Facing South Florida: 1-On-1 With Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried

Host Jim DeFede pressed Fried on if she will run for governor in 2022 and why was she granted a medical marijuana card recently. He also asked her the tough questions she might be asked should she challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis in two years.

Video Transcript

- Now from CBS4 News, this is "Facing South Florida" with Jim DeFede.

JIM DEFREDE: Good morning. I'm Jim DeFede, and welcome to "Facing South Florida." Nikki Fried is Florida's Commissioner of Agriculture and is the only statewide elected Democrat. She won her 2018 campaign based largely on her outspoken support of legalizing medical marijuana. She has been a regular thorn in the side of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and is widely expected to run against him next year.

This week she posted a video on social media showing off her own medical marijuana card, while attacking Republicans in the state legislature.

NIKKI FRIED: I'm Nikki Fried, your Commission of Agriculture. And I want to show you something. This is my medical marijuana card. It's legal and a direct result of 71% of Floridians voting to allow medical marijuana, but you wouldn't know that in Tallahassee. Five years after Floridians put it in our Constitution, elected Republicans-- so-called Constitution-loving Republicans-- are still trying to undo our votes.

JIM DEFREDE: When we sat down to talk, I started by asking her why she posted that video.

NIKKI FRIED: I ran to destigmatize cannabis and to really move the ball forward on legalization and access to it for patients.

JIM DEFREDE: So normally, I wouldn't ask about a person's medical history, but since you've put it out there, under what category did you qualify for a medical marijuana card?

NIKKI FRIED: A sleep disorder, which is a-- underneath the PTSD, that's part of the catchall-- underneath the PTSD. I haven't been able to sleep probably since I was in college. And I have tried over the counter, whether it's Tylenol PM or other types of sleep aids. And not only do they make me groggy the next morning, incoherent, and even some of the horror drug-- the horrific stories that I have heard from patients who have used any of, like, the ambiens, walking the halls, people getting into cars and driving, not realizing it.

And so medical marijuana has been able to-- I use it at night, at the end of the evening, to help me go to sleep and stay asleep. And then wake up next morning ready to start the rest of my day.

JIM DEFREDE: I'm not going to doubt that, that what you're describing is serious, and and-- and that from your perspective and your doctor's perspective, it's legitimate. But I do want to go back, because you cite the, the 2016 amendment, and you talk about how 71% of voters approved it. Just to, just to remind folks, the ballot title was "Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions," and the term debilitating medical conditions was specifically defined in statute, referring to cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, and other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class or comparable to those enumerated.

I guess what I'm saying is, you know, I don't think-- Do you think that people would have voted for it if they had included sleep disorder or inability to be able to sleep?

NIKKI FRIED: I do, because the amount of people that I've talked to across not just a state but across the country who have similar conditions, that just really can't sleep, and that is debilitating. You know, walking the halls every single night. And so this is something-- and people want-- people were voting for medical marijuana because they wanted people to be having other options. More natural options, getting off of pharmaceutical drugs. Other things that are, that are more harmful than access to cannabis. So I do believe that the people of our state would have voted for it and would have had additional categories, because I don't think that anybody read the bill, read the constitutional amendment and said, well you know what? I don't think Crohn's is appropriate. Or I don't think glaucoma is important or--

JIM DEFREDE: No, but I would say, but I would say that, that what was presented to voters was a, a fairly serious hellscape of diseases. You know, cancer, ALS, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, HIV. I mean, it was, it was made to seem as if these were the most serious of the serious diseases that individuals could have and that, and that this was perhaps the last best alternative for them. And again, I just come back to the idea, why not just go full throttle? And why didn't we just go ahead in 2016? Why didn't you advocate for just full legalization? Because that seems to be the path that this is on.

Because, let's face it, you and I both know pretty much anyone could get a medical marijuana card at this point because of the catchalls that are in this bill.

NIKKI FRIED: I think that going to adult use is the appropriate next step.

JIM DEFREDE: Let's move on. Let me ask you this question. When are you formally going to announce that you're running for governor?

NIKKI FRIED: You know, Jim, that's a question that I get asked every single day. And I think that more and more people keep coming up to me and not only asking me when, but please. Please run. As our only statewide elected Democrat, and somebody who has been very vocal on what I believe is this mismanagement of COVID and the vaccine rollout, and just leadership styles or lack thereof of the Governor. And so as we're going through this process, I'm talking to a lot of people. I'm hearing from them, because this has never been about me.

This is about doing right for our state. And we've had 20-plus years of Republican leadership. And we have an unemployment system that's failed our state. We have water pouring out of Piney Point because Republicans have dropped the ball for the last 20 years. We have an education system that is in the bottom of the country. And so all of these issues that need to be fixed.

And so we are talking seriously about it and looking at that opportunity. But we are still in the process of examining, talking to people, and getting the right input from people across the state of Florida.

JIM DEFREDE: You understand nobody believes you? Everyone, everyone believes you've already made up your mind and that you are, in fact, already running for the job of governor.

NIKKI FRIED: Yeah, I certainly believe that people think that. And I've been very, I've been very careful to say listen, I want to do what's right for our state. And if, and if that means that, that I eventually run-- But we are taking this very seriously, and we're doing a self-examination. We are doing, talking to, to the Democratic Party. Talking to Independents. Talking to Republicans.

I was down in Hialeah yesterday talking to a lot of leaders down in Hialeah. We're going to do it. If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right. And I'm not going to rush into a final decision until I know that, that it's right for, for the state.

JIM DEFREDE: All right, if you don't want to make the case right now as to why you should be elected governor, tell me while you believe that Ron DeSantis should not be re-elected governor.

NIKKI FRIED: You know, it, really it started from, from Day One. You know, I, I was under the belief that he would have come in and would have governed in the center, and would have made sure that you had a divided government between myself on the cabinet and that we'd be able to work together. But he went at this alone. And his governing and his leadership style, he only focuses on a very small portion of our state.

He always believes that he's right. He believes that his Harvard and Yale degrees has made him think that he's better than everybody else. Every single day that he is making comments-- I mean, even as of this week, you know, talking about masks and, and giving misinformation.

I look at his priorities this legislative session. You know while we're in the middle of a pandemic, while people are suffering, 34,000 individuals we've lost and that's family members, people that are still suffering and haven't received their vaccine. And that should be our priority during this legislative session. And that's the things that I've been supporting and really getting behind this session. Talking about food insecurity. Talking about energy and the climate crisis.

What is the governor talking about? The governor is pushing as-- his number one priority is taken down the tech companies because the President was kicked off of Parlor. That's his number one priority.

Number two priorities are this House Bill 1, which is the anti-protest bill. So if you look at the governor's priorities, that's not what, that's not what public service means. Public service means taking care of the people as a whole. And the governor has spent, in the last two and a half years, taking care of his donor base, taking care of people that can line his pockets for this next election. He doesn't understand the environment. He's supposed to be a champion of the Everglades. He barely knows how to talk about the Everglades. Certainly doesn't know how to talk about any other environmental issue in the state of Florida.

And we've seen that all of these issues, whether it's Piney Point or the unemployment system, or other things that have gone wrong in our state, that he was made aware of these issues from Day One, whether it was during his transition or during the last two years of his administration. And he's ignored them.

JIM DEFREDE: You've been critical of his actions related to COVID. You know, I don't think there's much denying the fact that some of the strategies that the Governor put forward have, in fact, worked. For instance, placing an emphasis on closing down nursing homes, locking them down. That did prove to be the right strategy. That was different than what was being done in New York. New York, as a result, suffered far greater losses in their nursing homes and assisted living facilities than Florida did. I think it is fair to say that, that those actions did lead to saving quite a few lives in those nursing homes. Do you not agree with that?

NIKKI FRIED: No. I do agree that there has been some moves, like the nursing homes. I think that it was definitely appropriate for our schools to have been opened. But however, and even still with the schools, that his leadership on all this waffled the whole time. You know, first he would put out one executive order, and then he would change it. And it was creating chaos at our school districts. It created chaos with parents and teachers. Showed no true leadership.

And then even still, when they said the schools are going to be-- then threatened them. If you don't open, we're going to withhold money. If you don't have a plan on opening-- and then didn't give them the resources that was necessary to open our schools, whether it was PPE, whether it was making sure our teachers were at the front of the line to be vaccinated.

And so he went into this showing no plan, no strategy. And just kind of threw everything up in the air.

JIM DEFREDE: Well, let's talk about DNR for a second, because it seems to me that the Florida Democratic Party is a complete disaster. That's not a question. I'm just making that as a statement. The Florida Democratic Party is in disarray. What makes you think that Democrats could win statewide in 2022? Hasn't Florida shown itself to be a pretty reliable red state at this point, given the results of 2020?

NIKKI FRIED: No, not at all. First of all, 2020 I do believe was an outlier. There's a lot of things that went wrong in 2020. Lack of coordination between the Democratic Party, the elected officials, the people that were running campaigns both for state and Senate races-- for state House and Senate races. The Biden campaign. There was a complete disconnect.

Democrats stopped doing grassroots campaigning, didn't do door-to-door, didn't stop voter registration. And so we in a lot of ways conceded the state. And there was the messaging, we were not proactive. We were playing defense the whole time. And I know that the lessons that we learned in 2020 will help us to be successful in 2022. I mean, look, I just, I just won two years ago.

JIM DEFREDE: So let's, let's again talk as if you are running for governor, even though you're, you're not ready to announce it. You know that running, even if you were to run for reelection, but particularly if you were to run as governor of the third largest state of the country, you're going to come under a level of scrutiny that, that you have not faced before, even running statewide prior. You're going to be dissected in ways that, you know, is never going to be uncomfortable. And so I'm going to, I'm going to raise one of those issues now, which is that incident that took place last June in Fort Lauderdale at the Westin Hotel with you and your, your boyfriend, in which there was an allegation of domestic violence.

You, at the time, denied that your boyfriend had put his hands on you, had hit you, had shoved you. I just want to be clear sitting here today. You still maintain that? That he was not physically abusive towards you?

NIKKI FRIED: Absolutely. You know, every couple of fights. And we had a bad night. We have moved on, and the people of the state of Florida should move on as well.

JIM DEFREDE: I just-- and I want to be clear. Has he ever struck you in any sort of way? Ever put his hands on you?

NIKKI FRIED: Not at all.

JIM DEFREDE: OK.

NIKKI FRIED: Not at all.

JIM DEFREDE: At the time, at the time you said something, which I think caught a number of people by surprise in the way that you said it. And I do think it's important to go back and talk about. You said at the time, I'm a 42-year-old independently strong female, and I would never allow somebody to put their hands on me and to abuse me. I mean, Commissioner, you and I both know that, that no matter how strong a person may be, they can still be the objects of abuse. And that, and that, and that your words at the time made it seem as if only weak, weak women would, would be abused. And that's not the case. Do you regret the words that you chose?

NIKKI FRIED: You know, I was talking from a personal perspective, as somebody who is-- I'm at the gym every day. Somebody who is fiercely independent. And I-- and I'm not talking for any other woman out there-- I would never let that happen. And so for any woman who may have misconstrued that and who may be in a domestic battery relationship, that doesn't make you weak by any stretch of the imagination.

Know that there's a lot of people out there who will give you help and assistance. And there's nothing to be embarrassed about. I was talking about in my perspective, for people who have known me my whole life, somebody-- who I am as a person, that I am would never allow something like that to happen. And if it did happen, they would be shown the back, front door. It would be a very bad day for anybody who thought that putting their hands on me was appropriate.

JIM DEFREDE: Earlier we talked about the fact that you have a medical marijuana card, that you are moving towards legalization of marijuana. Is, is marijuana the only drug you want to see legal? Or would you support legalization of other drugs as well?

NIKKI FRIED: That's the only one that I'm on board with right now. I know, there's a big push across the country and here in the state of Florida, too, on the expansion of psychedelics and using it for mental health purposes. I am somebody who you, you will find-- now-- campaign trails, who I am-- I'm, I'm a policy wonk. I want to see the numbers. I don't just get on board with issues just because that's the popular thing to do or not the popular thing to do.

So I have not been sold on that yet. But I know that there is a movement. But right now, my focus is the access to cannabis and legalizing cannabis.

JIM DEFREDE: Other than marijuana, have you used other drugs?

NIKKI FRIED: No.

JIM DEFREDE: None? OK.

NIKKI FRIED: None.

JIM DEFREDE: This is, these are the questions you're going to be asked, so it's--

NIKKI FRIED: And, and--

JIM DEFREDE: I mean, understand--

NIKKI FRIED: That's easy. That is easy. The only time that I've ever seen any other illicit drugs is as a public defender. And that's representing my clients and evidence being put into, into the record.

JIM DEFREDE: So not even people around you?

NIKKI FRIED: No.

JIM DEFREDE: We'll be right back with State Senator Chevron Jones and LaToya Ratliff on the passage of the highly controversial anti-protect bill, HB1.