At 37, Florida State Senator Dwight M. Bullard (D-39th District, located in southern Florida) has already achieved the ultra-rare distinction of succeeding both his father and mother for political office. Born in Philadelphia, Bullard moved to Florida when he was four and later was educated at Florida A&M University, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in history education in 1999. In 2008, he followed his father Edward B. Bullard (who opted not to run) by winning the 118th District in the Florida House of Representatives, and in 2012 he succeeded his late mother Larcenia Bullard (forced out based on term limits) in taking the 39th District in a decisive victory despite his Republican opponent receiving the endorsement of the local newspaper. Sen. Bullard recently gained national media coverage when he was part of the team sponsoring Senate Bill 1562, "Recreational Marijuana,” in late February, doing so with absolutely no hesitation. If passed, SB 1562 would legalize recreational pot in the Sunshine State on July 1, 2015, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to two and a half ounces and grow up to six plants. It would also permit the use and sale of cannabis extracts and concentrates, the legal status of which is currently under fire in medical states like California. SB 1562 is presently in a Senate committee. Likewise, Bullard has also voiced support for Florida's medical marijuana ballot measure, Amendment 2, to be decided upon by voters statewide this November. The proactive politician reached out to HIGH TIMES to be interviewed, and we quickly discovered why. Bullard demonstrated that he's as knowledgeable about cannabis as much as any politico.
Senator Bullard, what inspired you to sponsor SB 1562?
I’ve seen what’s going on in other states, and recognize that I’ve grown up in a society where marijuana use is prevalent. Looking at what worked in Washington [State] and Colorado when they legalized were inspirations.
What lead you to decide to openly support recreational legalization?
I just felt the state of Florida was spending way too much money on police and creating a lot of money incarcerating folks for a substance that has less problems and side effects than alcohol in some circumstances. Seeing the success in Washington and Colorado with passage of recreational laws in those states also made it very timely for us to begin looking at decriminalization and legalization of recreational marijuana.
Why did you settle on 2.5 ounces as the amount an adult could legally possess?
Just looking at the other bills that have passed, and keeping in mind that the federal government has identified 2.5 ounces for noncriminal behavior.
And why six plants?
Six plants is a relatively safe number. No particular reason other than it being a reasonable number.
Why was the proposed regulatory structure in SB 1562 a necessity?
At the end of the day we want to try and receive some revenue for legalizing. So you have to create a regulatory structure to reap the benefits.
How would legalization benefit the Florida economy as well as your constituency?
Legalization would provide much needed additional tax revenue that could be used on school construction and healthcare expansion. As far as the voters who support it, it would bring folks out of the shadows who have used marijuana for years but feel as though they’re conducting an illegal activity. Drinking was once an illegal activity, but when you eliminate prohibition on things considered vices, you'd be surprised the sort of positive actions that follow.
What are the negative repercussions of pot prohibition?
Wasted resource, money we could be spending on healthcare and schools. We spend on the time that law enforcement must expend going after folks for illegal use and illegal growth. That time could be better spent elsewhere.
Have you ever personally used marijuana?
No, I have not.
Did you ever encounter pot use while attending Florida A&M University?
Absolutely. It was often used by people I knew. I’ve been at parties and concerts where it’s been used by others.
Do you personally support recreational use, or is this merely a political gesture, hopping on the legalization bandwagon?
No, I actually support it. Some of my closest friends are recreational marijuana users, so the idea of being able to assist in making a legal allowance for something I don’t personally consider wrong, is important.
Let's get back to the larger issues at hand. Is Florida more politically progressive because of its geographical position and coastal locale?
I definitely think the people are, but unfortunately our politics haven’t caught up with the progression of our citizens. Florida, being a southern state geographically, we still have a lot of folks that subscribe to this notion of a conservative, religious connotation related to marijuana use. Unfortunately, for those in power – but fortunately for me – people are moving towards a more progressive attitude regarding marijuana use.
What do you mean, "fortunately for you?”
The growing progressive ideals expressed by citizens around the state that tend to counter the less progressive ideals of elected officials currently in the majority Republican Party.
You support Amendment 2, the voter measure on the this November ballot to legalize medicinal pot in Florida. What is marijuana's potential as medicine for the public?
Right now there are 130 different ailments that marijuana can be used as treatment for. I think Amendment 2 is a really grand opportunity to address serious health concerns that people have.
What about pot prohibition and minorities?
Being African-American and being relatively young, I’ve seen the impact of the so-called War on Drugs in my community that has lead me to conclude it’s been a failure. I look forward to the day in which we take a more practical approach about providing rehabilitation for those suffering addictions, and not treating them as criminals.
Needless to say, individuals who grew up in the 1960s are probably one of the largest growing groups in favor of legalization because they were introduced to it when they were younger and don’t see why it’s still a criminal offense now.
What are the biggest barriers to pot legalization in a southern state like Florida?
I think a lot of it has to do with a negative stereotype associated with pot use here. But again, in a relatively short period of time, that will subside as well.
Do you think your support of recreational legalization will hurt you at the ballot when you're up for re-election in 2016?
I don’t think it will be an issue. By and large, the polling indicates that the people are moving towards wanting to see legalization happen. As a result, it would not be a political issue. I would go as far to say that other politicians may regret not paying attention to the changing tide of public opinion regarding pot.
Will the Disney presence in Florida and the reliance on tourism in your state hurt or help legalization movements?
If a state like Colorado can see a $3 million tax benefit in a month from legalization – and their state isn’t as dependent on tourism as we are – I can only imagine how a state like ours could benefit from legalizing marijuana.
Do you think recreational legalization is inevitably going to occur on the federal level?
Yes, I definitely do. As individual states pass legalization laws, in order to best regulate the sale and production of marijuana, the federal government has to come around.
How do you describe your fellow legislators' support and/or opposition to SB 1562?
Because of the medicinal measure, Amendment 2, which will be voted on this year, attitudes are beginning to change, or at least, are coming to light. I believe wholeheartedly that many of my Republican colleagues have either experienced pot themselves, or know someone who has used recreational marijuana.
If SB 1562 passes through the state legislature, would Republican Governor Rick Scott sign it?
If my bill were to pass, our current governor has expressed opposition to legalization, so he’d probably veto it. But luckily, voters can decide on a new governor in November.
Do you believe the medical pot ballot Amendment 2 will pass?
Yes, I think it’s decisive. The threshold in Florida is 60 percent for a ballot measure to pass. But most polls put support for Amendment 2 at 68 to 70 percent.
Given the distinction you hold as having succeeded both your parents into political office, what does that mean to you?
I’m blessed to have had two great teachers who deemed public service a matter of responsibility. They both poured into me a need to be responsive to the needs of community first and foremost. Having parents in the process has made my transition into office a lot easier than most, because I’ve grown up around the process.