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Sen. Rick Scott says he'll vote against recreational pot after brother's death

Man wearing a blue suit and tie leans forward towards a microphone.
Jose Luis Magana
FILE - Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 14, 2024. Scott says his decision to vote against a proposed amendment to legalize marijuana in Florida is deeply personal due to his family's long history of addiction.

Rick Scott became wealthy as a lawyer and health care industry executive before entering politics. Now running for reelection, he lamented that his brother had a “tough life” and says it all began with marijuana.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida says he'll be voting in November against a ballot amendment to legalize recreational marijuana in his state, a deeply personal decision based on his brother's long history of addiction.

The senator and former Florida governor said he watched his brother Roger Scott begin smoking marijuana as a teenager and then struggle with substance use for the rest of life.

“People end up with addictive personalities, and so he did,” Scott said in an interview. “It messes up your life, and so that’s why I’ve never supported legalization of drugs.”

When Roger Scott died in April at 67, the cause wasn't substance abuse, but rather “a life of drugs and alcohol” catching up with him, the senator said. He had lived in an apartment in Dallas, Texas, where he served jail time in 1990 on a misdemeanor conviction of possessing dangerous drugs, court records show.

Scott’s no-vote on marijuana falls in line with other state and national Republicans who question whether marijuana leads to using other riskier substances.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse included in a 2019 webpage that most cannabis users don’t go on to use “harder substances,” but a statement from the agency also said using THC, marijuana's psychoactive compound, may cause brain changes that could make a person more likely to develop an addiction to other drugs.

Amie Goodin, who researches marijuana safety at the University of Florida, said studies have found those who use riskier drugs often previously used marijuana, but that research hasn't established whether marijuana “is actually the cause” for someone to seek more powerful substances.

Florida's voter initiative would legalize recreational marijuana use if the amendment receives 60% or more yes votes this November. That would also obligate the Florida Legislature to establish regulations and a framework for production and sales. Florida is among 38 states that have legalized medical marijuana, and would join 24 others that have legalized recreational use.

Scott opposes this change alongside Florida's Republican Party, which formally announced its opposition in early May. They contend the amendment would “benefit powerful marijuana special interests, while putting children at risk and endangering Florida’s family-friendly business and tourism climates.”

The amendment's sponsor, Smart & Safe Florida, said on its website that approval would enable Floridians to have “accountability, transparency, and regulations” in place. Among other benefits, this could ensure legal cannabis won't be laced with unknown and potentially dangerous chemicals, it said.

Voters approved medical marijuana when Scott was governor, but Scott and the Legislature placed tight restrictions on its use, including banning smokable marijuana. Cannabis advocates then sued and a court agreed to allow smokable medical marijuana just before Scott left office. His successor, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, chose not to appeal.


Brendan Farrington contributed to this report from Tallahassee, Florida.