January 17, 2017

State begins medical marijuana rule process


AR-140709507State health officials have started the process that will ultimately allow Floridians with debilitating conditions to buy and use medical marijuana.

Tuesday morning, the Florida Department of Health published its initial proposed rules for a statewide medical marijuana program and announced public hearings. But the rules essentially merge new patients into an existing, small medical cannabis program already functioning in the state, diverging from some of the key ideas pushed during the November election by backers of Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment that expanded medical marijuana.

Under the proposed rule, only patients with one of 10 specific medical diagnoses, including cancer, HIV and post-traumatic stress disorder, would have access to the drug, unless the Florida Board of Medicine specifically identifies additional debilitating conditions. Amendment 2, however, gives doctors the power to recommend marijuana to patients with any debilitating condition if "a physician believe sthat the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks."

It's likely the rules will change from DOH's initial proposal.

Amendment 2 gives the department until July to write rules governing medical marijuana. But it also allows the Legislature to step in and provide its own direction, which leaders in both the House and Senate appear eager to do.

Public hearings, which anyone can attend to contribute their thoughts about the proposed rule, begin in February around the state. A schedule is below. As well, people can tell the department what they think using a public comment form on its website.

It has already garnered criticism from Florida for Care, the group that pushed Amendment 2 in the election.

"The Legislature has demonstrated a willingness and a desire to implement this amendment in a reasonable manner that respects the plain language of the constitution and reflects the mandate of the electorate," chairman Ben Pollara said in a statement. "Why DOH would choose to engage in a policymaking exercise which ignores both the law and the role of the Legislature in implementing the law is a mystery."

The rule would not allow any new growers or dispensaries to form in the state, leaving control of the market in the hands of the seven nurseries licensed to grow, process and sell cannabis in Florida already. (A 2014 law allowed patients with certain conditions, including children with severe epillepsy, to use strains of cannabis low in THC, the chemical that causes a euphoric high. These nurseries were selected under that law.)

It also does not allow for the separation of growing facilities from dispensaries, which Amendment 2 does not require but allows for.

The rule maintains most of the regulations put in place by the Legislature and the health department in creating the low-THC cannabis program, including requirements that doctors take an eight-hour training course and be registered with the state. It also maintains a statewide database of patients, as well as requiring that patients be issued an ID card, as required by the amendment.

Medical marijuana public hearings:

Jacksonville: 2-4 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Duval County Health Department, 900 University Blvd. North.

Fort Lauderdale: 10 a.m.-noon Feb. 7 at the Broward County Health Department, 780 SW 24th St.

Tampa: 9-11 a.m. Feb. 8 at the DOH Tampa Branch Laboratory, 3602 Sepctrum Blvd.

Orlando: 6-8 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Orange County Health Department, 6102 Lake Ellenor Drive.

Tallahassee: 4-6 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Room 148.

Photo: Associated Press.

December 06, 2016

Medical marijuana in Florida could top $1B in three years


Florida is on track to log more than $1 billion in medical marijuana sales by 2019, according to an industry report released Tuesday.

The estimates are good news for Florida's budding medical cannabis industry, fresh off a major ballot box win last month.

By 2020, the report predicts, Florida will be the second-largest medical marijuana market in the country, following only California. Marijuana industry analysts New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research compiled the estimates based on data from governments, businesses and activists.

Floridians approved Amendment 2 with 71 percent of the vote in last month's election. Once it goes into effect, doctors will be able to recommend marijuana as a treatment for cancer, HIV/AIDS and other debilitating conditions.

RELATED: Implementing the medical marijuana vote could be slow in Tallahassee

New Frontier and Arcview assume sales will begin next year. They predict $10 million in marijuana sales in 2017, though the earliest the drug could be available to an expanded group of patients is late in the year.

From there, revenues from the market would only grow, gaining steam from national upward trends in the marijuana industry and the state's steady population growth.

Earlier estimates from the groups' previous reports pegged the Florida market at just slightly below these new measures, though the report's authors say they used new, better data and that old and new projections "cannot be compared."

But a word of caution: It's impossible to know just how the rules governing medical marijuana in Florida will look until the state Legislature and Department of Health have their say.

"The full regulatory structure and key program details remain to be determined," the report says, "and the market could take a few different directions depending on the actions of the Florida Legislature and the Florida Department of Health."

November 29, 2016

Galvano to advocate medical pot research at Moffitt

@MichaelAuslen and @kmcgrory

OT_400761_KEEL_17_FLGOVAs lawmakers grapple with implementing medical marijuana in Florida, a powerful senator is pushing for the state to set up a pot research program at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is working on legislation establishing Florida's first major cannabis research center at Moffit, focusing on the drug's potential benefits for cancer patients. He wants to put money in the state budget to start the program, as well.

"We have always played a role in those types of research facilities," Galvano said. "And given the importance of this issue and the massive state role in establsihing the parameters for medical marijuana, having the state participate in the research side of it seems very appropriate."

Moffitt spokesman Steve Blanchard confirmed that Galvano had been in touch with Moffitt.

He called the conversations “very preliminary.”

“Right now, Moffitt still does not advocate the use of medical marijuana,” Blanchard said, noting that the drug is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “But we would be willing to help the legislature research whether it is effective.”

Galvano, who first mentioned the research center plan in a Bradenton Herald editorial board meeting Monday, hopes additional information could help fill a void as lawmakers debate marijuana policy issues, as well as aiding medical professionals.

In recent years, lawmakers have passed two major medical marijuana bills, and the overwhelming victory in the Nov. 8 election of a constitutional amendment expanding medical cannabis means lawmakers will continue addressing the issue.

"Most of the direction we have been given medically has come from testimony and other anecdotal types of evidence," Galvano said. "With information comes power, and it will help us choose the right decisions."

More research could also help sway lawmakers who say they oppose medical marijuana because there has not been enough research into the drug's effects, Galvano said. 

He could face an obstacle from the federal government, however. Because marijuana remains an illegal substance, the Drug Enforcement Administration used to block universities' and other institutions' requests to grow and possess marijuana for research purposes. The Obama administration recently announced it would roll back those restrictions.

However, with President-elect Donald Trump naming notably anti-marijuana Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general and uncertainty surrounding other high-level appointments, it is not clear whether President Barack Obama's rule will remain intact.

Photo: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

November 01, 2016

Map: Here's where Floridians voted 'yes' on medical marijuana in 2014

In one week, voting ends — and Florida could become the latest state to legalize medical marijuana.

Called Amendment 2 on ballots, an initiative seeks to let doctors recommend marijuana for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy and other debilitating conditions.

This is the second time in as many years that Floridians have voted on medical marijuana. 

Recent polls suggest about 70 percent of likely voters support Amendment 2. But back in 2014, a similar amendment on the ballot failed with 57.6 percent of the vote — shy of the 60 percent required to pass.

It’s enlightening to look at a map of what parts of the state were strongholds for Amendment 2 in 2014.

Geographic and demographic trends emerge pretty quickly: The state’s largest urban counties tended to favor Amendment 2, as did Leon and Alachua counties, home of college towns Tallahassee and Gainesville. As well, notice a big block of “yes” votes in South Florida.

Opposition is shored up in rural areas of Central and North Florida. Traditionally conservative suburban areas in Collier and Nassau counties generally opposed Amendment 2 as well.

But note that even many counties where a majority of voters supported Amendment 2 — like Miami-Dade or Hillsborough — didn’t push past the 60-percent mark.

The most supportive counties: Monroe (71.8%), Broward (67.9%) and Leon (67.8%). And Amendment 2’s biggest opponents: Hardee (39.7%), Holmes (41.1%) and Sumter (42.3%).

You can explore our map below:

October 28, 2016

Broward judge rules in favor of elections officials in marijuana ballot case

Snipes pix


A Broward judge ruled Friday morning that the county’s elections office has already taken appropriate steps to rectify the problem of a few ballots that omitted the medical marijuana amendment.

Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips issued an order shortly before noon denying a motion by a marijuana legalization group that sued Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes last week after two Oakland Park voters received absentee ballots that omitted Amendment 2 to legalize medical marijuana statewide. Later, two Plantation voters also received mail-in ballots that omitted the amendment.

Phillips wrote that NORML of Florida failed to “demostrate irreparable harm or a violation of a clear civil right.”

Norm Kent, the attorney who sued Snipes on behalf of NORML, had asked the court to order Snipes to post signs at polling places and on social media and the mail alerting voters to check their ballots to verify they contain the amendment. But Phillips wrote that Snipes had already taken steps to fix the situation, including providing replacement ballots to those who asked for them and by instructing election officials to examine ballots to determine if they contain the amendment.

Keep reading here.
Miami Herald photo of Brenda Snipes by Marsha Halper

October 25, 2016

More Broward ballots missing marijuana question, lawsuit alleges

Norm Kent


Hours after a Broward judge said she was ready to rule quickly on a case about ballots missing the medical marijuana amendment, a new wrinkle appeared Tuesday evening: Two more voters found Amendment 2 missing on their ballots.

NORML of Florida, a group that supports reforming marijuana laws, filed a new emergency motion Tuesday night asking the court to hold a rehearing in its lawsuit against Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.

The voters “are victims of the respondent’s failure to carry out her constitutional duties and face the prospect of being deprived of the right to vote on matters of great public concern,” attorney Russell Cormican wrote in a new motion.

Cormican works with Norm Kent, the attorney for NORML of Florida. They filed suit last week after elections officials verified that two Oakland Park voters received mail-in ballots that omitted Amendment 2, a statewide question about allowing the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

Cormican wrote in an emergency motion filed Tuesday evening that he had heard from two additional voters — Johnny Alexander and Cary Gandolfi, both from Plantation — who had received absentee ballots that lacked the amendment. He heard from those voters after his emergency hearing earlier in the day.

He wrote that Alexander contacted Snipes’ office about his ballot and was “treated in a dismissive manner and was told that he must be mistaken.”

Keep reading here.
Miami Herald photo by Carl Juste

September 30, 2016

Fact-checking a claim about 'kid-friendly pot' and Amendment 2 in Florida


Opponents of Florida’s medical marijuana amendment are warning that cannabis-enhanced edibles will endanger children, hoping that voters will eat up their dire predictions and reject the measure.

"Amendment 2 will bring kid-friendly pot candy to Florida," the anti-drug campaign Vote No On 2 said in a flier we received in the mail Sept. 22, 2016.

The campaign is 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 find out whether the medical marijuana amendment allows "pot candy," and whether it really would be "kid-friendly."

Keep reading Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

September 23, 2016

Anti-pot group spends $1.3M as medical marijuana boosters keep fundraising


Supporters of a ballot question expanding medical marijuana in Florida continued fundraising the week of Sept. 10-16 while opponents started spending big money on advertising.

State campaign finance records released Friday show that United for Care, the group behind the constitutional amendment, called Amendment 2, raised $20,000 last week, most of it from donations $1,000 or less.

No on 2, the campaign opposing the measure, raised just $1, but they've started using major donations to produce and buy ads. Records show that Drug Free Florida, the political committee opposing medical marijuana, spent more than $1.3 million that same week, most of it going to Jamestown Associates, an ad buying firm.

Here's the dollars in and dollars out for the campaigns thus far:

United for Care: Raised $4.01 million ($32,162 since Sept. 1); spent $3.89 million ($40,474 since Sept. 1)

Drug Free Florida: Raised $2.86 million ($1.03 since Sept. 1); spent $1.79 million ($1.39 million since Sept. 1)

Supporters and opponents of the medical marijuana initiative have both relied heavily on big-money donors to fund their causes.

John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer, has funded $2.7 million of the money United for Care has spent getting Amendment 2 on the ballot, though he hasn't donated to the committee since Jan. 5.

Conservative Tampa Bay developer Mel Sembler has this year spent $1 million and promised to donate or raise up to $10 million to fund Drug Free Florida. In early September, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, dropped $1 million in campaign against Amendment 2.

August 24, 2016

Goat-blood-drinking candidate considers himself friend of white supremacists



Augustus Sol Invictus, who once drank the blood of a freshly killed goat, is not your typical U.S. Senate candidate.

The fiery Libertarian once wrote a paper praising eugenics, is frequently blocked from Facebook for mocking his primary opponent and refuses to disclose his given name at birth.

Invictus, 33, an Orlando attorney who freely describes himself as “the most dangerous Libertarian in America,” came to South Florida on Tuesday evening to speak in front of 15 Miami-Dade party members at John Martin’s Irish Pub in Coral Gables. (He takes his name from the Latin for “Majestic Unconquered Sun,” a cult religion of the Roman Empire.)

The event was not your usual political fare.

Clad in a gray vest with slicked hair, Invictus calmly answered questions like: “Are you friends with white supremacists?” (Answer: Yes) “Would you disavow an endorsement from a white supremacist group?” (Possibly) “Would you accept campaign contributions from white supremacists? (From individuals, yes).

It took less than 10 seconds for the goat incident to come up, after forum moderator Pierre Alexandre Crevaux asked Invictus how the campaign was going.

“It’s brutal, soaked in blood,” Invictus said.

“Goat’s blood?” an audience member asked.

“Zing,” said Invictus, who drank goat’s blood in celebration at the end of a walk from Orlando to the Mojave Desert in 2013.

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.