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. 

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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.”

October 21, 2015

Florida Supreme Court to review medical pot Dec. 9


On Dec. 9, supporters and opponents of medical marijuana will take the stand in Tallahassee to argue why a constitutional amendment to legalize the drug should or should not be on the ballot next November.

The Florida Supreme Court will hear the arguments over the issue, as it does all constitutional amendments, and justices will decide if voters should be allowed to legalize the drug in the state. In the 2014 election, the court okayed the proposed amendment, although it fell short of the 60 percent vote threshold required to be written into the constitution.

The amendment is being pushed by United for Care, a group that has raised more than $1.8 million, much of it from lawyer John Morgan. Among its opponents in 2014 was Attorney General Pam Bondi.

In an order Wednesday, the court wrote that each side would have 20 minutes to make its case as to the constitutionality of the amendment. The court cannot decide whether or not medical marijuana is good policy. Briefs have to be filed with the court by Oct. 30.

Bondi sent the constitutional amendment to the court -- as she is required to do -- after it recieved a tenth of the petition signatures needed to qualify for next November's ballot. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had 286,274 verified signatures of the 683,149 required.

October 07, 2015

Gaetz and Bradley file measure to dramatically expand market medical pot

Promising to give another option to sick patients in Florida, the authors of the state's existing medical marijuana bill filed legislation Wednesday to allow high potency strains of cannabis to be cultivated and sold for non-smoking purposes for a potentially vast new audience -- those diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Under the bill filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, two physicians would determine that a patient is at the end of life and the patient would then be eligible for marijuana with unlimited levels of THC, expanding the existing law that legalizes only non-euphoric strains of marijuana. 

"We're offering this because people who want to die without being jacked up with opiates or who are in excruciating pain are visiting their legislators, their making phone calls, their sending emails and it's working,'' Gaetz said. 

The law would expand the "Right to Try" legislation passed last year which allows terminally ill patients to access experimental and potentially life-saving—treatments more easily. 

"It's appropriate to have more flexibility for those families where they can try experimental drugs they should also be able to try high potency marijuana,'' Bradley said. 

"This is a game changer,'' said Taylor Biehl, legislative director of the Capital Alliance Group, which represents a consortium of cannabis growers who have applied to cultivate and distribute medical pot in Florida. "This is a foot hold for drastically increasing the patient base across the line."

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October 06, 2015

State regulators: We are 'unable to say' when medical pot will be available in Florida

Marijuana samplesState regulators said Tuesday they could not say when a limited strain of marijuana will be available in Florida for medical purposes, even though it is nearly a year past the deadline on which the drug was promised. 

“At this time we are unable to provide a date the licenses will be available,’’ said Nichole Geary, general counsel for the Florida Department of Health which is in charge of licensing the five dispensaries that will cultivate and distribute the low-THC strain of medical cannabis approved by lawmakers in 2014. 

That answer drew sharp criticism from Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, who along with other lawmakers supported the legalization of marijuana low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, to help patients with cancer and seizures, such as severe epilepsy.

 “I’m sure you’re aware of the frustration that members of the legislature have had in this process,’’ Steube said at a meeting of the House's Health Quality Subcommittee. “This is something we voted on two years ago.”

He noted that the agency received the applications from 28 growers on July 8 and was required to have a three-person panel review the applications and select companies that will produce and dispense the marijuana within 90 days.

“It’s been three months since then and you’re still telling us today that you have no idea when there will be some timeline,’’ he said. “I just don’t understand how we don’t have some type of way ahead.” 

Geary responded that the applications are lengthy and the agency is trying to be careful.

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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.