May 20, 2016

Fact-checking a Florida anti-pot group about number of medical marijuana dispensaries

Opponents of Florida’s medical marijuana amendment have fired up a new round of attacks, claiming there will be a dispensary on practically every corner if voters approve the initiative.

In a three-minute ad released May 16, 2016, the group Vote No On 2 calls Amendment 2 "a scam to legalize pot." Should the measure pass, they say, it’s likely that places to buy medical marijuana will outnumber two well-known retail outlets.

"Looks like Amendment 2 will put almost 2,000 pot shops in Florida ... more pot shops than Walmart and Walgreens combined," the video says. It goes on to deride California medical marijuana regulations and users, and implies Florida would become like the Golden State if the measure passes.

While polls say medical marijuana is enjoying about 80 percent support among voters, Vote No On 2’s figures spark an interesting point. Would the number of medical marijuana dispensaries outnumber Walmarts and Walgreens locations in Florida?

See what Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida found.

May 09, 2016

Poll: Medical pot scores high among Miami-Dade voters

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County voters want to legalize medical marijuana, according to a new local poll — but perhaps not by high enough numbers to score passage of a proposed Florida constitutional amendment come November.

Voters favor allowing physicians to recommend pot for medicinal purposes by 61-36 percent, with only 3 percent undecided, the poll by Bendixen & Amandi International found. That’s a fat enough super-majority to clear the state’s 60-percent amendment threshold — but just barely.

The narrow margin might worry proponents of the ballot measure, said Coral Gables pollster Fernand Amandi, who conducted the survey for the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald, WLRN and Univision 23.

“On these constitutional questions over the years, what I have found is that support needs to be in the mid-60s to feel confident that this thing is going to pass,” said Amandi, a Democrat unaffiliated with the advocacy group pushing for legalization, United for Care.

Two years ago, another Bendixen & Amandi poll suggested the popular medical-cannabis effort might be vulnerable to an opposition campaign aimed at Cuban-American conservatives in liberal-leaning Miami-Dade. Led by Drug Free America, that’s what opponents did. The amendment garnered 58 percent support statewide (and in Miami-Dade) in 2014, not enough to pass.

More here.

April 22, 2016

Florida donor Mel Sembler wants to kill medical marijuana amendment

via @learyreports

With Jeb Bush out of the race, Mel Sembler has another 2016 focus: Defeating Florida’s medical marijuana ballot initiative.

Sembler tells us he and his wife, Betty, plan to raise at least $10 million, exceeding their successful 2014 effort that took $7.5 million.

A presidential election will get Democrats, and young voters in general, to the polls and that favors the pro-marijuana side. Polling shows the measure clearing the needed 60 percent threshold.

Sembler said the growing financial boon that is pot is another hurdle. “It’s always a challenge, particularly when there’s a major profit on the other side and there’s no profit on our side.

“We’re trying to save lives and people’s brains,” the Drug Free America founder said. “It’s not a medicine.”

Sembler has also been asked by the governors in Arizona and Massachusetts to help defeat efforts in those states.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

March 01, 2016

PPP poll: Majority favors Florida medical marijuana ballot question

via @learyreports

 

Sixty-five percent of Florida voters say they'll support a medical marijuana ballot initiative this fall, enough to pass the measure. Only 28 percent are opposed.

"There's bipartisan support for the measure with Democrats (75/18), independents (70/22), and Republicans (53/40) all expressing their favor for it," according to a new PPP poll.

More from a release:

Bill Nelson is Florida's most popular politician, with a 40% approval rating to 32% of voters who disapprove of him. That puts him ahead of the perennially unpopular Rick Scott, who comes in at 38/48, and even further ahead of the newly unpopular Marco Rubio whose Presidential bid has hurt him at home and caused his approval spread to drop down to 31/55

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

November 23, 2015

Florida announces 5 licenses to dispense medical marijuana

Marijuana samples

Five Florida nurseries, including two from Miami-Dade County, were selected Monday to cultivate and distribute the first legal marijuana in the state, opening the door to the sale and distribution of the non-euphoric strains next year to treat patients with seizure disorders and cancer.

Costa Nursery Farms, of Miami, won the bid for the Southeast Region. Knox Nursery of Winter Garden, will grow it for the Central Region. Hackney Nursery Company of Tallahassee will grow it for the Northwest Region. Chestnut Hill Tree Farm of Alachua will be the grower for the Northeast Region and Alpha Foliage of Homestead will grow it for the Southwest Region.

The decision moves the state closer to implementing the 2014 law that allows for marijuana low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabidiol, or CBD. The law was intended to treat patients with intractable epilepsy and people with advanced cancer who obtain their doctors' permission.

To qualify for the low-THC based cannabis treatment, patients must obtain permission from a qualified doctor and be added to the Compassionate Use Registry.

Under the law, applicants had to have been in business in Florida for at least 30 years and grow a minimum of 400,000 plants at the time they applied. 

Continue reading "Florida announces 5 licenses to dispense medical marijuana" »

November 17, 2015

Panel OKs expanding medical marijuana plan to 20 growers

@MichaelAuslen

Patients who have been given a year to live could soon be allowed to use marijuana to ease their pain.

A Florida House panel on Tuesday okayed legislation that would expand an existing, small medical marijuana program and a law allowing terminal patients to try experimental drugs. Now, with two doctors’ approval, a patient can buy marijuana from a licensed grower in the state.

“Cannabis should be the first option for patients, rather than the last resort,” said Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, speaking on behalf of Cathy Jordan, a Parrish resident who has suffered from ALS for 29 years. “No one should have to go through what I did to get their medication.”

Jordan, the president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, has a letter from the state attorney’s office in Manatee County that allows her to grow marijuana that has been prescribed to her.

But before okaying the bill (HB 307) by a 9-4 vote, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee tacked on new language that would quadruple the number of licensed marijuana growers in the state from five to 20.

The Florida Department of Health is expected to announce five licensed growers for cannabis that is low in high-inducing THC in the coming weeks. Encouraged by a group of black farmers that met with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus early this month, Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, pushed the amendment, which eliminates strict requirements for potential growers.

Howard Gunn, Jr., president of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, has said that the five-nursery limit and requirement that nurseries be in business for at least 30 years before being licensed by the Department of Health has “systematically excluded the black farmer.”

“I believe if we don’t remove these barriers to entry, we are creating a monopoly for five dispensing organizations,” Bracy said Tuesday. “I believe it creates a competitive disadvantage, and I believe it negates free-market principles.”

Lawmakers passed the amendment after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, gave a thumbs-up, apparently encouraging a group of committee members to vote yes.

Still, despite bipartisan support, some members already started to raise questions about the larger number of nurseries that would be allowed to grow marijuana if the bill passes.

“We’ve got a train wreck here,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who voted against the bill. “We’ve got confusion. Here’s an amendment that turned it upside down at the last minute.”

A similar proposal will be considered this afternoon in the Senate Health Policy committee.

November 10, 2015

Medical marijuana initiative’s October haul: 337K

@MichaelAuslen

Cash continues to flow to the group trying to legalize medical marijuana in next November’s election.

In October, United for Care, the group sponsoring ballot language for medical pot, raised $337,293, according to financial reports made available Tuesday.

That brings the annual tally up to more than $2.2 million raised by the committee since November 2014, when their last proposal to legalize medical marijuana failed to gain the 60 percent required to amend Florida’s constitution.

As in past months, much of the October money has come from big-ticket donors, notably Orlando lawyer John Morgan.

This month alone, Morgan contributed $237,979. And he’s promising to donate $9 for every dollar contributed through the end of the year.

Other big checks: $40,000 from Coral Cables resident Barbara Stiefel, who has been a major donor to United for Care since 2013; $10,000 from Richard Shevelow, who reports being an engineer; and $5,000 from Sarasota pharmaceutical company AltMed, whose tagline is “The science of medical cannabis.”

Still, the October campaign finance report isn’t all good news: United for Care hasn’t been able to generate the kind of funding it did earlier this year. July’s haul was $770,534. August’s was $437,220.

There’s a big push coming from the committee to raise money this fall. Supporters hope to qualify for next November’s ballot by the end of the year, campaign manager Ben Pollara said. Already, the group has 348,603 signatures on file with the Secretary of State’s office.

The Florida Supreme Court will soon decide whether the ballot language is acceptable. Unlike last time around, Attorney General Pam Bondi isn’t opposing them.

United for Care is on track to make their end-of-year goal, Pollara said. But making the ballot will require another 334,546 petition signatures to be certified by local supervisors of elections, including in 12 of the state’s congressional districts.

And that’s where the money comes in.

The key to getting enough signatures is paying petition gatherers — the folks outside grocery stores and on street corners asking passersby to support medical marijuana.

“To get on the ballot, you have to pay these petition gatherers on a weekly basis,” Polara said. “If you don’t, they stop collecting petitions.”

October 21, 2015

Florida Supreme Court to review medical pot Dec. 9

@MichaelAuslen

On Dec. 9, supporters and opponents of medical marijuana will take the stand in Tallahassee to argue why a constitutional amendment to legalize the drug should or should not be on the ballot next November.

The Florida Supreme Court will hear the arguments over the issue, as it does all constitutional amendments, and justices will decide if voters should be allowed to legalize the drug in the state. In the 2014 election, the court okayed the proposed amendment, although it fell short of the 60 percent vote threshold required to be written into the constitution.

The amendment is being pushed by United for Care, a group that has raised more than $1.8 million, much of it from lawyer John Morgan. Among its opponents in 2014 was Attorney General Pam Bondi.

In an order Wednesday, the court wrote that each side would have 20 minutes to make its case as to the constitutionality of the amendment. The court cannot decide whether or not medical marijuana is good policy. Briefs have to be filed with the court by Oct. 30.

Bondi sent the constitutional amendment to the court -- as she is required to do -- after it recieved a tenth of the petition signatures needed to qualify for next November's ballot. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had 286,274 verified signatures of the 683,149 required.

October 07, 2015

Gaetz and Bradley file measure to dramatically expand market medical pot

Promising to give another option to sick patients in Florida, the authors of the state's existing medical marijuana bill filed legislation Wednesday to allow high potency strains of cannabis to be cultivated and sold for non-smoking purposes for a potentially vast new audience -- those diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Under the bill filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, two physicians would determine that a patient is at the end of life and the patient would then be eligible for marijuana with unlimited levels of THC, expanding the existing law that legalizes only non-euphoric strains of marijuana. 

"We're offering this because people who want to die without being jacked up with opiates or who are in excruciating pain are visiting their legislators, their making phone calls, their sending emails and it's working,'' Gaetz said. 

The law would expand the "Right to Try" legislation passed last year which allows terminally ill patients to access experimental and potentially life-saving—treatments more easily. 

"It's appropriate to have more flexibility for those families where they can try experimental drugs they should also be able to try high potency marijuana,'' Bradley said. 

"This is a game changer,'' said Taylor Biehl, legislative director of the Capital Alliance Group, which represents a consortium of cannabis growers who have applied to cultivate and distribute medical pot in Florida. "This is a foot hold for drastically increasing the patient base across the line."

Continue reading "Gaetz and Bradley file measure to dramatically expand market medical pot " »

October 06, 2015

State regulators: We are 'unable to say' when medical pot will be available in Florida

Marijuana samplesState regulators said Tuesday they could not say when a limited strain of marijuana will be available in Florida for medical purposes, even though it is nearly a year past the deadline on which the drug was promised. 

“At this time we are unable to provide a date the licenses will be available,’’ said Nichole Geary, general counsel for the Florida Department of Health which is in charge of licensing the five dispensaries that will cultivate and distribute the low-THC strain of medical cannabis approved by lawmakers in 2014. 

That answer drew sharp criticism from Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who along with other lawmakers supported the legalization of marijuana low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, to help patients with cancer and seizures, such as severe epilepsy.

 “I’m sure you’re aware of the frustration that members of the legislature have had in this process,’’ Steube said at a meeting of the House's Health Quality Subcommittee. “This is something we voted on two years ago.”

He noted that the agency received the applications from 28 growers on July 8 and was required to have a three-person panel review the applications and select companies that will produce and dispense the marijuana within 90 days.

“It’s been three months since then and you’re still telling us today that you have no idea when there will be some timeline,’’ he said. “I just don’t understand how we don’t have some type of way ahead.” 

Geary responded that the applications are lengthy and the agency is trying to be careful.

Continue reading "State regulators: We are 'unable to say' when medical pot will be available in Florida" »