September 22, 2015

Medical pot backers claim to have 500,000 signatures

United for Care -- the group behind a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in Florida -- has reached half a million petition signatures, chairman and primary funder John Morgan announced in an email Tuesday.

However, most of those signatures have not been validated by local supervisors of elections.

According to the Secretary of State's office, 154,755 signatures have been verified by the supervisors. It takes 683,149, including 8 percent from each of 14 congressional districts. Morgan said he believes the group is halfway to that number.

United for Care's amendment already qualified for review by the Supreme Court, the first step toward getting on the ballot. Through August, the campaign had raised $1.58 million, much of it from Morgan.

August 31, 2015

Marijuana amendment qualifies for court review

A constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in Florida has reached a key milestone in its petition drive, triggering required reviews by Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Florida Supreme Court.

The proposal has gotten 73,713 signatures, according to Florida Division of Elections data. Bondi has 30 days to review the ballot language and send it to the Supreme Court, which will determine if it's constitutional.

The amendment would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medical purposes and allow the state Department of Health to regulate marijuana growth and sale. In the 2014 election, it fell just short of the 60 percent required to amend the state constitution.

But backed by lawyer John Morgan, the amendment has already raked in over $1 million in contributions for the upcoming election cycle.

"This is the first major milestone to bringing medical marijuana back before the voters of Florida In November 2016," campaign manager Ben Pollara said. "In the next election, Floridians will succeed where their elected leaders have failed them, and pass a comprehensive, compassionate medical marijuana law to serve the hundreds of thousands of sick and suffering people who are so desperate for relief in our state."

Bondi is required to pass it on to the Supreme Court, but she can contest the language. In late 2013, she said in a letter to the court that, "Florida law would allow marijuana in limitless situations."

It takes 683,149 petition signatures to make it onto the ballot next November, and state law requires that those include a large portion of voters in 14 congressional districts. So far, most of the petition signatures are in districts 4 (Jacksonville), 11 (including Hernando County), 13 (Pinellas) and 14 (Pinellas and Hillsborough).

Miami Herald staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this post.

July 22, 2015

100,000 back medical pot initiative

Medical marijuana is one step closer to its return to the ballot in 2016.

United for Care, the group fighting to legalize medical pot through a voter-approved constitutional amendment next fall, announced Wednesday that it's sending petitions to county election supervisors on behalf of 100,000 Floridians who want to see the issue on the ballot.

Election supervisors must now verify that the signatures are legitimate, and if there are at least 68,317 statewide, the measure will go before the Florida Supreme Court.Campaign Manager Ben Pollara said the ballot item could be ready for Supreme Court review by mid-August.

“This is a massive head start over the previous campaign - which started late. If we can sustain this pace, we should ensure our place on the ballot before the holidays,” Pollara said.

United for Care, which is heavily backed by lawyer John Morgan, made a similar push to legalize medical marijuana on the 2014 ballot. The issue garnered a majority of the vote but fell short of the 60 percent required to pass a constitutional amendment.

The group is off to a fast start this year, raising $373,855.18 since the November 2014 election. Last month, there were $292,962.95 in contributions, nearly all of which came from Morgan.

Florida medical marijuana campaign submits 100K ballot petitions for review


United for Care, the campaign to once again get medical marijuana on the Florida ballot, said Wednesday it has submitted 100,000 petitions to county elections supervisors for review.

The supervisors now have 30 days to validate the signatures and send them to Tallahassee. The Florida Supreme Court would then have to schedule a review of the proposed constitutional amended to legalize medical pot.

"This is a massive head start over the previous campaign -- which started late," campaign manager Ben Pollara said in a statement. "If we can sustain this pace, we should ensure our place on the ballot before the holidays."

A total of 68,317 valid petitions are required to obtain Supreme Court review for the amendment language (about a quarter to a third usually get rejected for various reasons, which is why campaigns collect more than petitions). Even more petitions -- 683,179 -- would be required to actually get the OK'ed language on the 2016 ballot.

Pollara said United for Care expects to get a Supreme Court review date around mid-August. He said the campaign has about 13,000 volunteers working to collect signatures, no doubt propelled by how well the amendment did in 2014. It garnered nearly 58 percent support, which was slightly short of the 60-percent threshold required for constitutional amendments.

The campaign expects to do even better in a presidential year, with a more left-leaning electorate.

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" »