Former Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo Joins Cannabis Lobbying Group

Former Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo
Former Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo Photo by Photo by Gage Skidmore / Flicker
Another GOP member is turning to the marijuana industry after leaving elected office. Former Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo will serve as a strategic adviser for the Cannabis Trade Federation, a nonprofit that aims to educate and advocate for cannabis public policy.

Curbelo served Florida's 26th congressional district from 2015 to 2019 before being ousted by Democratic  Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in January.

"I am joining CTF’s team because I know that they are the most effective cannabis industry lobby and that they have the resources, talent, and professional acumen needed to pass game-changing reform at the federal level,” Curbelo announced last month.

Curbelo's latest career move isn’t a major flip. While still in office, the former congressman attempted to make state-licensed marijuana companies exempt from the 280E section of the federal tax code that would bar them from taking deductions because they trafficked a Schedule I or II controlled substance. He also cosponsored the STATES Act, a bill that would prevent federal interference in states that elected to legalize cannabis.

"Congressman Curbelo was a commanding advocate for cannabis reform while he was in Congress," said CTF CEO Neal Levine. "As a member of our executive team, he will continue to be the voice of states’ cannabis rights and will be an essential part of our organization’s strategic growth.”

There’s nothing unique about GOP politicians entering the weed business now that it's proven to be profitable. That includes Republican lawmakers who were once opposed to any form of decriminalization.

Last year, staunch legalization opponent and former Republican House speaker, John Boehner, joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a company that cultivates, processes, and dispenses cannabis in the United States. Former GOP Massachusetts Governor William Weld also joined Boehner on the board.

Boehner, who once said he was “unalterably opposed” to decriminalizing marijuana laws, is now an advocate for legalization. Still, in a recent interview, he claimed he has no regrets about his former position despite the fact that it's been reported that 420,000 people were arrested for selling marijuana during his tenure as House Speaker. Incredibly, he admitted that "the whole criminal justice part of this, frankly, it never crossed my mind."

The Republican party's shifting views on marijuana speak to a larger shift in how the country views legalization. In 2018 polling, 62 percent of Floridians supported legalizing recreational marijuana if it meant it would be regulated like alcohol and sold only to those 21 and older. This is on par with the national average: 62 percent of Americans are in favor of legalization.

But it’s hard to deny the role money plays in courting politicians, particularly those who strongly supported prohibition in the past. Cannabis is a lucrative business that’s expected to make upwards of $40 billion by 2021. So, unlike reproductive rights and climate change, it’s not hard for the GOP to get behind. Expect other downtrodden GOP politicians to follow suit.
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Dominique Stewart is a freelance writer in South Florida covering culture and community in South Florida. She has worked as a staff writer at Brooklyn Magazine and assistant editor at the Tempest.