Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 215

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

More money flowing into Florida’s medical marijuana market

Updated 1:30 p.m. — Toronto-based Scythian Biosciences Corp. announced on Monday it was buying Cannabis Cures Investments (see below) and renaming itself Sol Global Investments Corp., with that deal expected to close Oct. 15, pending regulatory approval.

A press release is here. The original post from earlier Monday is below.

__

As the state gets ready to license more providers, another potentially big deal is in the works as medical marijuana captivates private capital as the newest new thing.

A new concern called Cannabis Cures Investments (CannCure) has agreed to buy a 60 percent interest in 3 Boys Farm of Ruskin, with the closing expected in mid-August. Terms of the pending deal were not disclosed.

Florida corporation records show CannCure itself is owned by Namaste Gorgie, one of South Florida yoga entrepreneur Cathy DeFrancesco‘s companies.

DeFrancesco, who founded SOL Yoga in Miami, and her husband, Andrew DeFrancesco, also are behind private equity firm The Delavaco Group, which has invested in Aphria, a Canadian producer of medical cannabis products.

And Aphria formerly was invested in Canadian-based DFMMJ Investments, which owns Florida medical marijuana provider Liberty Health Sciences.

The current heat is likely because, as financier Justin Costello recently put it, medicinal cannabis in Florida is seen as a potential “multibillion-dollar industry.” (Costello’s Seattle-based GRN Funds is coming to the state to offer banking services to marijuana providers.)

With the number of “qualified, active patients” surpassing 100,000, the state is finally beginning the process of issuing four additional medical marijuana provider licenses, as provided under state law.

But money doesn’t like to wait: The country’s biggest medical marijuana provider also is buying its way into the Florida market.

MedMen Enterprises Inc. of Los Angeles agreed last month to pay $53 million for the license held by Central Florida’s Treadwell Nursery. In Florida, providers are known as “medical marijuana treatment centers,” or MMTCs.

The most recently granted license, to a provider known as Nature’s Way after a legal challenge and settlement, now is held by Green Owl Pharms, according to state records.

The 3 Boys deal was revealed in a filing this month with the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

3 Boys is one of 14 licensed providers in the state, but now only has authority to grow. Florida has a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

It’s asking to be allowed to postpone having to sell its own product from this Tuesday to April 1, 2019: “It is anticipated that capital raised from the sale would be used to help build out (processing) and dispensing operations,” 3 Boys’ July 19 filing said.

“Because the production of medical marijuana in Florida is a new and evolving industry, there is a certain level of uncertainty for investors (that) has unavoidably complicated and extended the time for obtaining funding to proceed with getting product to market,” says the filing, by attorney Tana D. Storey of Tallahassee’s Rutledge Ecenia firm.

Contribution was really loan, Ryan Torrens explains – as he acknowledges he made mistake

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Ryan Torrens is striking back after primary opponent Sean Shaw sued last week to have him kicked off the ballot.

In a statement Monday, Torrens said the money that Shaw called an “illegal campaign contribution” was essentially a loan to his campaign, “as he will now see (and could have learned if he’d only had the decency to ask before attacking).”

Shaw’s suit said Torrens “failed to properly qualify” because of the questionable contribution. Shaw and Torrens are the only Democrats running for attorney general. Both are lawyers in the Tampa area; Shaw also represents House District 61. The primary election is Aug. 28.

Torrens’ campaign treasurer Jessica Vasconez acknowledged that the campaign received a $4,000 contribution from Francesca Yabraian. The maximum permitted for a statewide candidate is $3,000. Vasconez told state elections officials she refunded Yabraian $3,332.52.

Yabraian is Torrens’ wife. “The check he cited was drawn on our joint account,” Torrens said. “So the bottom line is, this was a case in which my money was being transferred to my campaign, and as all candidates know, there is no limit on the amount a candidate is allowed to spend on his or her own campaign.”

Shaw’s “desperate shift to attack-politics is the same old political game-playing that disgusts Florida voters of both parties and independents,” Torrens said.

“In this case, what Florida Democrats will find especially troubling is that this low-road attack is frankly beneath what we all expected from my primary opponent, given his career of public service and his family’s historic service to our state.”

(That’s a reference to Shaw’s father, the late Leander J. Shaw Jr., the first black chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.)

Sean Shaw
Shaw

Shaw has said, however, that Torrens “initially submitted sworn statements characterizing this contribution as a loan, and then, after qualifying, recanted sworn statements and re-characterized the (money) as an excess campaign contribution,” his complaint said.

“If not for this willful and dishonest act, Torrens’ campaign would not have had the funds on hand necessary to qualify.” The complaint includes a copy of the Torrens campaign’s check for $7,738.32 to qualify for the race.

Torrens responded that he “made one small, inadvertent error that could have avoided this entire problem: I could have simply added my signature to my wife’s on that check – and that would have accomplished our same goal (of shifting our funds from our joint account to our campaign’s account) in an error-free, perfectly legal way.

“That’s why my primary opponent’s allegation in his suit is false when he claims our campaign didn’t have the funds to pay our qualifying fee. We indeed had the funds; but yes, I made that honest mistake. And yes, I’m kicking myself about that technicality that my opponent has taken advantage of by filing a distorting, low-road lawsuit.

“To prove the honesty and good faith of our intentions, we were our own whistleblower! As soon as we discovered our error, our campaign submitted correspondence to the state’s Division of Elections that the check bearing Francesca’s signature put her over the allowable $3,000 limit….

“We took the corrective action because we felt it was important to do the right thing and demonstrate that our campaign trail is always the high-road,” Torrens said.

He further alleged that Shaw has had his own problems following the law, highlighting “campaign finance violations levied against him concerning his 2016 campaign for state representative” and noting Shaw “repeatedly ignored correspondence and telephone calls from the Division of Elections.”

“Now that my primary opponent chose to try to file a lawsuit using false allegations as a weapon to challenge my integrity, and even the integrity of my wife — all as a weapon to try to force me out of the race — I have no choice but to aggressively stay the course and respond not with allegations, but just by making his record available,” Torrens said.

He added: “If my primary opponent had been willing to respond to my debate invitations by calling me even once, perhaps he could have simply asked me about that check — so I could have explained it all to him. Unfortunately, he chose his low-road lawsuit attack strategy.”

Shaw spokesman Michael Starr Hopkins responded by email: “We’ll let the judge decide whether this error was egregious enough to disqualify Mr. Torrens for breaking the rules.”

Also in the race for attorney general are Republicans Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, and Frank White, a state representative from Pensacola. Jeffrey Marc Siskind is running as a nonparty affiliated candidate.

Torrens’ full statement, his invitation to Shaw to debate, and Shaw’s Division of Elections dossier as provided by Torrens’ campaign, are below.

Christian Bax quits as state’s top medical marijuana regulator

Christian Bax, director of Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), has stepped down after a controversial three-year tenure that frustrated patients, angered lawmakers, and witnessed an explosion in litigation.

His resignation is effective Aug. 10. Deputy director Courtney Coppola will serve as interim director, Department of Health spokesman Devin Galleta said Friday.

Bax’s resignation letter, released later Friday (see below), did not reveal his future plans.

News of Bax’s departure stoked an angry denunciation from Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner. In April, he won a court battle, only to be appealed by the state, allowing him to grow and make juice of his own marijuana to keep his lung cancer in remission.

“If they worked for me, I would have fired them in a minute,” Redner said, referring to Bax and Coppola. “They have no idea how a free market works … We can only hope the next governor believes in the fee market and not in cartels who gain marijuana monopolies.”

The state’s system of licensing scheme of cannabis providers, known as medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), has resulted in a stream of legal and administrative challenges.

At least 11 are still pending, though some relate to matters other than licensing, including Orlando attorney John Morgan‘s constitutional challenge of the state’s ban on smoking medicinal cannabis. Plaintiffs backed by Morgan won, and that case too is now under appeal.

Morgan bankrolled the 2016 state constitutional amendment allowing medicinal cannabis, passed by a little more than 71 percent of voters as a ballot question. And Morgan leveled heavy criticism of Bax.

“He was so inept that it had to be intentional. Anyone would be better and more capable,” Morgan said. “He was to health care in Florida what Barney Fife was to law enforcement. This is a great day for the sick and injured in Florida.”

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for Amendment 2’s political committee, said it was “a shame it’s taken this long” for Bax to leave. “

“His tenure has been marked by repeated failures to meet the needs of patients throughout Florida. I sincerely hope the office’s new leadership will learn from those mistakes and act quickly to get Florida’s medical marijuana program fully functional,” said Pollara.

Bax also faced reports he “had little experience when he won a high-profile job that state officials refused to publicly advertise,” relying on his family connections with Gov. Rick Scott, including father James Bax, described as “a wealthy, wired Tallahassee insider.”

Gary Stein, a medical marijuana historian and advocate, acknowledged that Bax “had a Herculean task, made infinitely harder by his lack of experience and probable pressure from above.”

The system “created for him to manage had a flawed application process that forced him to spend far too much time in litigation and far less time in the mandated tasks of regulation and rule-making,” said Stein, a former employee of the Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I was very critical of him because of the high importance of his position and the great needs of hundreds of thousands of patients that relied on the efficiency of his department for critical access to medicine.

“There was no room for the kind of errors and snail’s pace of the OMMU that occurred,” Stein added. “I wish him well, but he didn’t belong there, and he didn’t get the support that he needed … Rather than giving him more infrastructure, they gave him more lawyers.”

But Dr. Jeffrey Sharkey, founder and head of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said he “always had a very productive working relationship with Mr. Bax.”

“… It is not surprising that he and his office have faced a lot of challenges over the last two years in trying to implement a brand new, highly regulated, fast-growing and dynamic medical cannabis industry in one of the largest states in the country, with all of its diverse players, politics and pressures,” Sharkey said.

“To his credit, he managed it professionally and the young industry is in better shape for his efforts. We wish him well.”

Patty Nelson, Bax’s predecessor and now an industry consultant, said the post is one that will draw criticism and scrutiny.

“There’s no denying it’s a hard job. It sometimes feels like an impossible job,” she said. “And you face critics from every direction, which makes it difficult to navigate.”

Coppola, Bax’s successor, began in state government as a 2013 member of the Gubernatorial Fellows Program, working for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation when she was a graduate student at Florida State University.

Kim Rivers, CEO of medical marijuana provider Trulieve, said in a statement Coppola “has a deep working understanding of the medical marijuana program in Florida, and we do not anticipate any issues or interruptions during the transition.”

Coppola appeared before lawmakers earlier this month to ask a special budget panel for another $13 million for operating costs. Legislators have been vexed over the slow-going of the office, including delays in issuing medicinal cannabis patient identification cards, though they granted the request.

They finally pushed back earlier this year when they included a provision from House Republican Jason Brodeur in the 2018-19 budget to withhold more than $1.9 million in Department of Health salaries and benefits until regulators fully implement medical marijuana.

“I can only add to the chorus of voices hoping the office will get going on the rule-making, in accordance with the clear direction given from the Legislature, to ensure people appropriately have access to the drug,” Brodeur said Friday in a text message.

One detail that troubled some lawmakers: $1.5 million of the extra money requested will go to outside lawyers hired by the office to represent it in ongoing litigation.

“Let’s stop wasting taxpayer dollars” on suits the state shouldn’t be appealing, House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz told Coppola. “Please start taking this seriously,” she added, calling the office’s actions part “intentional ineptitude” and part “simple sabotage.”

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Feds now MIA in FIU bridge records case

The federal government is now ‘missing in action’ in a lawsuit over records on March’s pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University that killed six people.

U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova of the Northern District of Florida had asked a Tallahassee judge to delay any rulings while his office decides whether to get involved in the lawsuit. Federal law authorizes U.S. attorneys to “attend to the interests of the United States in (any state) lawsuit.”

The latest deadline for Canova’s office to file a notice about participating was Wednesday (the last filing is here). As of Thursday morning, the court clerk’s office said it hadn’t received the new filing, and none was docketed by late Thursday.

The case, which had been before Circuit Judge John Cooper, was reassigned to Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll as part of a routine judicial rotation by Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom of the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Carroll set a status hearing in the case for 11 a.m. next Tuesday, records show, which was noticed to Canova’s office. His spokeswoman, Amy Alexander, has not responded to an inquiry from Florida Politics.

The Miami Herald, Capital bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas, and Tallahassee correspondent Elizabeth Koh sued the state’s Department of Transportation in Leon County Circuit Civil court, seeking “emails, meeting minutes and other records relating to the bridge’s design and construction.”

Some of those records “are the subject of a pending accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB),” Canova previously said. The March 15 collapse of the then-recently erected bridge killed six midday motorists or passengers, and injured nine others.

In a letter, NTSB assistant general counsel Benjamin T. Allen explained to Cooper that his agency has “prohibited” FDOT from releasing certain investigative information “absent NTSB approval.”

Allen also was the first to disclose in that same letter that “at least two federal agencies” and Miami-Dade police were pursuing criminal investigations into the collapse.

The bridge, spanning Tamiami Trail, was meant to connect the campus to student housing in Sweetwater. It happened “just days after cracks had been observed in the $14.3 million structure,” The Herald has reported.

Attorney General race goes ‘boom’ as Sean Shaw sues to get Ryan Torrens off ballot

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Sean Shaw is suing to knock primary opponent Ryan Torrens off the ballot, saying Torrens “failed to properly qualify” because of an “illegal campaign contribution.”

Torrens called the lawsuit a “sham.”

Shaw’s lawsuit was filed just before 5 p.m. Tuesday in Leon County Circuit Civil court against Torrens, the state’s Division of Elections and Secretary of State Ken Detzner, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to “immediately decertify Torrens.”

The primary election is Aug. 28; Shaw and Torrens are the only Democrats running for attorney general. Both are lawyers in the Tampa area; Shaw also represents House District 61.

The most damning accusation in the complaint: “Torrens improperly qualified … through fraudulent and dishonest means by accepting an illegal campaign contribution made via cashier’s check in excess of the legal contribution limits for the clear and obvious purpose of providing funds to pay Torrens’ qualifying fee.”

“Our campaign was recently made aware of potentially disqualifying campaign violations by our primary challenger — and so we have asked for a judge to rule,” said Shaw campaign spokesman Michael Starr Hopkins in a statement on Wednesday.

“With Donald Trump in the White House, there has never been a more important Attorney General election in our state’s history,” he added. “There is too much at stake to risk anything. Sean Shaw is running to fight and win for the people of Florida.”

Torrens

In his own statement, Torrens said the suit is a “desperate attempt by my corporate-backed challenger to win this election through frivolous litigation, now that he realizes that our message of standing up to big corporate interests is resonating all over the state.”

He and his supporters “look forward to aggressively defending our campaign in the circuit court and are confident that we will prevail on the merits of this case,” he said.

“In the meantime, just as we have been for the last 14 months, we will continue to campaign our hearts out across the whole of Florida, spreading our message of returning our party to its historic principles of standing up to big corporate interests and fighting for working Floridians.

“This just reminds me of the famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’ ” (The quote, however, has long been “misattributed” to Gandhi, according to Snopes.com.)

Torrens’ campaign has already admitted to accepting more than the allowed maximum personal donation to a state campaign.

As Florida Politics reported Tuesday, Torrens’ campaign treasurer Jessica Vasconez acknowledged that the campaign received a $4,000 contribution from Francesca Yabraian. The maximum permitted for a statewide candidate is $3,000. Vasconez told state elections officials she refunded the donor $3,332.52.

Shaw now says Torrens “initially submitted sworn statements characterizing this contribution as a loan, and then, after qualifying recanted sworn statements and re-characterized the (money) as an excess campaign contribution,” the complaint says. “If not for this willful and dishonest act, Torrens’ campaign would not have had the funds on hand necessary to qualify.”

The complaint includes a copy of the Torrens campaign’s check for $7,738.32 to qualify for the race.

Shaw is represented by attorneys Andrew J. Baumann and Robert P. Diffenderfer of West Palm Beach, and Natalie Kato of Tallahassee. All three are with the Lewis, Longman & Walker law firm.

Also in the race for attorney general are Republicans Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, and Frank White, a state representative from Pensacola. Jeffrey Marc Siskind is running as a nonparty affiliated candidate.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the case had been assigned to Circuit Judge John Cooper. A copy of the complaint provided by the Shaw campaign is below.

whiskey Wheaties

It’s back: Costco’s weapon to win ‘whiskey and Wheaties’ war

Give Costco’s lawyers some credit: They may have a found a way to finally be able to sell tequila and turkey burgers in the same store.

The answer may involve its food courts — turkey provolone sandwich, anyone? — and repealing the state’s obscure, 24-year-old “Restaurant Rule.” And already, Costco’s critics are calling it an “end-around” of Gov. Rick Scott.

Still, if the membership warehouse retailer persuades the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to strike that rule, it could finally win the “whiskey and Wheaties” battle.

Costco, which does “not have a PR or Media department,” did not respond to a request for comment.

Bills have been filed since 2014 to remove the 82-year-old requirement, enacted in Florida after Prohibition, that hard liquor be sold in a separate store. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles in the Sunshine State.

Costco, along with Walmart and Target, has pushed to remove the ‘wall of separation.’ Publix, for it because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores, and independent liquor store owners have fought to keep the status quo.

Last year was the closest that supporters got to a victory, with legislation barely passing both chambers.

But Scott vetoed the measure, saying it’d be a job killer for small businesses, many of whom would likely get bulldozed by the big-box stores’ superior selling power.

Now, the GrayRobinson law firm, which represents Costco, thinks it’s found the Achilles heel.

Costco “is licensed as both a retail alcohol dealer and restaurant at over 100 locations throughout Florida,” wrote its lawyer, GrayRobinson’s D. Ty Jackson, in a letter to regulators.

The state held a workshop last month in Orlando to “update and clarify the items permitted to be sold.”

State law says licensed vendors “can sell anything … that is ‘customarily sold in a restaurant,’ ” but doesn’t define what that means “despite being in use for more than 80 years in the Florida Beverage Law,” Jackson wrote.

DBPR’s Restaurant Rule does define items “customarily sold,” including “ready to eat entree items” and “hot or cold beverages.”

That’s not fair, Jackson wrote, saying the rule “impermissibly purports to limit the items that can be sold” and should be repealed.

In fact, the department isn’t even following its own guidance, he suggested, having granted liquor licenses meant for restaurants to “entities that sell items beyond those identified in the (restaurant) rule.”

They include “golf country clubs, casinos, movie theatres … bowling alleys and senior living complexes.” GrayRobinson also said the vetoed bill involved package store licenses and not the “consumed on premises” licenses used by eateries and bars.

In contrast, William Hall, a Jones Walker attorney representing Publix, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, and the Florida Independent Spirits Association (FISA), told regulators that Costco’s effort “is nothing less than an end-around of the governor,” referring to his veto last year.

“Now, Costco seemingly wants the (state) to believe that (last year’s bill) and all of the other legislative wrangling on that issue was meaningless,” he wrote in his own letter. “Costco asserts that, by simply repealing the Restaurant Rule, the (state) can allow what the governor’s veto precluded.

“The purpose of rule-making is to interpret statutes, not to get around laws that a party does not like. The (state) should reject this attempt to use rule-making to usurp the legislative process.”

FISA President Chris Knightly — who represents small, independent liquor stores — added that “Costco’s true intent for these actions are to sell hard liquor on their grocery shelves,” according to a transcript of the Orlando workshop, held by DBPR’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

The big chains are trying to do through “legal loopholes … what their previously failed legislative efforts have not been able to accomplish. This is another attempt to bypass the appropriate governmental process,” said Knightly, co-owner of Knightly Spirits in Central Florida.  

“Allowing big-box stores to sell liquor would decimate the viable industry of independently owned liquor stores,” he went on. “ … The greed of a few corporations should not demolish these small businesses, which are the backbone of America.”

DBPR, however, reports to Scott. Though he is term-limited this year, he’s still in charge till the next governor is sworn in on Jan. 8. 

The department “is going through the rule-making process and receiving public input on this topic,” Scott spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email. “The Governor expects them and every agency to follow Florida law.”

Personnel note: Carlos Cruz and Jon Yapo join Converge

Carlos Cruz and Jon Yapo have joined Converge Government Affairs, the new firm founded by veteran influencer Jonathan Kilman, the firm said in a statement.

“We could not be happier about Carlos Cruz joining the firm, and the synergy we gain by adding Carlos is powerful,” said Kilman, the firm’s chairman.

“With his Jacksonville presence, Carlos adds geographic strength to our already existing South Florida, Central Florida and Tallahassee bases,” Kilman explained.

“Some great lobbyists have approached us about joining the firm … but we set our sights on Carlos because of his work ethic, integrity and the quality of his relationships. It’s no mistake that he consistently maintains top-tier clients in Florida.”

Cruz joins Converge as a partner in the firm’s statewide practice. (A story on the firm from last month is here.) He’s been lobbying for over 20 years, following his work at the Capitol in the Senate and Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“It was clear to me that Converge will be one of the top government affairs firm in Florida, and I jumped at the chance to join,” said Cruz, whose clients include AT&T, U.S. Sugar, State Farm and Walgreens.

Yapo’s joining the firm as a Government Affairs Advisor should be no surprise, Kilman said.

He lobbied side-by-side with Converge founders Kilman and Paul Lowell at their previous firm. The trio’s been seen working the halls of the Capitol together for years.

“Jon continues to add tremendous value through his endless relationships throughout Florida,” Lowell said. “During campaign season he does the hard work, and people remember.”

Lowell added that Yapo is known for building strong personal ties both in the Capitol and with clients. He’s also known for his personal style, having twice been named to a national “best dressed” list published by political operative Roger Stone.

Saying ‘yes’ to marijuana money, new bank comes to Florida

Where the big banks say no, Justin Costello is saying ‘yes.’

Foreseeing “a multibillion-dollar industry here,” the head of Seattle-based GRN Funds says his firm has come to Florida to offer banking services to the state’s medical marijuana providers.

It already handles about $500 million in deposits for clients in the cannabis industry on the West Coast.

Costello, its chairman and CEO, was in Tallahassee last week to meet with state financial regulators “strictly as a courtesy.” (As a bank, his firm is federally chartered and not regulated by the state, he says.)

Accompanying him on that visit was Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, “facilitating an introduction to state policymakers,” as Sharkey put it.

“We just wanted to let them know what’s happening,” said Sharkey, who also operates the Capitol Alliance Group. “We thought it important that they understand the right way to do this … There are millions of dollars in cash going around out there.”

Costello says he already has nine marijuana banking clients signed up in Florida, whom he couldn’t name because of confidentiality regulations.

Medical marijuana providers around the country have been vexed by how to handle their money.

The big banks won’t do business with them; as The New York Times explained earlier this year, “selling marijuana violates federal law; handling the proceeds of any marijuana transaction is considered to be money laundering.”

Put another way, “while banks would love to tap into the growing market, concerns remain about how to reconcile such activities given that the possession and sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal” law, write attorneys Craig D. Miller and Anita L. Boomstein with the Manatt Phelps & Phillips law firm.

That’s led marijuana vendors keeping thousands, even millions, of dollars in cash in self-storage warehouses. Costello would like to take marijuana out of the cash-in-a-duffel-bag business model.

He worked with Chris Johnson, CEO of Integrated Compliance Solutions of Las Vegas, which specializes in “cannabis regulatory compliance software.”

The trick is being able to track every transaction, big and small, to avoid any perception of laundering. Providers, for instance, have to show sales are only to those with a Florida medical marijuana patient ID card.

“It’s all about transparency,” Johnson said. “We take every single thing that’s sold in the retail store and ensure what gets deposited in the bank is traced back, seed to bank, legally to the entity.”

The Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which regulates the drug in Florida, is required to have its own statewide “seed to sale” tracking system but has not yet selected a vendor.

“It’s funny: A lot of cannabis people lived a cowboy life and don’t trust the system,” Costello said. “You have to engage with them until it becomes a close business relationship.”

Lawmakers grudgingly OK more money for marijuana regulators

The Legislature opened the state’s wallet again Thursday, granting a request from the state’s medical marijuana regulators for another $13 million in operating costs.

The approval from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission didn’t come without some grousing, however. The Department of Health, under Gov. Rick Scott, regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU).

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa told department officials she had “lost some sleep over this,” mentioning her and other lawmakers’ frustration over the slow-going of the office, including delays in issuing medicinal cannabis patient identification cards. 

Legislators had pushed back earlier this year when they included a provision from House Republican Jason Brodeur in the 2018-19 budget to withhold more than $1.9 million in Department of Health salaries and benefits until regulators fully implement medical marijuana.

Moreover, $1.5 million of the extra money requested Thursday will go to outside lawyers hired by the office to represent it in ongoing litigation.

For example, the state is appealing two high-profile cases: Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner’s circuit court win to grow and juice his own medicinal cannabis, and plaintiffs backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan who won a decision allowing them to smoke medical marijuana.

“Let’s stop wasting taxpayer dollars” on suits the state shouldn’t be appealing, Cruz said. “Please start taking this seriously,” she added, calling the office’s actions part “intentional ineptitude” and part “simple sabotage.”

Other OMMU needs include covering the cost to review applications for four new provider licenses now that the number of medical marijuana patients is over 100,000, and to procure “a computer software tracking system that traces marijuana from seed-to-sale,” according to the request. (Details from the request are here.)

The Commission, which acts as a joint committee of the Legislature, is charged with reviewing and approving the equivalent of mid-course corrections to the current year’s state spending plan. The budget went into effect July 1. 

But Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who chaired Thursday’s meeting, said lawmakers “should have dealt with these issues” during the 2018 Legislative Session “while the budget was being prepared.”

“I’m disappointed that we are dealing with this now,” added Bradley, the Senate’s Appropriations Committee chair. “But we’re dealing with it. And we need to get these things done.”

In other action, lawmakers:

— Approved a request from Secretary of State Ken Detzner for authority to distribute $19.2 million from the feds for heightened elections security. All 67 counties have applied for funds, he said. The money may be spent on “cybersecurity” needs, among other things.

— OK’d a request from the Department of Emergency Management to dole out $340 million from a federal grant to farmers and grove owners to aid the citrus industry’s recovery from recent hurricanes. The money will go toward “purchasing and planting replacement trees,” ” repair of damages to irrigation systems,” and to repay growers for “economic losses.”

— Agreed to nearly $3.2 million more for the state Office on Homelessness to “support local homeless agencies in their efforts to reduce homelessness throughout Florida.”

Second group forms to fight gambling amendment

A second political committee has registered to oppose a proposed state constitutional amendment requiring voter approval of new gambling.

Citizens for the Truth About Amendment 3 registered on Wednesday, Division of Elections records show.

It’s chaired by Dan Adkinslongtime head of Hallandale Beach’s former Mardi Gras Casino and Race Track. The group’s formation paperwork and initial campaign finance information were not available online; Adkins could not be immediately reached. 

Amendment 3, backed by Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, aims at limiting gambling’s expansion in the state. The amendment would “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.

Last week, the “Vote NO on 3” committee registered, chaired by South Florida’s Isadore “Izzy” Havenick, whose family operates Magic City Casino in Miami and Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs.

“It shows how everybody is concerned that someone is trying to put us all out of business,” said Havenick, who added he did not know who else was behind the new committee.

Adkins and Hartman & Tyner, the property management firm that owned the Mardi Gras for over 40 years, recently settled dueling lawsuits against each other.

As Florida Politics reported in March, Adkins accused H&T of lying to him that he’d be paid “millions of dollars” upon sale of the company’s gambling businesses in Florida, West Virginia and Michigan.

H&T countered that the 60-year-old Adkins “engag(ed) in self-dealing, corporate waste, and gross mismanagement.”

The facility now is owned by billionaire real estate investor Jeffrey Soffer and was rebranded as “The Big Easy Casino.”

Gambling regulators last month granted Soffer’s request for a slot machine license. That license was approved May 2 – one day after news that Soffer had closed on a $12.5 million deal to buy the property.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons