Good afternoon, I’m Nikki Fried-
I’m here today proudly serving as the first woman elected as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
I want to thank all of you for your public service to our state and nation as journalists. Our democracy relies upon a free and strong press.
And I want to give a special thank you to Brendan Farrington and the Associated Press for making today possible — and providing us all a great opportunity to speak to the people of Florida.
As the first woman elected to this office, and the first Jewish woman elected statewide in Florida, the people entrusting me with this office signifies a desire for something new here in Tallahassee.
I wasn’t chosen by our fellow Floridians because I look like, sound like, or walk in the same boots as our previous Agriculture Commissioners.
I believe it was because of my vision for this Department, and the opportunity we have to move our state forward, to prepare for the challenges of the future, and make life better for all Floridians.
It’s because the people of Florida want leaders with the courage to do something different, who bring a new approach to governing our state, and who strive for results.
And as Commissioner, that’s exactly what I plan to do.
We have a bold agenda and a fresh vision for Florida’s farmers, consumers, and families.
Agriculture is our state’s second largest industry – with 47,000 commercial farms creating $132 billion in economic impact.
Florida’s farmers, producers, and ranchers support 2 million jobs, export more than $4 billion in agricultural products to 164 countries, raise more than 1 million head of cattle, and are critical to feeding families in our state and around the world.
But we face a changing economy and environment, and we are committed to
helping our agriculture community adapt, compete, and thrive.
The future of this state and of our nation depends greatly on our ability to produce a fresh, nutritious, safe supply of food. Our success, and our children’s success, is tied directly to the success of our farmers and ranchers.
Our Department will continue to be a partner to our agriculture community, with a forward-thinking approach that ensures they have access to alternative crops and innovative technology.
Because innovation is fundamental to that success, I’m excited to share I will be creating a brand-new agricultural innovation committee to help our farmers meet the challenges of the future.
Included on that committee will be international agriculture experts from nations like Israel and Canada with whom we have great trade relationships, and experts in helping implement new environmentally-conscious technologies.
Florida’s farmers are also key allies in protecting our natural lands and waterways for generations to come.
We have a unique opportunity to work together to take on climate change and conserve our environment.
No state in America is more vulnerable to the intensifying effects of climate change than Florida, including stronger hurricanes that have devastated our state, parts of which I visited just earlier this week with our lawmakers.
Through our Department’s Office of Energy, we will push for new, collaborative approaches to increasing renewable energy production and mitigating climate change, ensuring Florida does its part to build a sustainable future and create new clean energy jobs.
Combating the red tide and blue-green toxic algae choking our waterways and threatening our communities demands our full effort and attention. This must be a top priority.
We will bring all stakeholders to the table to find and implement real solutions to this crisis, and we will work towards continued stronger adoption of best management practices that reduce pollution into the water sources upon which we all rely.
The only way forward on our shared water and climate future is together – the health and safety of Floridians, and the future of our state depends on it.
The safety of Floridians also extends to threat we all face from gun violence. The time to say nothing and do nothing has long since passed.
The failures in oversight of the licensing program are serious. That is why one of my top priorities is to adequately screen applicants for concealed weapons permits.
You have my word today – here and now – that when someone in Florida applies for a concealed weapons permit, they will receive the full and complete background check required by law.
This is an extraordinary responsibility, and one that prior failures have demonstrated belongs under the purview of law enforcement professionals.
Since taking office, we have reviewed the audit report and the negligence that led to a compromise of public safety. And in the coming weeks, I will be sharing with you updated rules and safeguards to protect against those failures occurring again.
We are also committing ourselves to protecting our consumers, elevating consumer services within our Department, and giving it our full measure of attention.
We must strive to protect our communities from fraud — Florida has been a leading state for fraud for long enough.
We’ve brought on a champion for consumer protection with the addition of Mary Barzee Flores as Deputy Commissioner for Consumer Affairs.
Her experience on behalf of Floridians, as both an attorney and a judge, make her a perfect fit as we work to make the protection of Florida taxpayers a central priority.
And while we’re fighting to protect and help Floridians, we must make sure we’re listening to them.
The people of Florida spoke clearly when they voted for access to medical marijuana.
It’s been my experience as an advocate that’s informed my commitment to compassionate, patient-focused medical marijuana policies.
I’ve met people fighting stage-four cancer, parents desperate to provide their sick children with relief, and patients suffering from terrible and chronic illnesses -it’s one of the reasons I’ve been such a strong advocate for medical marijuana.
This is an issue that touches my family personally — my mother was recently diagnosed with cancer, and she is struggling to find medicine that relieves her suffering.
The fact that she can’t access the medicine she needs breaks my heart.
We have a moral and legal obligation to act in our patients’ best interest and expand access to medical marijuana, so that sick and suffering people can get the medicine they need.
We need to increase the number of licensed medical marijuana growers and create a more open market, stronger competition, more affordable prices, and greater of access to medicine for patients. And we need to fight to get our health insurers to start covering medical marijuana.
Cannabis is life-changing for patients, but also can bring an incredible, positive change to our state as a whole.
Hemp’s reclassification provides an enormous opportunity for Florida agriculture to drive job growth and revenue in a potential multi-billion-dollar industry.
From fibers, to building materials, CBD oils, and more, hemp presents an opportunity for Florida to take the lead on the alternative crop of the future.
You all know I will be appointing a director of cannabis soon, but I’m also excited to share I will be creating two new committees to advise our Department on this important issue.
I’m establishing a medical marijuana committee to help us listen to Floridians, suggest program changes, and advise on implementing new initiatives, such as a patient portal on our website for gathering consumer complaints and feedback from patients.
And I’m also establishing a hemp advisory committee, whose members will be dedicated to making Florida a national leader in hemp. I intend for our state to harness the potential of, and become the gold standard for, hemp production.
Now, despite this great potential, we still face fundamental challenges as a state to ensure the well-being of all Floridians.
Food security is an issue that affects communities from South Florida to Jacksonville to the Panhandle.
Everyone understands that hunger holds people back. When people are hungry, they cannot succeed. When children are hungry, they cannot learn.
The societal cost of food insecurity affects us all — it increases our state’s healthcare costs, undermines the vitality of our workforce, and hinders the ability of too many of our children to live up to their full potential. This is an issue that has a direct impact on our future — when we ensure people have access to healthy food, their lives improve and our state is stronger.
Addressing the challenge of food insecurity is an opportunity to invest in the future of our state and change the lives of our neighbors.
We will build an even stronger partnership with our food banks, and join together with our agriculture community to expand access to, and increase education and outreach about, fresh and nutritious food.
Now, Florida faces significant challenges. We have a lot of people who need a hand. But I truly believe that together, we will rise to the occasion and work to build a Florida that is better for everyone.
The responsibilities of this office are vast and varied — and they present an opportunity to help those people, to feed our families, to protect and conserve our environment, to strengthen our economy, and to build a Florida that’s equipped to face the future. Because when Florida farmers, ranchers, and producers succeed, Florida succeeds.
When we listen to the people, and take action on their priorities — democracy is functioning as it was intended. And when we put into action a long-term vision to tackle problems and better our state — we’re making an investment in our future and the future of generations to come.
We’re building a team that is responsive and ready to serve Floridians. And in the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing some new positions for the first time in our department, including a Veterans Affairs director to create opportunities for our 1.5 million veterans, and an LGBTQ director to listen to voices that haven’t historically had a voice at our table.
As a member of the Florida Cabinet, I will dedicate my service to building a forward-thinking and resilient state, ready to take on the challenges of the future.
After just twenty-three days of being in office, I’ve been encouraged by the collegial action of our Cabinet.
In just our first meeting, we made real progress, taking a significant step to bring closure and resolution to historic injustice by pardoning the Groveland Four.
It brought relief to the families of four wrongly accused men, who for years have felt ignored as the names of their loved ones were wrongly recorded in history as criminals.
It didn’t undo the damage, but it was an attempt to right a wrong, and set the record of history straight.
Governance for the greater good. That is why we’re here — getting things done for the people we came to this city to represent.
It’s a new day. We have an incredible opportunity to make a difference.
It’s my hope that together, as a Cabinet, we will put science before politics, results over opinions, and state above party to push this state we all love forward, and build a better future for every Floridian.
Thank you all for your time, and I look forward to your questions.