May 29, 2018

John Morgan tells Gov. Scott: Drop appeal in smokeable medical marijuana case

Johnmorgan

@elizabethrkoh

Orlando lawyer and medical marijuana advocate John Morgan urged Rick Scott Tuesday to reconsider pursuing a ban on smokeable cannabis, after a Leon County circuit court judge ruled it was unconstitutional late last week.

In a press conference with reporters, Morgan said the governor is responsible for the state’s decision to appeal and flouting voters’ desire to smoke the drug for medical use privately.

“What everyone needs to understand is that Gov. Scott could remove that appeal today if he wants,” Morgan said. “Gov. Scott should say enough is enough: ‘I am going to allow the people’s will to be done.’ “

“The most direct method to get relief is smokeable marijuana,” Morgan added. “This is not a political issue.”

Judge Karen Gievers, in a 22-page decision, had ruled Friday that the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana was unconstitutional and that the Legislature's ban on smoking medical cannabis conflicted with voters’ approval of a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized it in 2016.

In concurring with plaintiffs’ arguments that the voter-approved definition and ballot language implied a right to smokeable medical marijuana, Gievers rejected arguments asserting the state had the authority to set limitations on smoking for health and safety concerns.

But the state filed an appeal shortly thereafter, putting an automatic stay on the ruling as it goes to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

"This ruling goes against what the legislature outlined when they wrote and approved Florida’s law to implement the constitutional amendment that was approved by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority," state Department of Health spokesman Devin Galetta wrote Friday.

But Morgan cast the decision to appeal the ruling as a misguided political choice that Scott should reconsider amid his ongoing U.S. Senate campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson.

He called on voters — including veterans, alluding to Scott’s perpetually-worn Navy hat — to contact the governor and urge him to end the state’s legal challenge.

Scott “is going to have to explain to veterans and really sick people and people who have really bad injuries why you kept this going,” he said. “Pam Bondi is just his lawyer… Rick Scott is the boss and the buck stops there.”

If he drops the appeal, “I think he gains 5 points overnight,” Morgan said. “Gov. Scott is playing with political wildfire for something he doesn’t have to do.”

Morgan also blamed the pharmaceutical industry and opioid makers for wanting to drag out the case and trying to suppress the medical marijuana industry, accusing them of being threatened by a more effective product.

“Gov. Scott is going to have to make a decision whether he is going to put politics over people or he’s going to put campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry over compassion,” he said.

Morgan said Tuesday he was willing to wait a few weeks for Scott to heed his call before potentially moving to expedite the case to the state Supreme Court.

“If a person is terminally ill, you can move to expedite trials, hearings, the whole process,” he said. He noted the diagnosis of 68-year-old Cathy Jordan, one of two patients who are among the plaintiffs in the suit. Jordan has Lou Gehrig's disease and illegally grows marijuana in her own backyard to smoke.

Morgan said he believes the ballot language, the statement of intent and the support of more than 71 percent of voters is ironclad, regardless of the court’s ideological tilt: “I believe that if [late Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia was alive, he’d side with us.”

April 03, 2018

Medical marijuana provider sues Department of Health over caps on dispensaries

Cathyjordan

Florida medical marijuana provider Trulieve is challenging a state law that caps how many dispensaries it can open and where, saying it unfairly restricts its constitutional right to open storefronts "without arbitrary and unreasonable limits."

The Gadsden County-based business filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health, dated late last week in Leon County circuit court, asking a judge to exempt Trulieve from a provision in a 2017 law that limits businesses to 25 dispensaries for medical marijuana. The company says in its complaint that it had already applied for 27 dispensaries — two more than the limit — before the law was passed and the caps put in place.

"The statutory caps – established years after Trulieve had been awarded a license to grow, cultivate, distribute and sell medical marijuana in Florida – were unfairly and wrongly added after the award and such restrictive caps were never contemplated in the application and selection process," the company said in a press release.

The complaint requests that a judge allow Trulieve to move forward with all 27 locations, in addition to the 25 dispensaries that it would be allowed under the 2017 law, for a total of 52 possible locations.

In its filing, Trulieve says its original application for a license from the Department of Health made clear “its plan to locate dispensaries throughout the state. Upon comparative review, DOH granted Trulieve’s application without any limitation on the number of dispensaries.”

Neither the 2014 law allowing low-THC cannabis nor the 2016 constitutional amendment widely legalizing medical marijuana had set caps on dispensaries. It was when state legislators passed a law implementing the constitutional amendment last year that they imposed the 25 dispensary limit.

“The right to compete statewide without restriction was an essential part of Trulieve’s business plan and a significant incentive to enter this novel business,” Trulieve's attorney David Miller continued in the complaint. “In reliance on the statutory policy to encourage statewide competition, Trulieve sought to add dispensary locations around the state, which benefits patients and the public.”

The 25-dispensary limit, which expires in April 2020, also divides the state into five regional quotas based on those areas' population. According to the lawsuit, Trulieve has already hit its quota in the northwest area of the state spanning much of the Florida Panhandle.

“The sole purpose of this statutory cap on the number and location of dispensaries is to temporarily suppress competition among [medical marijuana treatment centers]," Miller wrote in the lawsuit. The caps "will impair Trulieve’s vested rights as a dispensing organization, and diminish the value of Trulieve’s licensed business."

Thirteen of Trulieve's 27 businesses have already opened, with a 14th on the way. The remaining 13 site applications "are deemed approved … and simply need to pass a DOH compliance inspection when ready to begin operation," according to the suit.

Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said in a statement that the limits hurt patients' ability to access medical marijuana and drives up cost for them and for the business.

“The restrictions force us to use extremely expensive long-distance delivery and build dispensaries on a model based on geographic distribution, not where patients live,” River said. “This not only restricts access to patients in need, but forces higher prices.”

Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said the agency is unsure yet how the case will affect its implementation of the dispensary caps in the law, but suggested that the legal dispute might play a substantial role.

"The implementation of Amendment 2 and Senate Bill 8A [the implementing law] continues to be frequently litigated," she wrote in a statement. "While some of these lawsuits have a less direct impact on department operations, others – particularly those regarding the constitutionality of SB 8A – have significant impact on our ability to implement the law."

The agency has already been under fire for delays in implementing swaths of the medical marijuana law, and it has cited ongoing litigation as a reason for the delays. According to an update released from the agency's Office of Medical Marijuana Use last week, the Department of Health is named in eight other marijuana-related lawsuits.

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

July 06, 2017

John Morgan on gov's race: 'I don't have to make my decision until horses are coming down the stretch'

John Morgan July 2017@MaryEllenKlas

Armed with Florida name ID and deep enough pockets to self-finance a run for office, Orlando attorney John Morgan said Thursday he is in no hurry to decide whether to run for governor in 2018.

"I'm going to think about it,'' he said, after filing a lawsuit challenging the law the Florida Legislature passed implementing the medical marijuana amendment he bankrolled. The legislature wrote the law to prohibit smoking as a medical use.

"I see no advantage for me announcing today or any time close to today,'' he told reporters. "All the people that have announced are doing things that I would hate to be doing -- which would be having coffee clutches, and bull-shitting people, and telling everybody what they want to hear no matter what the position is in the clutch and raising money."

Morgan, a Democrat who owns race horses, said he has nearly a year before he must decide.

"I'm going to have the advantage to let the race take off, come all the way around, and I don't have to make a decision until the horses are all coming down the stretch. Wouldn't you love to bet that way? You could make a lot of money."

Morgan chided the Legislature and House speaker for prohibiting smoking when they allowed for the implementation of medical marijuana in Florida, giving him yet another platform on which to spread his name recognition.

"I told Richard Corcoran the worst thing you could do to boost me is to limit smoke,'' he said.

He said he is now drafting another amendment initiative that will earn him more free media -- raising the Florida minimum wage -- and is will start collecting signatures this year, get the language before the Florida Supreme Court next year, and have it ready for the 2020 election ballot, another presidential election year.

"I learned a lot of lessons in this process,'' he said. "I know how to do it and I know that a presidential election year is better than an off-year election."

He said that he has hired former House speaker and constitutional law expert Jon Mills at Boies Shiller to draft the wage amendment.

"Whether you're a Bernie Sanders voter or a Donald Trump voter, what people were really mad about was that people get up every day, they do all the right things, they work their asses off and they come home and they're worse off than when they left the door,'' he said. "The reason that is is because they are not paid fairly."

He mentioned the food bank his law firm built as part of the Second Harvest food network in Orlando, called the Morgan & Morgan Hunger Relief Center. It feeds 250,000 people a month.

"The people who come there are not homeless. It's the working poor,'' Morgan said. "It's people who come in uniforms, coming from Winn Dixie or Wal-Mart and service stations and service trucks, to basically ask for free food. That's wrong."

He hasn't determined how high to set the minimum wage. "I've got to figure out what will pass,'' he said.

Meanwhile, his lawsuit filed Thursday, quickly drew criticism. 

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes federal funding of marijuana research, blasted Morgan lawsuit against the state as “nothing more than a smokescreen designed to bypass the FDA and open the doors to a new for-profit, retail commercial marijuana industry in Florida.”

Morgan, who has indicated an interest in investing $100 million in a medical marijuana dispensary, didn't hesitate with an answer.

"I wake up everyday and my 100 percent effort is to make money -- and lots of it,'' he said. "And I'm never going to apologize for that."

He said he was about to board his private plane, fly to his office in Brooklyn "to make money. And I'm going to leave Brooklyn and fly back to Atlanta, to make money, and I'm going to start a new insurance company this year -- to make money. And I'm going to build a new attraction in Branson, Missouri, to make money. And if people want to criticize me for making money, well, they're going to get to criticize me until the day I die because I plan on being a capitalist until the day I die.

"I'm not Mother Teresa. I'm not Pope Francis. I'm John Morgan and I describe myself as a compassionate capitalist."

Can you make money as governor?

"I don't think you can,'' he answered.

John Morgan sues to invalidate marijuana implementation because it forbids smoking for medical use

Cannabis samples Juste@MaryEllenKlas

Arguing that Florida legislators violated voters’ intent when they prohibited smoking for the medical use of marijuana, the author of the state's medical marijuana amendment sued the state on Thursday to throw out the implementing law.

John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who spearheaded and financed the successful campaign to make medical access to cannabis a constitutional right, filed the lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court Thursday morning, asking the court to declare the law implementing the 2016 constitutional amendment unenforceable.

“Inhalation is a medically effective and efficient way to deliver Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and other cannabinoids, to the bloodstream,” wrote Morgan and his lead lawyer, Jon Mills, a constitutional lawyer and former Democratic House speaker, on behalf of Florida for Care Inc., the non-profit formed to promote the initiative.“By redefining the constitutionally defined term ‘medical use' to exclude smoking, the Legislature substitutes its medical judgment for that of ‘a licensed Florida physician’ and is in direct conflict with the specifically articulated Constitutional process,” the lawsuit states.

More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the amendment in November 2016, the largest percentage of support a medical marijuana initiative has received by popular vote.

The lawsuit argues that the amendment does not prohibit smoking but instead contemplates that smoking would be authorized because it allows the state to prohibit smoking of marijuana for medical purposes in public places.

“The statement unambiguously says that smoking medical marijuana in a private place in compliance with the provisions of the amendment is legal,” the suit states. Story here, 

Photo: In this January 2016 file photo, samples of cannabis are tested for purity inside Modern Health Concepts, a South Florida dispensary for medical marijuana that is producing medicine inside its Redland plant. CARL JUSTE Miami Herald

April 25, 2017

With medical marijuana bills headed to floor votes, final deal won't have public comment

SP_409622_KEEL_4_FLGOV

@MichaelAuslen

Lawmakers say they're getting close to agreement on sweeping legislation on how to put voter-mandated medical marijuana into effect. But the details of a deal -- and how it might impact patient access -- are still unclear.

Instead of unveiling the deal to be vetted by House and Senate committees this week, legislators plan to put it forward for full vote by the two chambers, likely next week.

That would likely come in the form of a complete rewrite of the legislation subject to an up-or-down vote on the floor of the House and Senate.

What it means for advocates and activists is this: There won't be an opportunity for public comment on the details of the final plan, which is being arranged by bill sponsors behind closed doors.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who sponsored the Senate's medical marijuana bill (SB 406), said he's "comfortable" with the amount of public input there has been.

"I don't think that there's anything left to be said that hasn't been said already," Bradley said. "We've heard loud and clear people's concerns about access and about making sure that the product is safe and that there are options to recievie medical marijuana, and we're responding to those concerns."

In the House and Senate, lawmakers gave medical marijuana legislation three public hearings, where comment was often limited to ensure packed committee agendas could be finished.

By the end of those meetings, the competing bills had in many ways become less similar.

House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who sponsored the House bill (HB 1397) said Monday that he is confident some sort of deal will be reached.

"I think our negotiations are going very well," he said, but he noted that "everything is on the table with our bills."

Photo: Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)

January 17, 2017

State begins medical marijuana rule process

@MichaelAuslen

AR-140709507State health officials have started the process that will ultimately allow Floridians with debilitating conditions to buy and use medical marijuana.

Tuesday morning, the Florida Department of Health published its initial proposed rules for a statewide medical marijuana program and announced public hearings. But the rules essentially merge new patients into an existing, small medical cannabis program already functioning in the state, diverging from some of the key ideas pushed during the November election by backers of Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment that expanded medical marijuana.

Under the proposed rule, only patients with one of 10 specific medical diagnoses, including cancer, HIV and post-traumatic stress disorder, would have access to the drug, unless the Florida Board of Medicine specifically identifies additional debilitating conditions. Amendment 2, however, gives doctors the power to recommend marijuana to patients with any debilitating condition if "a physician believe sthat the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks."

It's likely the rules will change from DOH's initial proposal.

Amendment 2 gives the department until July to write rules governing medical marijuana. But it also allows the Legislature to step in and provide its own direction, which leaders in both the House and Senate appear eager to do.

Public hearings, which anyone can attend to contribute their thoughts about the proposed rule, begin in February around the state. A schedule is below. As well, people can tell the department what they think using a public comment form on its website.

It has already garnered criticism from Florida for Care, the group that pushed Amendment 2 in the election.

"The Legislature has demonstrated a willingness and a desire to implement this amendment in a reasonable manner that respects the plain language of the constitution and reflects the mandate of the electorate," chairman Ben Pollara said in a statement. "Why DOH would choose to engage in a policymaking exercise which ignores both the law and the role of the Legislature in implementing the law is a mystery."

The rule would not allow any new growers or dispensaries to form in the state, leaving control of the market in the hands of the seven nurseries licensed to grow, process and sell cannabis in Florida already. (A 2014 law allowed patients with certain conditions, including children with severe epillepsy, to use strains of cannabis low in THC, the chemical that causes a euphoric high. These nurseries were selected under that law.)

It also does not allow for the separation of growing facilities from dispensaries, which Amendment 2 does not require but allows for.

The rule maintains most of the regulations put in place by the Legislature and the health department in creating the low-THC cannabis program, including requirements that doctors take an eight-hour training course and be registered with the state. It also maintains a statewide database of patients, as well as requiring that patients be issued an ID card, as required by the amendment.

Medical marijuana public hearings:

Jacksonville: 2-4 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Duval County Health Department, 900 University Blvd. North.

Fort Lauderdale: 10 a.m.-noon Feb. 7 at the Broward County Health Department, 780 SW 24th St.

Tampa: 9-11 a.m. Feb. 8 at the DOH Tampa Branch Laboratory, 3602 Sepctrum Blvd.

Orlando: 6-8 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Orange County Health Department, 6102 Lake Ellenor Drive.

Tallahassee: 4-6 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Room 148.

Photo: Associated Press.

December 06, 2016

Medical marijuana in Florida could top $1B in three years

@MichaelAuslen

Florida is on track to log more than $1 billion in medical marijuana sales by 2019, according to an industry report released Tuesday.

The estimates are good news for Florida's budding medical cannabis industry, fresh off a major ballot box win last month.

By 2020, the report predicts, Florida will be the second-largest medical marijuana market in the country, following only California. Marijuana industry analysts New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research compiled the estimates based on data from governments, businesses and activists.

Floridians approved Amendment 2 with 71 percent of the vote in last month's election. Once it goes into effect, doctors will be able to recommend marijuana as a treatment for cancer, HIV/AIDS and other debilitating conditions.

RELATED: Implementing the medical marijuana vote could be slow in Tallahassee

New Frontier and Arcview assume sales will begin next year. They predict $10 million in marijuana sales in 2017, though the earliest the drug could be available to an expanded group of patients is late in the year.

From there, revenues from the market would only grow, gaining steam from national upward trends in the marijuana industry and the state's steady population growth.

Earlier estimates from the groups' previous reports pegged the Florida market at just slightly below these new measures, though the report's authors say they used new, better data and that old and new projections "cannot be compared."

But a word of caution: It's impossible to know just how the rules governing medical marijuana in Florida will look until the state Legislature and Department of Health have their say.

"The full regulatory structure and key program details remain to be determined," the report says, "and the market could take a few different directions depending on the actions of the Florida Legislature and the Florida Department of Health."

November 29, 2016

Galvano to advocate medical pot research at Moffitt

@MichaelAuslen and @kmcgrory

OT_400761_KEEL_17_FLGOVAs lawmakers grapple with implementing medical marijuana in Florida, a powerful senator is pushing for the state to set up a pot research program at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is working on legislation establishing Florida's first major cannabis research center at Moffit, focusing on the drug's potential benefits for cancer patients. He wants to put money in the state budget to start the program, as well.

"We have always played a role in those types of research facilities," Galvano said. "And given the importance of this issue and the massive state role in establsihing the parameters for medical marijuana, having the state participate in the research side of it seems very appropriate."

Moffitt spokesman Steve Blanchard confirmed that Galvano had been in touch with Moffitt.

He called the conversations “very preliminary.”

“Right now, Moffitt still does not advocate the use of medical marijuana,” Blanchard said, noting that the drug is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “But we would be willing to help the legislature research whether it is effective.”

Galvano, who first mentioned the research center plan in a Bradenton Herald editorial board meeting Monday, hopes additional information could help fill a void as lawmakers debate marijuana policy issues, as well as aiding medical professionals.

In recent years, lawmakers have passed two major medical marijuana bills, and the overwhelming victory in the Nov. 8 election of a constitutional amendment expanding medical cannabis means lawmakers will continue addressing the issue.

"Most of the direction we have been given medically has come from testimony and other anecdotal types of evidence," Galvano said. "With information comes power, and it will help us choose the right decisions."

More research could also help sway lawmakers who say they oppose medical marijuana because there has not been enough research into the drug's effects, Galvano said. 

He could face an obstacle from the federal government, however. Because marijuana remains an illegal substance, the Drug Enforcement Administration used to block universities' and other institutions' requests to grow and possess marijuana for research purposes. The Obama administration recently announced it would roll back those restrictions.

However, with President-elect Donald Trump naming notably anti-marijuana Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general and uncertainty surrounding other high-level appointments, it is not clear whether President Barack Obama's rule will remain intact.

Photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

November 01, 2016

Map: Here's where Floridians voted 'yes' on medical marijuana in 2014

In one week, voting ends — and Florida could become the latest state to legalize medical marijuana.

Called Amendment 2 on ballots, an initiative seeks to let doctors recommend marijuana for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and other debilitating conditions.

This is the second time in as many years that Floridians have voted on medical marijuana. 

Recent polls suggest about 70 percent of likely voters support Amendment 2. But back in 2014, a similar amendment on the ballot failed with 57.6 percent of the vote — shy of the 60 percent required to pass.

It’s enlightening to look at a map of what parts of the state were strongholds for Amendment 2 in 2014.

Geographic and demographic trends emerge pretty quickly: The state’s largest urban counties tended to favor Amendment 2, as did Leon and Alachua counties, home of college towns Tallahassee and Gainesville. As well, notice a big block of “yes” votes in South Florida.

Opposition is shored up in rural areas of Central and North Florida. Traditionally conservative suburban areas in Collier and Nassau counties generally opposed Amendment 2 as well.

But note that even many counties where a majority of voters supported Amendment 2 — like Miami-Dade or Hillsborough — didn’t push past the 60-percent mark.

The most supportive counties: Monroe (71.8%), Broward (67.9%) and Leon (67.8%). And Amendment 2’s biggest opponents: Hardee (39.7%), Holmes (41.1%) and Sumter (42.3%).

You can explore our map below:

October 28, 2016

Broward judge rules in favor of elections officials in marijuana ballot case

Snipes pix

@amysherman1

A Broward judge ruled Friday morning that the county’s elections office has already taken appropriate steps to rectify the problem of a few ballots that omitted the medical marijuana amendment.

Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips issued an order shortly before noon denying a motion by a marijuana legalization group that sued Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes last week after two Oakland Park voters received absentee ballots that omitted Amendment 2 to legalize medical marijuana statewide. Later, two Plantation voters also received mail-in ballots that omitted the amendment.

Phillips wrote that NORML of Florida failed to “demostrate irreparable harm or a violation of a clear civil right.”

Norm Kent, the attorney who sued Snipes on behalf of NORML, had asked the court to order Snipes to post signs at polling places and on social media and the mail alerting voters to check their ballots to verify they contain the amendment. But Phillips wrote that Snipes had already taken steps to fix the situation, including providing replacement ballots to those who asked for them and by instructing election officials to examine ballots to determine if they contain the amendment.

Keep reading here.
 
Miami Herald photo of Brenda Snipes by Marsha Halper