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Medical Marijuana Among Issues Lighting Up Florida Attorney General Race

Florida Channel
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (left) and Democratic Attorney General Candidates, Former DCF Secretary George Sheldon (middle) and House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston (far right). All spoke at an event Wednesday hosted by AP.

The Florida Attorney General’s race is heating up as incumbent AG Pam Bondi sparred Wednesday with two Democrats running to oppose her. Medical marijuana was among the hot button issues discussed during an all-day news event at the Capitol.

Bondi has never hidden the fact she’s opposed to a medical marijuana amendment that will now be put on the ballot, after it was upheld earlier this week by the Florida Supreme Court. Her office failed to persuade the high court to stop the ballot language on the grounds she felt it was misleading. Still, Bondi says she’ll vote no on the amendment in November, and House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston says that’s her right.

“But, my problem is more with ‘why are you opposing giving the people the opportunity to vote on the issue?’ Is it because we’ve heard a certain segment of the community will be voting for this party as opposed to that party. That’s what I have a problem with! Political partisan agenda…are you supporting the people,” asked Thurston.

Thurston, who’s vying for Bondi’s seat in upcoming election, says while she’s helping with pill mill and anti-human trafficking efforts, Bondi has a duty to be the “people’s attorney.”  He says she’s not up to the task and points to what he calls missteps like getting the governor to cancel an execution scheduled for the same day she had a political fundraiser.

"Regardless of what you think about the death penalty or what your position is, it's the victim's family who have prepared themselves, who have made the effort to make sure they're in a position to receive this final justice and for a fundraiser? And, then to convince the Governor to go along with it? Yeah, he wears this as well," added Thurston.

Another Democratic challenger gunning for her seat is George Sheldon. He’s served in state government as a former Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary and on the federal level as an assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families. But he says he resigned that position because he feels he needs to come back to Florida to replace Bondi.

“An Attorney General, not only fighting the Affordable Care Act, can philosophically agree the rollout was bad, but basically saying we’re going to challenge this in court and spend millions of dollars, passed by both Houses of Congress, where citizens today are covered for pre-existing conditions who never were before...,” said Sheldon.

He also criticized Bondi for not placing enough emphasis on white collar crime.

“I’m very concerned, for instance, about the open investigation on the cyber university owned by Donald Trump, and then that investigation kind of evaporating after a $25,000 contribution was made. I think we need to be very careful not to develop a pay-to-play mindset. If you open an investigation, I think an Attorney General should not accept any contributions from that company,” added Sheldon.

According to an October Tampa Bay Times article, a political committee associated with Bondi accepted a $25,000 dollar contribution from Donald Trump, even though she was reviewing whether to work alongside New York’s Attorney General against get-rich quick schemes linked to Trump. But Bondi called those claims, in her words, “untrue” and “despicable.”

“One complaint in 2011, closed out by Citizens Services, is not an active investigation. And, I’m sorry that’s completely misleading and insulting to say that I took a campaign contribution—and let me give you his quote, because I wrote it down—that I would make an investigation evaporate? Come on,” said Bondi.

And, as for the medical marijuana issue, Bondi says it was her job as Attorney General to let residents know what they were reading. She says now that the court has ruled, she will not campaign against the amendment anymore.

“My job, my official duty has ended—I accept the court’s ruling—but, what I do ask is I encourage all voters not to just read what’s on the ballot, read the entire amendment,” added Bondi.

"Also, look at all the unscrupulous doctors that have been out there with the pill mills.  I don't want those guys to come right back in the state and start opening marijuana clinics on every corner and taking advantage of our kids." 

Bondi also talked about some of her 2014 legislative priorities, including a consumer protection bill, more anti-human trafficking efforts, and legislation aimed at another crackdown on synthetic drugs. Bondi along with Thurston and Sheldon made their remarks at the 20th annual legislative planning meeting hosted by the Associated Press Wednesday.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.