October 12, 2014

What's one thing neither side is talking about in the marijuana/Amend 2 debate?

MarijuanaHere’s the little secret that neither side of the Amendment 2 debate over medical marijuana is talking about: The Florida Legislature controls its fate.

You don’t hear it from opposition groups, who warn that legalizing medical marijuana will endanger children, spawn pot shops on every street corner and become the state’s next pill mill fiasco. That will happen only if the conservative Florida Legislature decides not to impose strict rules on who obtains the marijuana, who distributes it and under what conditions.

You don’t hear it from proponents, as the United for Care campaign rolls into college campuses, riding on the hopes of medically needy Floridians, and wishful recreational pot smokers.

Access to medical cannabis for those groups wouldn’t be easy, either, if the Legislature put in place a tightly controlled cultivation and dispensing system similar to one it adopted earlier this year when it legalized low-THC, high CBD strains of cannabis.

And what’s to stop lawmakers from doing any of this and more?

“Nothing,” said Jon Mills, former Democratic House speaker and a constitutional lawyer who wrote the amendment on the ballot before voters on Nov.4. “The Legislature can do anything that is not inconsistent with the Constitution.”

The proposed constitutional amendment, he said, prevents the Legislature from creating a barrier to access for patients diagnosed with nine particular debilitating ailments, or others who meet the requirements of the law. But he noted that it does allow lawmakers to establish a protocol for determining what diseases are eligible for treatment and to put in place rules that keep the public safe.

Story here. 

 

October 08, 2014

Survey: Public lacks information on amendments, rates state badly for health care for seniors

A majority of Floridians believe the passage of a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana will lead to recreational use, according to the latest report from the Sunshine State Survey. But most of those surveyed said they didn't get enough information about proposed amendments or only heard one side.

The survey, administered by the University of South Florida School of Public Affairs and Nielsen, also offers Floridians' views on health care, race relations, elections and transportation.

Some of the findings:

* Fifty-four percent of survey participants rated the state's provision of health care to seniors and its assistance of the state's mentally and physically disabled as just fair or poor.

*Of the five reasons listed for not voting, "not eligible" was the prime reason given, though the number of those who cited ineligibility decreased from 48 percent in 2011 to 28 percent in 2014.

*Sixty-three percent of resondents said the state is doing a fair or poor job of improving race relations compared to those who said the state is doing an excellent job (5 percent) or good (24 percent). 

Continue reading "Survey: Public lacks information on amendments, rates state badly for health care for seniors" »

October 01, 2014

Group releases a framework for regulating medical marijuana

The fate of Amendment 2 will be decided in less than five weeks, but one group has already released its recommended framework for how a system that regulates medical marijuana would work.

The 12-member Florida For Care Blue Ribbon Commission, which includes Democrats and Republicans, and representatives from law enforcement, business, health and other areas, has released proposed principles that range from patient protection to professional licenses and packaging. It addresses issues like physician requirements and continuing education, regulations on caregivers and a compassionate use registry.

Former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, and vice chair of the commission, said he doesn't plan on voting for the amendment but he joined the group to help devise a plan that would incorporate different views and assist the legislature in determining safeguards if the amendment passes.

Constitutional amendments need 60 percent of the vote to pass. The polling average of the last major public surveys shows about 64 percent of Florida voters favor Amendment 2.

"I am against the amendment because I don't think enough research has been done," Diaz de la Portilla said, "but if the people want it and it passes, then we need to get it right.  ... If you have people who are for it and against it, what comes out is a better, well thought-out plan."

Despite his opposition, Diaz de la Portilla said Republicans and Democrats "have to be open-minded." 

The proposal is a "starting point," said the commission's chairman, Jon Mills, who is the Amendment 2 author and a former speaker of the House.

Continue reading "Group releases a framework for regulating medical marijuana" »

September 29, 2014

Medical marijuana ad wars start in FL with release of pro & con commercials

@MarcACaputo

The supporters and opponents of medical marijuana both posted their first TV ads Monday, just in time for Floridians to receive the first wave of absentee ballots in the mail.

The clash is one that has played out in 23 other states plus Washington D.C., with medical-marijuana supporters playing up the benefits of cannabis in treating cancer or MS -- while opponents target older, more conservative voters with a message about crime.

"They don't call it the Drug-Dealer Protection Act. But they should," says the opposition ad from Drug Free Florida Committee, which focuses on a provision in the proposed constitutional amendment that allows caregivers to handle marijuana. 

The supporters, People United for Medical Marijuana, concentrate on the broad outlines and promise of the amendment: Getting people the care they need without the intrusion of government.

"Twenty-three states now keep government and politicians out of the doctor-patient relationship. And it's worked," says the ad. 

Drug Free appears to be spending the most early: $1.6 million, with the likelihood of millions more to come -- especially from Las Vegas gambling magnate and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.

People United for Medical Marijuana hasn't disclosed how much it's spending. Its chairman, Democratic donor and Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, have promised to do what it takes to get their message out.

A constitutional amendment needs 60 percent of the vote to pass. The polling average of the last major public surveys pegs Florida voter support at about 64 percent.

Drug Free is concentrating on conservatives because, if Republican support falls to about 40-42 percent, the amendment will likely fail even if independent and Democratic support remains in or around the 70 percent range (more here).

Over the months, Republican support for the amendment appears to be dropping. But Democratic and independent support appears to be increasing. As a result, polls from the conservative-leaning business group, Associated Industries of Florida, show the amendment's support has remained at 64 percent for months. People United's polling showed the amendment's support has remained relatively constant as well, at 69 percent this month and 70 percent in June.

Here are the ads, in-depth fact checks to follow.

September 22, 2014

Anzalone/United For Care poll: 69% of FL voters back medical marijuana

@MarcACaputo

From a press release:

A recently commissioned poll by United for Care shows strong and stable support for Florida Amendment 2, a measure that would allow for the medical use of marijuana in the state. According to the survey conducted on behalf of United for Care, the main organization advocating for passage of the amendment, 69% of likely voters in Florida support this measure with only 28% opposed. 60% voter approval is needed to pass a Constitutional Amendment in the State of Florida. The findings are significant because they show voter backing of the amendment has remained virtually unchanged since the beginning of 2013.

United for Care has conducted four internal polls since January 2013, employing 3 different pollsters. The first survey by Hamilton Campaigns showed 70% support in January 2013. The second, carried out in March of 2013 by the Kitchens Group, revealed 71% intended to vote “Yes.” A June 2014 poll by Anzalone Liszt Research and Public Opinion Strategies reported 70% voter support for the amendment.

“If you look at the poll numbers since the beginning of last year they are virtually unchanged, and they reassert what we’ve consistently said: Floridians overwhelmingly support medical marijuana,” said Ben Pollara, Campaign Manager at United for Care. “Keeping medical decisions in the hands of doctors - not politicians - is simply not a controversial position for the vast majority of Floridians, and that has not changed over the last twenty-one months.”

“The latest poll speaks very highly of the basic compassion of Florida voters,” said Pollara. “Opponents of Amendment 2 have been relentlessly pushing disingenuous talking points, and insulting the intelligence of the voters - but Floridians have seen through their deception and they are ready to vote for this amendment because it is the right thing to do for the ill and the suffering.”

The Anzalone Liszt Grove Research poll of 1,004 likely Florida voters was conducted from September 12-18, 2014 and has a margin of error of +/-3.1%.

September 16, 2014

Florida's NAACP backs medical-marijuana ballot initiative

 From a press release

Today, the Florida State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People proudly announced its support of United for Care and the passage of Amendment 2 this November. The amendment, which would legalize medicinal marijuana in Florida, will appear on the ballot on November 4, 2014.

NAACP Florida State Conference, including its Branches, Youth Councils and College Chapters, is a state affiliate of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, has worked successfully with allies of all races and plays a significant role in improving the lives of minorities in America.

“Today is an exciting day for everyone working to pass Amendment 2 this November, especially for patients with debilitating diseases who could potentially benefit from compassionate care,” said Ben Pollara, Campaign Manager at United for Care. “It is welcome news to have earned the support of an organization that has such an incredible history of fighting for the rights of the people.”

Continue reading "Florida's NAACP backs medical-marijuana ballot initiative " »

September 15, 2014

Costa Farms files lawsuit challenging agency's marijuana 'lottery' rule

The Florida Department of Health says it wanted to use a lottery to select the companies that will dispense low-THC cannabis in Florida to avoid lawsuits, but on Monday the agency in charge of writing the medical marijuana rules drew its first lawsuit -- because of the lottery.

Costa Farms of Miami, one of the state's largest farming operations filed an administrative complaint against the Department of Health Monday, alleging that it is violating the law authoritizing the selection of five companies to dispense low-THC cannabis by requiring they be selected through a lottery system.

The company claims that the lottery system violates the law authoritizing the selection of five companies to dispense low-THC cannabis because the lottery system, adopted by the agency after three public hearings, "is not mentioned in the legislation."

"The Department of Health has a duty to ensure that the dispensing organizations that are selected to make this medicine are the very best, not merely the luckiest,'' said Peter Freyre, vice president of Costa Farms in a statement. "We suggest that the Department abandon the notion that a lottery is the appropriate method for selecting dispensing organizations.”

The Department of Health, which had agreed to modify parts of the rule but adhere to the lottery selection process, is not happy. Agency officials said they proposed the lottery to avoid lawsuits -- suggesting that selecting companies based on fixed criteria would be more contentious, thereby delaying the process.

"A rule challenge is regrettable,'' said John Armstrong, secretary of the department and the state's surgeon general, in a statement. "The parties behind a challenge should explain why they are delaying the process of providing compassionate care to children with refractory epilepsy and patients with advanced cancer. The Department remains committed to getting this product to the market as soon as possible for qualified children and families in Florida.”

The proposal requires companies to meet minimal standards but the final names will be selected via lottery. The rule tracks the legislation passed by lawmakers last spring by requiring that the only companies eligible to compete for the licenses are those that have been operating in Florida for more than 30 years and with at least 400,000 plants. 

The lottery concept, however, has been widely opposed by families of people suffering from intractable epilepsy, who are concerned that the standards are not high enough to guarantee the safety of the plans. Growers and investors have also argued against the lottery, suggesting that fixed standards would result in the companies with the safest, most proven approach will emerge as most worthy. Some companies, such as Costa Farms, are prepared to spend thousands to lobby for the license but have said they may not apply if the lottery system remains.

“Costa Farms understands and agrees that the low THC cannabis program needs to be implemented in the time frame contemplated by the Florida legislature,'' Freyre said.  "We are seeking administrative review of the Department’s rule to preserve our rights but are fully cooperative and hope that we can resolve this matter by negotiating a quick resolution of all outstanding issues with the Department.”

 

 

 

September 14, 2014

The politics, paradoxes and polling of pot

@MarcACaputo

Tallahassee’s conservative political establishment is about to embark on a multi-million ad campaign to kill a popular, proposed constitutional amendment for medical marijuana.

Paradoxically, more money and more message could mean more problems for the opponents.

That’s because one of the best ways to motivate older and conservative just-say-no voters is to frame the amendment as a “smokescreen” for outright legalization. But that message (questionable though it is) can motivate younger and more liberal voters.

And those younger voters, typically less likely to show in mid-term elections, are probably more enthused about outright marijuana legalization rather than medical cannabis.

Not only could these less-likely voters show, polling and demographic trends indicate that they’d be less likely to vote for Gov. Rick Scott, the standard bearer of the Tallahassee political establishment.

So conservatives could unwittingly fund their own demise by unwittingly ginning up young voters.

“Medical marijuana will probably drive up turnout among lower-propensity voters by a point or two,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida political science professor who has authored numerous peer-reviewed articles on ballot initiatives and voter performance.

“It’s not going to be a lot, but in a close election like this, a little is a lot,” Smith said. “Now who medical marijuana helps politically is much less clear.”

The conventional wisdom, therefore, about Democrat Charlie Crist getting a major boost from medical marijuana could be dead wrong. Crist, Democrats and the campaign led by People United for Medical Marijuana face their own conflicts when it comes to cannabis.

Welcome to the tricky politics, paradoxes and polling of pot.

More here

September 12, 2014

Anti-medical marijuana forces place $1.6m TV ad buy, promise more to come

@MarcACaputo

Drug Free Florida, the folks opposed to medical marijuana, is dropping major greenbacks on a TV ad campaign: $1.6 million statewide in the first week of October.

The buy coincides with the first batch of absentee ballots dropping in the mail. Republicans and conservatives are the most-likely to vote by absentee ballot and the least-likely to support the proposed constitutional amendment, which needs 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Republican support is still strong, albeit not over 60 percent in most surveys, but out-sized Democratic and independent support have the constitutional amendment polling at anywhere from 61 to 70 percent (it's likely about 65%). By my calculations, if you drag down Republican support to about 42 percent, the amendment likely fails -- even if Democratic and independent support remains in the low to mid 70s.

We don't yet know the exact message of Drug Free Florida's ads, but it's doubtful it'll bash medical-marijuana backer John Morgan (why give the trial lawyer free advertising and credibility with people who want to hire a renegade?).

Not only is the medium the message. So is the size and location of the media buy. And this has "conservative" written all over it. Conservative North Florida (except for West Palm Beach's media market, which gives a great bang for the buck) will see the most ads, a figure expressed below as GRPs, which stands for Gross Ratings Points (1,000 GRPs generally means an average TV viewer will likely see the ad 10 times).

Continue reading "Anti-medical marijuana forces place $1.6m TV ad buy, promise more to come" »

September 09, 2014

PPP: Crist 42%, Scott 39%. Medical marijuana in trouble at 61%

From a press release:

PPP's newest Florida poll continues to find a tight race for Governor, with Charlie Crist holding a slight advantage over Rick Scott. Crist is at 42% to 39% for Scott, and 8% for Libertarian Adrian Wyllie. This election is shaping up as a choice between two candidates voters have decided they don't care for. Only 40% of voters approve of the job Scott is doing to 49% who disapprove. But they don't like Crist either- 40% of voters rate him favorably with 46% holding a negative opinion. The dissatisfaction with both major candidates probably helps to explain Wyllie's 8% standing but since he is drawing pretty equally from both Scott and Crist he's not having a major effect on the race in the way some Libertarians are in other states. When you take him out of the equation Crist's lead remains 3 points at 44/41.

Continue reading "PPP: Crist 42%, Scott 39%. Medical marijuana in trouble at 61%" »