July 21, 2015

Legal pot director Patricia Nelson to leave health department

The woman at the helm of the state office that's legalizing some strains of medical cannabis is leaving the Department of Health to work for Gov. Rick Scott.

Pattricia Nelson will no longer be the director of the Office of Compassionate Use, Department of Health spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie confirmed. She'll be working for Scott's Office of Policy and Budget.

The shakeup comes in the middle of a critical time for the Office of Compassionate Use, which was tasked by lawmakers with the regulation of marijuana strains that are low in high-causing THC but helpful to patients battling cancer and epilepsy. Earlier this month, nurseries interested in growing and producing the drug applied for one of five licenses to do so. Nelson was one of three panelists reviewing and approving applications.

State health officials are actively looking for a replacement, said Cowie.

"As we transition, the department remains committed to getting this product to children with intractable epilepsy and people with advanced cancer as safely and quickly as possible," she wrote in a statement. "No delays are anticipated as a result of this transition."

Prior to heading up the Office of Compassionate Use, Nelson worked in the governor's office during Scott's first term as deputy director for the Office of Accountability and Regulatory Reform, according to her LinkedIn.

May 27, 2015

Judge dismisses final marijuana challenge; access expected by 'end of year' state says

Florida regulators said they expect to provide access to a limited strain of non-euphoric marijuana for medical purposes by the end of the year after a Tallahassee judge on Wednesday dismissed the final challenge to the long-awaited rule.

The Florida Department of Health, which developed the rule, is expected to start accepting applications within three weeks from eligible growers for the strain of marijuana that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. Growers could start selling to eligible patients who are put on a state-run "compassionate use registry" within months.

"I am one happy legislator,'' said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, one of the sponsors of the 2014 legislation that attempted to expedite the development and cultivation of the so-called "Charlotte's Web" strain of low-THC marijuana to help people suffering from epileptic seizures, cancer and other ailments.

Legislators had intended for the medical strain of cannabis to be available to Floridians by January of this year but regulators had their first rule rejected, and then faced a series of legal challenges. On Wednesday, they offered patients new hope.

"Today's ruling allows the department to move forward with implementing the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, approved by the legislature in 2014,'' the Department of Health said in a statement. "The department remains committed to ensuring safe and efficient access to this product for children with refractory epilepsy and patients with advanced cancer. We are moving swiftly to facilitate access to the product before the end of the year.”

Continue reading "Judge dismisses final marijuana challenge; access expected by 'end of year' state says" »

May 18, 2015

John Morgan is 'astounded' by lawmakers' 'collective stupidity'

Lawyer and medical marijuana apologist John Morgan is looking to 2016 with a plea to fill the coffers of his campaign for legal medicinal pot, United for Care.

And he’s doing it with harsh words directed at the Florida Legislature, where medical marijuana didn’t take off this year and even an attempt to speed up bureaucratic processes surrounding low-THC cannabis called Charlotte’s Web were stalled. He sent out this email to supporters Monday:

“The collective stupidity of the Florida legislature continues to astound me. 

“Let's face it - most politicians are out to protect their own careers.  But by ignoring medical marijuana, they are not only endangering their personal chances in 2016, they're very possibly setting up a scenario that could have an impact on the presidential race.  Turnout WILL change because of our presence on the ballot. 

“And with God as my witness - we are going to be on the ballot. 

“We are going to win this war for the patients of Florida. Make a donation here today, and I'll match it. 

“What's outrageous is that they just doubled down... calling a special session of legislature and leaving medical marijuana off the agenda.

April 28, 2015

Medical marijuana campaign relaunches after Florida House ends lawmaking session


The abrupt conclusion Tuesday to the Florida House's legislative session meant the end of the line for scores of bills that have yet to pass the chamber, including a long-shot proposal to legalize medical marijuana.

Jumping on news that the House had adjourned three days ahead of schedule, medical pot advocates declared the re-launch of their political campaign to get a constitutional amendment on the 2016 Florida ballot.

"Despite courageous leadership from Senators and Representatives in both houses and both parties, Tallahassee has failed us again," United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara said in a statement. "Medical marijuana will be on the ballot in 2016 and the voters will pass what the legislature failed to."

The campaign quickly emailed supporters asking for financial contributions.

"We must, again, get almost 700,000 petitions signed and validated," the email reads. "But this time, we have more months to do it, a better informed populace, and momentum." Signature-gathering had been put on hold -- or at least not widely pursued -- during the annual 60-day session.

Pollara and the campaign's chief financial backer, Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, had pitched the 2015 legislation as the only way for lawmakers to avoid another public vote on the issue in 2016. A 2014 referendum was backed by nearly 58 percent of voters but failed to meet the required 60-percent threshold. The advocates had particularly tried to appeal to Republicans by suggesting a cannabis amendment on a presidential ballot might benefit the Democratic nominee.

Other legislation that died Tuesday had been close to passage. That wasn't the case with medical marijuana, despite last-minute attempts to keep the bills alive.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Morgan weighed in with his own strongly worded message to supporters.

Here's what his email said, in part:

Continue reading "Medical marijuana campaign relaunches after Florida House ends lawmaking session" »

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


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?


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


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


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" »