September 30, 2016

Fact-checking a claim about 'kid-friendly pot' and Amendment 2 in Florida


Opponents of Florida’s medical marijuana amendment are warning that cannabis-enhanced edibles will endanger children, hoping that voters will eat up their dire predictions and reject the measure.

"Amendment 2 will bring kid-friendly pot candy to Florida," the anti-drug campaign Vote No On 2 said in a flier we received in the mail Sept. 22, 2016.

The campaign is run by the Drug Free Florida Committee, an anti-drug group started in 2014 by longtime GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler and his wife, Betty, with financial backing from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

We wanted to find out whether the medical marijuana amendment allows "pot candy," and whether it really would be "kid-friendly."

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

September 23, 2016

Anti-pot group spends $1.3M as medical marijuana boosters keep fundraising


Supporters of a ballot question expanding medical marijuana in Florida continued fundraising the week of Sept. 10-16 while opponents started spending big money on advertising.

State campaign finance records released Friday show that United for Care, the group behind the constitutional amendment, called Amendment 2, raised $20,000 last week, most of it from donations $1,000 or less.

No on 2, the campaign opposing the measure, raised just $1, but they've started using major donations to produce and buy ads. Records show that Drug Free Florida, the political committee opposing medical marijuana, spent more than $1.3 million that same week, most of it going to Jamestown Associates, an ad buying firm.

Here's the dollars in and dollars out for the campaigns thus far:

United for Care: Raised $4.01 million ($32,162 since Sept. 1); spent $3.89 million ($40,474 since Sept. 1)

Drug Free Florida: Raised $2.86 million ($1.03 since Sept. 1); spent $1.79 million ($1.39 million since Sept. 1)

Supporters and opponents of the medical marijuana initiative have both relied heavily on big-money donors to fund their causes.

John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer, has funded $2.7 million of the money United for Care has spent getting Amendment 2 on the ballot, though he hasn't donated to the committee since Jan. 5.

Conservative Tampa Bay developer Mel Sembler has this year spent $1 million and promised to donate or raise up to $10 million to fund Drug Free Florida. In early September, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, dropped $1 million in campaign against Amendment 2.

August 24, 2016

Goat-blood-drinking candidate considers himself friend of white supremacists



Augustus Sol Invictus, who once drank the blood of a freshly killed goat, is not your typical U.S. Senate candidate.

The fiery Libertarian once wrote a paper praising eugenics, is frequently blocked from Facebook for mocking his primary opponent and refuses to disclose his given name at birth.

Invictus, 33, an Orlando attorney who freely describes himself as “the most dangerous Libertarian in America,” came to South Florida on Tuesday evening to speak in front of 15 Miami-Dade party members at John Martin’s Irish Pub in Coral Gables. (He takes his name from the Latin for “Majestic Unconquered Sun,” a cult religion of the Roman Empire.)

The event was not your usual political fare.

Clad in a gray vest with slicked hair, Invictus calmly answered questions like: “Are you friends with white supremacists?” (Answer: Yes) “Would you disavow an endorsement from a white supremacist group?” (Possibly) “Would you accept campaign contributions from white supremacists? (From individuals, yes).

It took less than 10 seconds for the goat incident to come up, after forum moderator Pierre Alexandre Crevaux asked Invictus how the campaign was going.

“It’s brutal, soaked in blood,” Invictus said.

“Goat’s blood?” an audience member asked.

“Zing,” said Invictus, who drank goat’s blood in celebration at the end of a walk from Orlando to the Mojave Desert in 2013.

August 19, 2016

PolitiFact Florida: Can medical pot make you high?


Medical marijuana has many uses, according to supporters of Florida’s Amendment 2, but getting high is not one of them.

Kim McCray, outreach director for United for Care, said in an Aug. 11 South Florida Times op-ed that the well-known euphoric effects of cannabis aren’t an issue.

"What is also important to know is that although some debilitated patients may require higher levels of THC than others based on their specific medical condition, medical-grade marijuana alone, will not get that patient ‘high,’ no matter what level of THC, CBD or any other compound is found in the plant," McCray wrote. She pointed out that medical cannabis can not only be smoked, but be packaged as ointments, oils, pills and skin patches.

It sounded peculiar to us to say that medical marijuana can’t get you high, regardless of the chemical content. We checked with some experts to clear the air.

Keep reading from Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida.

August 17, 2016

PolitiFact: A misleading claim by Vote No On 2 about medical marijuana


Local governments will be powerless to prevent medical marijuana dispensaries from sprouting up anywhere and everywhere should Amendment 2 pass this fall, opponents of the measure say.

A pamphlet from Vote No On 2 mailed to voters in July warns that the constitutional amendment prevents any kinds of restrictions on the locations of marijuana-related businesses. The amendment would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for certain health conditions and patients to pick up the drug from dispensaries that sell it.

"Because there's no local option to allow communities to ban, limit or restrict the location of pot shops, if Amendment 2 passes you can expect the seedy elements of the pot industry to move in right next door to your neighborhood, your church, your business and even your child's school," the pamphlet cautions.

Vote No On 2 is a campaign run by the Drug Free Florida Committee, an anti-drug group started in 2014 by longtime GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler and his wife, Betty, with financial backing from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

We wanted to know whether Amendment 2 prevented communities from their own bans on so-called "pot shops."

The short answer is that the amendment does not have any provisions for local legislation — but that’s only because the state would eventually be deciding whether local jurisdictions could do that.

Keep reading from Joshua Gillin at PolitiFact Florida.

June 08, 2016

Researcher urges Floridians to pass medical marijuana amendment

A psychiatrist who will help run a federally-approved study of the use of medical marijuana to treat veterans urged Floridians to pass Amendment 2 in November at a press conference in Fort Lauderdale.

Organizers of the amendment, United for Care, held the event Wednesday with Dr. Suzanne Sisley and two veterans who have used medical marijuana. The press conference was held at a Westin hotel, the site of a Viridian Cannabis conference about investing in the marijuana industry.

“You have an opportunity in this state to embrace common sense in November,” Sisley said. “You have a chance to create a sanctuary where patients can finally get safe, legal access to exquisitely lab-tested cannabis. That would be a huge gift to the citizens of Florida and an important gift to the veterans of this state who desperately deserve that access.”

A similar medical marijuana constitutional amendment drew support of 58 percent of Florida voters in 2014, two points shy of passage. Advocates hope that larger Democratic turnout in a presidential year will make the difference this time — and that includes in left-leaning Broward where 63.5 percent of voters favored the amendment in 2014.

Keep reading here.

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


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