Joe Reedy, Author at Florida Politics

Joe Reedy

Legislation would help Florida craft distilleries, breweries

Philip McDaniel is like most craft distillers in Florida – he is frustrated that he can sell only two bottles per label a year to each visitor of his distillery in St. Augustine when breweries and wineries can sell as much as they want.

McDaniel, who makes rum, gin and vodka, wants that bottle limit lifted. Meanwhile, small craft beer breweries in the state want to be able to expand their businesses by selling to retailers without going through distributors.

Those proposals are part of bills moving through the Florida Legislature. As in past years, the changes are being opposed by liquor stores and distributors who see it as cutting into their business. Florida’s three-tier system of suppliers, distributors and retailers, which has been in place since the end of prohibition, is considered more restrictive than other states.

“If you summarize the bill in one sentence, it puts us on the same playing field as breweries and wineries,” McDaniel said.

Gabe Grass of GrassLands Brewing in Tallahassee said most breweries and distillers do not want to have their own large-scale distribution system, but that the bills do offer a way for emerging businesses to get their brands into the marketplace sooner.

Grass supports Senator Dana Young‘s craft breweries bill (SB 554) because it would allow brewers to directly sell up to 7,000 kegs to bars and restaurants before needing a distributor. In 2015, the Legislature passed a bill allowing craft breweries to sell unlimited products at their breweries.

Eric Criss, who represents Miller/Coors Distributors, says the current system is fine and that Florida brewers already have some of the more generous retail privileges in the country. He cites consumers being able to buy unlimited quantities of beer at tap houses compared to Alabama, where the limit is 128 ounces a day per person.

“Brewers say that they only want to distribute in small areas close to them but in many cases, those are the best accounts in the areas,” Criss said.

Sen. Greg Steube‘s bill (SB 166) would allow customers to purchase as many bottles of craft liquor that they want. The current law, which was approved in 2013, allows customers to buy only two bottles per label per year. It also allows distillers to sell liquor at one other salesroom located in the same county.

Florida is 10th in the nation in number of craft distilleries. McDaniel said he worries out-of-state craft distillers will be able to come into Florida and sell their product.

Scott Ashley, president of Wine and Spirits Distributors of Florida, said high-end wines are harder to put on their shelves because wineries can directly sell them and that he sees the same thing happening with craft liquors.

Richard deMontollin, owner of Tallahassee’s Liberty Bar and Grille, said he welcomes more products from Florida distilleries.

“It grows agriculture and makes me feel as a bar owner I can do something cool for my customers,” he said.

Florida officials, voters clash over medical marijuana rules

Three months after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, state health officials and prospective pot-seeking patients are at odds over proposed rules that would spell out who could get marijuana.

State officials have recommended restrictions on what type of patients can qualify for medical marijuana, and where they can obtain it. Their suggestions, however, have prompted a wave of opposition across the state, with nearly 1,300 residents attending what are normally low-key bureaucratic hearings to press for less restricted access to marijuana.

“Patients, doctors, caregivers and activists all had a unified message which is rare,” said Ben Pollara, who is the campaign manager for United for Care. “They want impediments removed and a free market place.”

Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of voters last November, was enacted on Jan. 3. It allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than what was currently allowed in state law. The rules have become a flashpoint because the amendment requires the state to adopt them by July 3 and have them in place by September.

The state held hearings in several locations and Thursday’s two hours of public testimony in Tallahassee mirrored what happened earlier this week in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando. Most who spoke statewide are also concerned about high prices and limited availability so far of marijuana products. Only five of the seven organizations approved to dispense cannabis are up and running.

Activists want a requirement eliminated that a patient must be under a prescribing physician’s care for at least 90 days. They also believe it should be up to doctors to deem when medical marijuana is necessary and not be confined by the conditions enumerated in the amendment or by the Board of Medicine.

Doug Bench, a former judge who testified in Tallahassee, said that people often delay seeing a doctor until they urgently need treatment.

“When you are ill you, you put it off. You don’t want to hear what the doctor says and by the time you finally go you need it now,” Bench said.

The current law – which was approved by the state legislature in 2014 – allows for non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. It was expanded last March to allow patients with terminal conditions to gain access to higher strength cannabis.

The department will review all comments it has received and agency officials will then publish another proposed rule. How quickly that rule gets published depends on subsequent public comments or any legal challenges.

The Florida Legislature will also get a chance to weigh in. There are two bills in the Senate with the House of Representatives expected to release its version before session opens on March 7.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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