As we head into a political transition, Floridians would do themselves well by considering the several economic and equality measures going in the wrong direction. Take a sampling of the people you know, and include a few that you don’t. I work with individuals who travel 60 to 120 miles every work day because their rural community cannot provide enough good jobs. Despite what you may be hearing, jobs created by Walmart, Circle K, and McDonald’s are not built to be family supporting jobs. That is not what recovery means or looks like. While current officials tout very select economic indicators of recovery, the Scott administration has given away billions in transportation and healthcare dollars to other states. There is literally no big plan to replace any of that in Florida, and it is conceivable this brand of leadership will let the waters rise and turn color before they do anything that will make a real difference to working class Floridians.
There is one thing we can do. If we want to stop the erosion of small towns and jump start local economies, we need a homegrown cannabis initiative. It would work like this. Florida’s least populated counties were predominately agrarian, and still are based on agriculture. Allowing the grow and sale of cannabis based products within rural counties would be an economic multiplier that no other initiative could possibly bring. Main street communities such as Quincy, Monticello, and Live Oak would suddenly become destinations for young farmers, buyers, and sellers. Support services from builders, retail, healthcare, would pop up as land value also rises. Taxation and regulation would pay for many local services, increasing the number of homegrown jobs in the process. Communities in Colorado, Washington, and California already know this where tax revenues have reached into the hundreds of millions.
This will most likely be the last big cash crop for several generations. The medicinal effects of cannabis are well documented and would allow more police focus on the kinds of drugs that are really devastating rural communities, from meth to heroin to opioids. Locals could even have some fun coming up with select names just like they do for locally grown honey, whether Yulee’s Gold, Gator Bait, or Blountstown Buzz. You get the picture.
Cannabis is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, and instead of being controlled for the benefit of a select few, it could be the answer to many widespread economic needs. It is way past time for Floridians to take more control of the decisions that affect their communities and elect leaders that understand economic development that isn’t just predatory capitalism. If it were not for federal spending on space, environmental protection, agriculture, and military, Florida would be competing more with Mississippi than California on many economic levels. When it comes to economic development with widespread benefit, including a resurgence of abandoned rural communities, the answer could be right under our nose. We can do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org