Gov. Rick Scott – Florida Politics

Judge strikes down ban on smoking medical marijuana

Quoting George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, a Florida judge has ruled that the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional.

In a 22-page order released Friday, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers said that the ban on smoking is “invalid because it conflicts” with the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis approved by statewide voters in 2016. A one-day trial was held last Wednesday. 

The ban “prohibits a use of medical marijuana that is permitted by the amendment: smoking in private,” she wrote. The suit is against the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Health Department spokesman Devin Galetta said the agency will appeal the ruling, which will put an automatic delay on its effect. 

“This ruling goes against what the Legislature outlined when they wrote and approved Florida’s law to implement the constitutional amendment that was approved by an overwhelmingly bipartisan majority,” he said in an email.

The amendment, passed by 71 percent of voters, was spearheaded by Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan, who filed the lawsuit against the ban. 

“When I start something I finish it. Truth prevails!! The voters will be done!! #BELIEVE #ForThePeople #NoSmokeIsAJoke,” he tweeted Friday. 

Gievers agreed with argument from plaintiff’s counsel Jon Mills that the amendment “recognizes there is no right to smoke in public places, thereby implicitly recognizing the appropriateness of using smokable medical marijuana in private places.”

In an email to Florida Politics, Morgan called the decision “a huge win for Floridians.” He sat at counsel’s table but did not participate in last week’s trial.

“I hope and pray that Gov. (Rick) Scott and (Attorney General) Pam Bondi don’t appeal this win for the people,” he added. “I think this could be a major issue in the U.S. Senate race. It has all drug out long enough.

“…Let the people find compassionate care while they recover and also while they die in dignity,” Morgan said. Representatives for Scott and Bondi were not available Friday evening.

But Kim Rivers, CEO of Florida medical marijuana provider Trulieve, late Friday said her company “stands ready to provide Florida patients (with) full flower cannabis” that can be smoked: “We look forward to guidance from the Department of Health on next steps to approve this next form of medicine for patients.

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Gievers began by quoting Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address that people have the right to “make and alter” their constitutions, which are “sacredly obligatory upon all.” She added a line from Jefferson that written constitutions should be not be made “blank paper(s) by construction.”

The Legislature’s ability to pass laws is not “unfettered,” the judge wrote, in that lawmakers can’t “overrule or ignore the ‘sacred obligation’ referred to by President Washington.”

“Just as no person is above the law, the Legislature must heed the constitutional rights Floridians placed in the Constitution in 2016,” Gievers wrote.

The judge noted that “no legislation is needed to implement the Amendment,” but that if lawmakers chose to pass laws related to it, those acts must be “consistent with” the amendment.

Because the amendment doesn’t require the “accommodation” of smoking marijuana in public, Gievers reasoned – as did Morgan and Mills – that “the ability to smoke medical marijuana was implied in this language and is therefore a protected right,” the order says.

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill for the amendment that does not allow marijuana to be smoked. House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero, who sponsored the measure, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however. Rodrigues couldn’t be reached.

That statute now must be “stricken,” Gievers said, as “unconstitutionally inconsistent.”

Gievers also called “compelling” testimony from plaintiff Cathy Jordan, a Manatee County woman who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, uses a wheelchair and struggles to speak. She testified at trial that she’s been smoking marijuana since the late 1980s: “I figured, ‘what the heck, what’s it gonna do, kill me?’ “

“Qualifying patients,” including Jordan, “have the right to use the form of medical marijuana for treatment of their debilitating medical conditions as recommended by their physicians, including the use of smokable marijuana in private places,” the judge wrote.

Gievers, elected to the circuit bench in 2010 from private practice, also recently ruled in favor of Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner, whose lung cancer is in remission. He sued to be able to grow his own marijuana to make juice of it. The state is now appealing that ruling. 

Flags at half-staff to honor Daytona Beach police officer

Flags will fly at half-staff on Friday to honor a Daytona Beach police officer who died following a training exercise.

Thomas Coulter, 25, had been with the Daytona Beach Police Department for only one week.

He “suffered a heart attack while conducting physical training in front of Police Department headquarters” last Friday, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Coulter

“He was participating in a team job with other newly hired police officers when he began to feel ill and collapsed,” he site said. “He was transported to a local hospital where his condition worsened.” He died Monday.

To honor Coulter, Gov. Rick Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags at half-staff at the Volusia County Courthouse Annex in Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach City Hall, the Daytona Beach Police Department, and the Capitol in Tallahassee from sunrise to sunset on Friday.

New equipment should boost Lottery revenues, agency says

The Florida Lottery projects an increase in sales from new vending machines and other equipment provided through a new multi-million dollar agency contract.

Lottery representatives on Wednesday presented to the state’s Revenue Estimating Impact Conference, a roundtable of state economists. Lawmakers use their projections to craft the state budget each Legislative Session.

Details on the actual numbers should be available later Wednesday.

Agency officials said it was negotiating a deal with a “big-box retailer,” which it didn’t name, to sell even more Lottery tickets in the state.

That’s part of a push to increase the number of places where people can buy Lottery products, which now stands at 13,000 retailers and has been “stagnant” in recent years.

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran had sued the Lottery last year, saying the Lottery was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” and “signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

The contract is for new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

He won and the Lottery appealed. In December, the Lottery agreed to tweak the deal to require legislative oversight and approval. The appeal was later dropped.

The Lottery, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, disclosed changes in what was originally a contract worth $700 million over an initial 10-year period, with three available 3-year renewal options.

Among others, the changes include reducing the number of “full-service vending machines” and requiring the vendor, International Game Technology (IGT), to “support the Lottery’s marketing efforts” by kicking back $30,000 a month.

Flags at half-staff for JSO officer killed in wreck

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff to honor Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Police Officer Lance C. Whitaker, a 17-year veteran.

Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, City Hall in Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in Jacksonville, and the Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday. 

Whitaker, 48, “was killed in a single-vehicle crash on northbound I-295, near Alta Drive, at approximately 4:30 a.m.” last Tuesday, May 15, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. “He was responding to another accident scene on the interstate when his vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree.”

“My wife Ann and I are heartbroken by the loss of Officer Lance C. Whitaker,” Scott said in a statement. “I spoke with Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams to express our condolences to him and everyone at the Sheriff’s Office.

“Everyday our brave men and women in law enforcement risk their lives to keep our communities safe and we must demonstrate our gratitude for their sacrifices. I ask every Floridian to join us in praying for Officer Whitaker’s family during this incredibly difficult time.”

Whitaker’s funeral service is today (Wednesday) at 11 a.m., Evangel Temple, 5755 Ramona Blvd., Jacksonville. A graveside service will immediately follow at Oaklawn Cemetery, 4801 San Jose Blvd., Jacksonville. A police vehicle procession will take place between the church service and graveside service.

Bill Nelson blasts government of Florida for not expanding Medicaid

Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday blasted “the government of my state, the state of Florida,” for not expanding Medicaid, during a speech on the Senate floor.

Nelson did not name names beyond that, but his reference to the government could be directed at his opponent in this year’s U.S. Senate election, Gov. Rick Scott, who once, briefly, supported the federal offer to expand Medicaid in Florida under the Affordable Care Act, then backed down, and then turned against it.

In 2015 Florida rejected the offer that would have provided billions of dollars to Florida on a matching and sliding scale, to cover an estimated 800,000 residents who make too much money to qualify for existing Medicaid programs and not enough to afford insurance.

“There’s almost $5 billion a year that is sitting on the shelf,” Nelson said, “that is Florida taxpayer money that is going elsewhere.

“In my state of Florida, that is 800,000 people, almost a million people, poor people, disabled folks that would be getting health care,” Nelson continued. “What do they do? They end up going to the emergency room.”

Nelson’s blast came in a friendly exchange with U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, the Alabama Democrat elected last fall in a special election, who began by criticizing his own state’s refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion.

Nationally, 18 states including Florida and Alabama turned down the federal expansion program authorized through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Kerri Wyland, spokeswoman for Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign, responded, “If Bill Nelson is truly concerned about healthcare services for Floridians, he should propose real solutions instead of campaigning from the Senate floor.”

Bill Nelson’s Brevard County property valuation challenged

A Brevard County taxpayer is challenging U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s appraisal of land he owns there, alleging it has been undervalued for years, costing the county “hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions” in under-taxation.

It’s not a new issue, and Nelson, in a brief conversation on Friday, dismissed the complaint as something that comes up from political opponents in every election, while he insisted the property’s appraisal is appropriate as the land’s use is for grazing cattle.

The complaint was filed last week by James Peter Fusscas of Malabar with the Brevard County Property Appraiser’s office. It charges that Nelson’s property has been far undervalued, with the office listing the land’s market value at $3,038,750, while assessing its value for tax purposes at only $210,630, when Nelson had once listed the property, and a smaller adjacent parcel, for sale for at nearly $10 million.

That was a reference to a listing from the Allen Morris Company, a real estate agent based in Maitland, which had sought $9.975 million for the 75.7 acres along the coastline and U.S. Highway 1 near Malabar. That listing covered two parcels owned by Nelson, the agricultural area and an adjacent parcel that is zoned for single-family houses but also vacant. The listing included the projection that the two parcels combined could bring $21.5 million if redeveloped for housing.

Fusscas inaccurately contended in his complaint that the property is for sale.

In an email, agent Henry Pineiro told Florida Politics: “This property is not currently for sale and has not been for sale for the last couple of years.”

Nelson’s campaign staff also confirmed that the property is not for sale.

Fusscas’s complaint also refers previous media reports on the land that noted that Nelson leases it at no cost, and also notes that his federal financial disclosures have reported no income from the property for at least the previous seven years.

Fusscas argues that Nelson’s property should not be getting a tax break, and adds, “even if Senator Nelson is somehow entitled to a green belt exemption, his tax burden has nevertheless been much lower than the exemption contemplates.”

Last year Nelson paid $3,687 in taxes on the larger property and $4,309 on the smaller parcel.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is challenging Nelson’s re-election campaign.

In a brief conversation Friday, Nelson said he has not seen the complaint but said that Republicans try to make an issue of the agricultural appraisal on his property and the taxes in every election cycle, and said this is no different.

“It is agriculture, cow pasture for 60 years,” Nelson said. “This comes up every election.”

Rick Scott names four to circuit, county benches

Gov. Rick Scott announced several judicial appointments late Monday.

Stephen Pitre to the 1st Judicial Circuit

Pitre, 46, of Gulf Breeze, is a shareholder at Clark, Partington, Hart, Larry, Bond, & Stackhouse, P.A. He previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and his law degree from Loyola College School of Law.

Pitre fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Edward P. Nickinson III.

Angela Mason to the Okaloosa County Court

Mason, 41, of Fort Walton Beach, is currently an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit.

She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and her law degree from the University of Tennessee.

Mason fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge T. Patterson Maney.

Ramiro Christen Areces and Elijah A. Levitt to the Miami-Dade County Court

Areces, 35, of Coral Gables, is a solo practitioner, and previously practiced with Jorden Burt, LLP.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from the University of Miami. Areces fills the vacancy created by the death of Judge Shelley J. Kravitz.

Levitt, 39, of Miami, is also a solo practitioner. He previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and as an Assistant State Attorney for the 11th Judicial Circuit.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and his law degree from the University of Miami.

Levitt fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Spencer J. Multack to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.

Flags at half-staff for Texas school shooting victims

Gov. Rick Scott ordered flags at half-staff in Florida, in solidarity with Texas as it mourns 10 dead there after another high school shooting spree.

“My wife, Ann, and I are devastated to learn of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas,” he said in a statement.

“I spoke to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and offered any assistance or support they may need in response to this horrific act of violence against innocent students, teachers, and law enforcement,” he added.

“As we continue to mourn the loss we experienced in Florida on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we unfortunately know the enormity of the grief they are experiencing and our hearts are broken over this senseless tragedy.”

To “honor and remember” the victims at the Santa Fe High School on May 18, he directed the U.S. and state flags “to be flown at half-staff at all local and state buildings, installations, and grounds throughout the State of Florida.”

“The flags shall be lowered immediately and remain at half-staff until the expiration of President Donald J. Trump’s national directive, until sunset on Tuesday, May 22,” he said. 

President Trump’s proclamation is here.

NRA appeals judge’s decision against pseudonyms in Parkland lawsuit

The National Rifle Association is appealing a federal judge’s ruling against shielding a plaintiff’s name in its litigation against the state’s new school safety and mental health law.

The NRA filed a notice of appeal Thursday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, court dockets show.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker earlier this week turned down the association’s request to use a “Jane Doe” pseudonym for a 19-year-old Alachua County woman.

She’s been portrayed in court documents as seeking to remain anonymous due to fear that public exposure could result in “harassment, intimidation, and potentially even physical violence.”

In late April, the NRA filed a motion to add “Jane Doe” as a plaintiff to the lawsuit, which contends the age restriction in the new Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act “violates the fundamental rights of thousands of responsible, law-abiding adult Florida citizens and is thus invalid under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.”

The lawsuit, filed March 9 by the NRA, came just hours after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping school-safety measure that included new gun-related restrictions.

The legislation was a rapid response to the Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland, Broward County high school that left 17 students and faculty members dead and 17 others wounded.

The law raised from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns.

It also imposed a three-day waiting period on the sale of long guns, such as the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz last year legally purchased, without any waiting period, and is accused of using in the Valentine’s Day massacre at his former school.

While acknowledging that false names may sometimes be used in litigation, Walker cited federal court rules that complaints “must name all the parties,” and referred to case law that lawsuits are “public events” and that the public has a “legitimate interest in knowing all of the facts involved, including the identities of the parties.”

“The NRA must file its amended complaint—without pseudonyms—no later than May 21,” Walker ordered.

Attorney General Pam Bondi had opposed the move, saying the woman’s desire for anonymity was not justified. “The amended complaint also includes allegations about a 19-year-old male identified as John Doe,” Walker’s order notes.

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Background provided by The News Service of Florida. 

Smoke ’em? Judge will decide on puffing medical marijuana

It’s now up to a Tallahassee judge whether the Legislature overstepped when it outlawed the smoking of medical marijuana.

Attorneys for the state and patients who want to smoke the drug squared off in a Leon County courtroom Wednesday before Circuit Judge Karen Gievers. She didn’t immediately rule after the close of evidence, but could issue a decision as early as tonight, if previous experience holds.

The highlight was plaintiff Cathy Jordan, a Manatee County woman who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, uses a wheelchair and struggles to speak. She testified she’s been smoking marijuana since the late 1980s: “I figured, ‘what the heck, what’s it gonna do, kill me?’ “

The issue was whether lawmakers’ ban on smoking runs counter to the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis, spearheaded by Orlando attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan, that was approved by voters statewide in 2016. 

Morgan, who sat at counsel’s table but did not participate in the one-day trial, placed the blame solely on Gov. Rick Scott. He signed the medical marijuana implementing law that bans smoking.

He’s “the CEO of the state,” Morgan said after the trial. “Look, people are screaming for this, and he does nothing about it. I think there’s a whole story to be told here about (the state) trying to deny the will of the people.”

Plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Mills argued that the amendment’s use of the definition of the drug in a state law is key.

It says “cannabis” means “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not (emphasis added); the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin.”

If the state can prohibit smoking, why not vaping, or edibles, or indeed, “why not just outlaw” medical marijuana itself, he asked.

Senior Deputy Solicitor General Rachel Nordby countered that the smoking ban is “entirely consistent” with the state’s role to regulate public health. She said the Department of Health, the named defendant, can address “reasonable health and safety concerns,” including smoking.

The state does allow ‘vaping’ as an alternative, she added, because of scientific evidence advising against smoking as an “inhaled method” of delivery.

But Jordan testified she must smoke marijuana because it helps dry up her saliva, which she otherwise chokes on. (Her husband, standing beside her at the witness stand, helped ‘translate’ some of her answers.) It relaxes her muscles, helps prevent further atrophy, and increases her appetite, she said: “It makes my life a lot more bearable.”

She added: “I was given three to five years to live. I’m still here … I’m amazed at my health.”

But Jordan also raised some eyebrows when co-counsel George Coe asked her if she would smoke marijuana legally. She at first suggested no, saying “I grow it in my yard.” Asked to clarify, she later said she would: “That’s why I joined this case.”

Another plaintiff – Diana Dodson, who has HIV and AIDS – testified she “would not be alive today without cannabis,” adding that “smoked cannabis works best for me.”

Dodson, who’s previously from California, said she could not currently afford to get a state medical marijuana patient ID card, however. Medical marijuana also is not covered by health insurance.

And Ben Pollara, head of the pro-medical marijuana Florida for Care organization, told the court smoking “is how most patients consume the medication.” The group claims 41,000 members.

He also referred to an “intent statement” for the amendment that says it “does not require that the smoking of medical marijuana be allowed in public.” Conversely, that means smoking is allowed in private, such as in one’s home, he said.

In an interview, Morgan also questioned whether the Health Department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which regulates the drug, was “inept” or “malicious.”

Lawmakers have been upset for months, mainly over what they call the department’s slow-going in implementing medical marijuana under the amendment, which passed by 71 percent.

“You can’t be this bad,” Morgan said. “It’s like if you went to get to your driver’s license, and stood there all day, and didn’t get to take the test. ‘Sorry, couldn’t get to you, come back tomorrow’ … It becomes malicious. And the person controlling that is Gov. Scott.

“…You couldn’t f–k up this bad unless it’s intentional,” he added. “Enough is enough. Let’s stop the politics. Let’s let these people live.”

Update: Scott spokesman John Tupps responded later Wednesday to Morgan.

“It was the Legislature’s duty to outline how to implement Amendment 2 and the Department of Health has been working nonstop to implement the law that was passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority,” he said.

“Currently, there are more than 109,000 patients that have access to medical marijuana in Florida and DOH has certified nearly 1,400 doctors who can prescribe this treatment. Also, in addition to home delivery, there are 35 locations across Florida where patients have access. Implementing Amendment 2 has been delayed by the constant litigation filed by special interests.”

A thread of live tweets from the trial is here.

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