benefits cannabis offers and stance that marijuana should be a state's rights issue are encouraging, his ideas that recreational use of the herb should be denounced through education and remain a matter for law enforcement is disappointing.