April 22, 2015

After Senate delay, medical marijuana supporters split on its future

One of the key senators pushing for a medical marijuana bill to pass this session says its prospects have gone up in smoke, but the bill's sponsor isn't taking anything off the table yet.

"I wouldn't say its done," Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told the Times/Herald. "There's still a week and a half left in session. I'm still open to having dialogue with my fellow senators and members of the House."

Earlier, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, had said that even a proposal to speed up patient access to cannabis low in euphoria-inducing THC is effectively dead this session.

"I think the best plan for us is to work on it over the summer, talk to experts in the field, come back with a bill that is well thought-out, well-researched and is something that is the right thing for Florida," he said, "versus building something in the next couple of days that will have huge unintended consequences."

Bradley and Brandes have been at the forefront of pushing a bill (SB 7066) that would have quickened the implementation of low-THC Charlotte's Web, which slowed in the Department of Health.

Brandes has previously committed to raising the level of THC in marijuana for medicinal use. But he said Wednesday that the existing regulatory structure in the bill won't be able to handle higher demand if the THC levels are raised.

"You have a low-THC cannabis bill that has a regulatory structure designed for a small amount of patients," he said. "If you raise the THC limits you have to completely restructure the regulatory structure. I am not comfortable doing that with nine days left in session on second reading and having that not be vetted by any committee in the Florida Legislature."

He said he plans to work on it through the summer and put together a structure to handle medical marijuana ahead of next session.

In the meantime, it's still possible the Senate will pick the proposal back up.

"I wouldn't take anything off the table outright right now," Bradley said.

It's likely voters will again see an amendment to the state constitution allowing full-strength medical marijuana in next November's election, a few months after Brandes plans to introduce legislation in the Senate. Last November, a proposal gained a majority of voters' support but not enough to clear a 60-percent threshold required for constitutional amendments.

March 31, 2015

Senate advances medical marijuana fix but new hurdles emerge

Leticia Wilson black farmersA bill attempting to get the implementation of the state's Charlotte's Web marijuana law back on track has created a new dilemma for its sponsor: how to make it equitable for black farmers.

Under the existing law, only farms that have been in continuous existence for 30 years and grow 400,000 or more plants are eligible to bid for one of five licenses to cultivate and distribute the non-euphoric strain of cannabis for patients with epilepsy, cancer and chronic muscle spasms.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, there are 99 Florida farms that qualify for the list. Left out of the equation, however, are hundreds of black farmers who say that 30 years ago they were still arguing with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over discriminatory lending practices and were not yet in business.

The result: the law has a "disproportionately negative impact on minority farmers,’’ said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, sponsor of the original legislation, which passed on the last day of the 2014 session.

Bradley has filed a new bill, SB 7066, that attempts to expedite the implementation of the law which intended for the non-euphoric marijuana to be available to families by now. But, but with every step forward, he has found a new hurdle.

Continue reading "Senate advances medical marijuana fix but new hurdles emerge" »

March 16, 2015

Debbie Wasserman Schultz still won't say if she's thinking of running for Senate

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat and the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, spoke to reporters in her district Monday but was careful not to make any news regarding her potential interest in making a 2016 Senate run. 

"My focus right now is on serving my constituents in the 23rd congressional district and chairing the Democratic National Committee to help elect the 45th president of the United States of America," she said at Andover Academy in Plantation, where she held a news conference to call for child-resistant packaging for products containing liquid nicotine.

Later in the day, former Gov. Charlie Crist, whose name had also been bandied about as a possible candidate, announced he won't be running for office next year.

Wasserman Schultz is said to have been considering a Senate run if, as expected, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio runs for president and not for reelection. But talk about Wasserman Schultz's interest waned after a public feud with Orlando trial attorney John Morgan over his push to legalize medical marijuana. Last month, Wasserman Schultz denied Morgan's claim that her office had offered to support a tweaked medical pot constitutional amendment if Morgan stopped criticizing the congresswoman.

She said Monday that she has still not met or had any discussions with Morgan on the subject.

"I didn't have any conversations with them to begin with," she said.

March 15, 2015

Will Florida medical pot debate hurt GOP in 2016 race?

@PatriciaMazzei

The unlikely pitch from medical marijuana legalization advocates to conservatives who control the Florida Legislature goes like this: Pass a law now — or risk hurting the GOP presidential candidate by having a referendum on the 2016 ballot.

A constitutional amendment would draw to the polls the younger, more liberal voters more likely to support medical pot, proponents say, helping the eventual Democratic nominee in the nation’s largest swing state — possibly over Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, both homegrown Republicans.

“Most people understand that, in a presidential year, medical marijuana will pass,” said Jeff Kottkamp, the Republican former lieutenant governor who backs legalization. “They also know on the national level a Republican can’t win without Florida.”

But GOP leaders in Tallahassee aren’t buying it. Medical marijuana supporters made a similar contention when the issue was on the ballot last year — both Rubio and Bush opposed it — yet Republican Gov. Rick Scott defeated Democrat Charlie Crist anyway. Many Crist voters didn’t vote for the marijuana amendment, a post-election analysis showed. In fact, statewide ballot measures have failed to sway presidential elections in Florida time and time again.

More here.

March 12, 2015

UPDATED New rules for limited medical marijuana in Florida met with legal challenge

@PatriciaMazzei

Rules to implement Florida's limited medical marijuana law, already mired in bureaucratic red tape, became further entangled this week by a new legal challenge.

A Jacksonville attorney representing a 4-year-old girl with an inoperable brain tumor argued in a filing with the state Division of Administrative Hearings that the proposed regulations for a cannabis strain known as Charlotte's Web are inadequate to help suffering patients. Lawmakers in 2014 authorized Charlotte's Web -- which has low amounts of THC, the chemical that induces a high -- for people with  cancer and severe epilepsy.

An administrative judge rejected the initial draft of regulations for the drug last year. And while the state defended its new proposal earlier this year, the challenge filed Monday by attorney Ian Christensen on behalf of young Dahlia Barnhart -- who would qualify for the treatment, according to the document -- criticizes the way Florida would select five companies to grow and dispense the marijuana, contending that there would be no minimum standards to ensure statewide access to the pot. 

The proposed rule is invalid, Christensen wrote, because it "fails to provide any assurances that there will be reasonable access to this medicine, leaving this critical delegated authority left up to a group of five nursery owners who have absolutely no experience growing cannabis, let alone a medicine."

The new wrinkle is a sign that approving Charlotte's Web did not do enough to address patients' needs, said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, the group that put a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana on the 2014 ballot. It received support from nearly 58 percent of voters, just missing the 60-percent threshold required to pass.

"This recent challenge further demonstrates the need to pass meaningful and comprehensive medical marijuana legislation this session," he said. The Charlotte's Web legislation was "well intentioned," he added, "but the continuing issues with its implementation should give legislators good reason to start from scratch and pass a law that actually works and one that will help a broader group of sick and suffering Floridians."

Some legislators have said that Tallahassee should wait until Charlotte's Web is implemented before allowing for other marijuana strains to treat a broader range of medical conditions.

UPDATE: In a statement posted on its website Friday, the Florida Department of Health said the legal challenge will further delay giving patients access to Charlotte's Web. The department has been responsible for drafting the rules to use the medical marijuana strain.

"We have maintained an unprecedented, open process for developing this rule framework," Patricia Nelson, director of the department's office of compassionate use, said in the statement. "The department will take every possible action to minimize the delay this rule challenge has created in getting this product to Florida's children who need it."

February 20, 2015

John Morgan calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz medical pot 'prohibitionist' in fundraising email

@PatriciaMazzei

John Morgan, the major Florida political donor engaged in a public spat with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is using the incident to raise dollars and get signatures for a 2016 ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. And he's not holding back.

"We don't negotiate with prohibitionists. Or bullies," reads the fundraising email Morgan sent supporters Friday afternoon, in the wake of a tussle -- through intermediaries -- with Wasserman Schultz.

Politico has reported that the Weston Democrat's office indicated Wasserman Schultz might reverse her opposition to legal medical pot if Morgan stopped publicly blasting her over it. The congresswoman, who is also chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, has denied her office a potential deal, though text messages and emails obtained by Politico suggest otherwise.

The back-and-forth began when Wasserman Schultz started flirting with running for U.S. Senate, if Republican Marco Rubio doesn't seek reelection. Morgan and his allies warned they would oppose Wasserman Schultz, who last year likened a medical-marijuana dispensaries to prescription-drug "pill mills."

"When Debbie Wasserman Schultz came out last year against Amendment 2, she didn't just simply empower our opposition -- she obstructed thousands of patients who desperately need access to this medicine," Morgan's fundraising email says. "Her poor timing and very public stand against medical marijuana helped squander the efforts of thousands and volunteers and donors.

"Now she wants to have a conversation in exchange for me toning down my criticism of her position last year (and the damage she caused)? Not a chance."

Either the congresswoman supports the measure or doesn't, Morgan wrote: "Everything else is B.S. politics in order to rehabilitate the damage she's done to herself by being on the wrong side of the issue.  It's not support - it's a quid pro quo and I won't do it."

Read the full text of the email after the jump.

Continue reading "John Morgan calls Debbie Wasserman Schultz medical pot 'prohibitionist' in fundraising email" »

January 26, 2015

FL GOP senator files major medical-marijuana bill

@MarcACaputo

Seriously sick Floridians and those who can’t find adequate prescription drugs would be allowed access to "medical-grade" marijuana under a major cannabis bill filed Monday by a top Florida Republican state senator.

St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes’ 28-page legislation, the most far-reaching of its kind by a top legislative leader, seeks to regulate the cultivation, distribution and use of medical marijuana in Florida.

The bill mirrors parts of a proposed constitutional amendment that garnered 57.6 percent of the vote. That amendment, which failed because it didn't meet a 60 percent threshold for approval, has been redrafted and could appear on the 2016 ballot.

Brandes said he opposed the amendment, largely because he thought the Legislature should be in charge of making such a major change to healthcare and criminal law in Florida.

 

Continue reading "FL GOP senator files major medical-marijuana bill" »

January 09, 2015

Medical-marijuana, then and now, a 2014-16 comparison of the FL amendments

@MarcACaputo

People United for Medical Marijuana has drafted a 2016 proposed constitutional amendment that makes numerous changes to its 2014 proposal. Petition-gathering begins Monday (more here). Here's a side-by-side look at the differences in wording between the two proposals:

Continue reading "Medical-marijuana, then and now, a 2014-16 comparison of the FL amendments" »

A medical marijuana killer in 2014: voter 'rolloff'

@MarcACaputo

University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith weighs in on what "really hurt" Florida's medical marijuana initiative in 2014: "down-ballot roll-off."

That is, 101,807 fewer people voted for the amendment than governor.

Smith wrote his analysis in response to yesterday's Miami Herald story (here) about the resurrection of the amendment. This is from Smith's Election Smith blog:

As this Figure [reproduced below] reveals, support for Amendment (Yellow line) was fairly strong across the state of Florida (it only dipped below 50% in 15 mostly rural counties). The big problem for Morgan and his campaign consultants was ballot roll-off, that is, voters who cast ballots in the gubernatorial race for Democrat Charile Crist (Blue line), but who didn’t vote for legalizing medical marijuana.  Support for Crist in Broward county, for example, topped 70%, and support for Amendment 2 was nearly as high.  The down-ballot roll-off on Amendment 2, however, was 5.3%. Crist tallied 17,000 more votes than Morgan’s Amendment 2 in Broward.  In Miami-Dade county, Crist out-polled Amendment 2 by more than 28,000 votes, as roll-off was 6.7% in the populous South Florida county.  Amendment 2 failed to achieve 60% in Miami-Dade not because of poor turnout, but because of the high roll-off among Crist supporters.  Across the state, roll-off on Amendment 2 was by far the greatest in Broward and Miami-Dade, strongholds for Democrats and support for the legalization of medical marijuana.

What's interesting about the Miami-Dade and Broward numbers is how it indicates the affect of big money in the race. In the closing days of the campaign, the medical-marijuana opponents, Drug Free Florida, saturated the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market with negative TV ads. Drug Free also hired Javier Correoso, a Republican Cuban-American, to reach out to that demographic in Miami-Dade (where Cuban-Americans account for roughly 72 percent of registered Republicans). People United for Medical Marijuana couldn't afford to keep up and didn't advertise in the market at all.

Overall, Drug Free Florida outspent People United by about 3 to 1 on TV. And the amendment still got 57.6 percent of the vote. But it failed because it didn't meet the 60 percent voter-approval threshhold.

Yup, money -- especially money in TV in a political campaign -- matters.

MMJ-crist-rolloff

January 08, 2015

The politics and policy of medical marijuana, 2016 edition

@MarcACaputo

Florida’s medical marijuana initiative is back and, its backers say, new and improved.

The proposed amendment, submitted Thursday to the Florida Secretary of State’s office, closely resembles the 2014 initiative that narrowly failed at the ballot box — however it was rewritten throughout in an attempt to quiet critics who said it had too many loopholes.

The amendment backers, People United for Medical Marijuana, on Monday will start gathering the 683,149 voter signatures needed to get the measure on the 2016 ballot.

“I’mmmmmmmm baaaaaaaaaack,” joked John Morgan, the wealthy Orlando trial lawyer who sunk about $4 million of his own money into last year’s effort.

“Last time I did this, it was like a maze,” Morgan says. “Well, I’ve been through it once. I know how to do this. We made a lot of mistakes and we won’t make them this time.”

The new proposal specifies that parents would have to consent if their child is to receive medical marijuana. It adds extra language to clarify that only people with “debilitating medical conditions” can receive the drug. It makes sure to say that it can only be recommended by a licensed medical physician. And the Department of Health would be empowered to deny felons the ability to be so-called “caregivers” who deliver marijuana for a qualified patient.

Story here

Download 2016 MMJ initiative