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

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


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


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.”