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Ben Pollara: Expansion of medical marijuana business is necessary and prudent

At last week’s Senate Health Policy Committee workshop on medical marijuana, much of the conversation centered on the question of whether the passage of Amendment 2 necessitated an expansion of the number of licenses to cultivate and sell medical marijuana in Florida.

I participated in the workshop at the invitation of Chair Dana Young, and addressed this issue in my opening remarks, arguing that voters approved medical marijuana by a historic, 71 percent margin with the knowledge and expectation that passage of the amendment would mean just such an expansion of the marketplace.

Adjudication of voter intent is tricky business, but consider the context in which this amendment was approved.

Florida passed a limited medical marijuana law in 2014, and expanded it slightly in 2016. That law authorized five marijuana growers across the state (a court later granted a sixth).

Voters were not only aware of the existence of this limited market, but were repeatedly told by the opposition campaign — in 30-second TV ads, direct mail, online ads, emails, OpEd pieces, and news conferences — that a vote for Amendment 2 would mean, “a pot shop on every corner,” or, “more pot shops than Walgreens and CVS’s combined,” among other similarly dire predictions by the opposition.

Voters approved Amendment 2 with the clear expectation that it would result in an expansion of the medical marijuana industry in Florida. But even putting aside the notion of voter intent, the legislature should significantly expand the medical marijuana business in Florida for a variety of reasons practical and philosophical.

The primary reason to do so is at the core of the amendment just approved: to serve the estimated half million or more patients in the state through a competitive free market. The expansion also serves to exert regulatory oversight on the industry and obviate diversion to the black market, and because good public policy and government procurement practices dictate transparency and fairness.

During the workshop, the CEO of Trulieve (one of the five companies licensed under current statute) said they could presently serve over 70,000 medical marijuana patients and, with planned expansion of their operations, nearly 10 times that number. This assertion went unchallenged despite there being only roughly 1,000 total patients under the current law. Are we to believe that the company is currently sitting on 70 times more inventory than the entire consumer base statewide?

Also unchallenged was the consumer data Trulieve cited to offer those numbers.

They based their assertions on a daily dosage per patient of 20 milligrams of cannabis oil and extrapolated from there. This makes Trulieve’s claims more difficult to verify, since marijuana is a plant, not an oil, and we don’t know how much of that plant must be grown to achieve the numbers claimed. Colorado’s Department of Revenue, for example, measures consumption based on the weight of dried plant matter; others on a mean number of plants, harvested and growing, per patient.

So, while we can’t easily determine the veracity of Trulieve’s capacity claims, we are also not living in a vacuum.

We know Florida is large and diverse and that on its face, having six companies serve any sort of statewide market is bad for consumers from a perspective of access, quality, choice, and cost. The only industry that operates in such an oligopolistic manner is power companies, which as utilities must do so, and thus are subject to oversight by the PSC on rate increases, and all aspects of their operations.

If these six businesses can operate in the absence of competition, who ensures patients aren’t being gouged? Will the legislature authorize the Office of Compassionate Use to set prices, establish production quotas and quality controls? Does anyone want or believe that medical marijuana should be administered in Florida in a such a way?

There are no right answers to these questions.

And though the logic behind such a small number of growers may have been an abundance of caution in introducing a legal marijuana market to our state, we must consider the unintended potentiality that the result will be a significant expansion of the already large black market for marijuana. This may seem initially counterintuitive, until you consider the following:

First, the sheer size of these operations (particularly one of the capacity described by Trulieve) makes a diversion of marijuana to the black market easier and more likely.

A pound of marijuana finding its way into the hands of drug dealers is far simpler and less risky if an operation is harvesting hundreds, or thousands, of pounds at a time, versus one harvesting tens of pounds.

The smaller the haystack, the more likely you are to find the needle gone astray.

Second, let us assume that the above scenario doesn’t come to pass, and every ounce of marijuana grown by these six companies is accounted for from seed to sale. Patients are guaranteed to face the burdens of an uncompetitive market: high prices, a dearth of choices, and for some, lack of physical access to retail. If one or all those results come to pass, consumers will flock to the black market.

The economic imperatives of supply and demand clearly dictate this unwanted consequence.

Other states have experienced this predictable phenomenon, with black markets surging as nascent markets grow to accommodate new consumer demands; and then shrink as markets expand and legal products’ pricing falls in closer line with a black market not subject to regulatory compliance and oversight.

Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for medical and adult use, for example, has been shown to have dramatically decreased the seizure of marijuana imported by El Chapo‘s Sinaloa cartel, as well as other Mexican cartel trafficking.

Finally, there is a philosophical argument to be made for the administration of good public policy and fair procurement practices.

While technically a “licensing” by the state, these six companies were granted authorization to grow and sell marijuana through a competitive process that, for all intents and purposes, was conducted like a government procurement.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran regularly inveighs against the government participating in the business of “picking winners and losers,” but that would be the precise result of the maintenance of the current system.

The five licenses awarded (and the sixth won through litigation, with a seventh and possibly more seemingly likely by courts) were done so by an application and selection process designed to choose well-qualified, capitalized and experienced applicants to serve a law, and a market, of an entirely different, and much smaller, size and scope than that anticipated under Amendment 2.

An apt analogy is if a company bid on and won a contract to supply a county government with widgets, and then the State of Florida decided to “piggyback” that county contract to allow the company to sell them much larger state government those same widgets.

Government contracts should be awarded transparently and based on the needs of the procuring agency, not merely expedience and fealty to a previous process that bears little resemblance to the present realities of the agency.

I am glad this discussion has begun already in Young’s Health Policy Committee, and I look forward to making these points to the legislature, the Department of Health, and the people of Florida.

The implementation of a medical marijuana law is a balancing act — and a delicate one.

Serving the intended beneficiaries of the law — sick and suffering patients — is paramount, but must also be weighed against the establishment of an industry and market with which to serve them. There must be a robust system of laws and regulations that take both into account, as well as considerations of public safety, local control, and competitive, free market principles.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of decision points that must be determined in crafting the medical marijuana system authorized under Amendment 2. Most of them are not binary, but the decision to leave as is, or to expand the marketplace.

If six companies, authorized under a three-year-old statute, are to be the sole suppliers of the statewide market for medical marijuana in Florida, we will all suffer the consequences.

Supply will not be able to meet demand, patients will face a choice of high prices versus buying untested, unregulated product from street dealers, and our government will have violated some of the most basic tenets of transparent procurement in the sunshine — and the will of the people will have been thwarted in the process.

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Ben Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care. He managed the 2014 and 2016 campaigns for Amendment 2 and was one of the primary authors of both amendments.

Pollara honestly has no earthly idea whether John Morgan will run for governor, so please stop asking.

Treat medical marijuana “like medicine,” advocates say

The right way to put the new constitutional amendment on medical marijuana into effect is to “treat (it) like medicine,” supporters said Tuesday. 

The Senate Health Policy committee held its first workshop for the 2017 Legislative Session on medical cannabis implementation.

“The states that have done it poorly, with a lack of regulation, allowed folks to market and advertise the notion of getting high,” said Ben Pollara, who leads Florida for Care, the organization advocating for “a strong, well-regulated medical marijuana system.”

“The average recreational marijuana user is not what this is about,” he told lawmakers. “It has to be treated, at every step of the way, with the seriousness that we treat medicine and other health care decisions. There needs to be clear restrictions put in place.”

Pollara is in favor of childproof packaging for medicinal marijuana, for instance.

Lawmakers now are faced with creating a regulatory system for the dispensing of marijuana to thousands of patients who now qualify for it in Florida. The amendment technically goes into effect on Jan. 3 but the Legislature first must create that structure.

“We’ll continue having conversations with the stakeholders,” said committee chair Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, after the workshop. “No decisions have been made yet regarding specific legislation … but this is a topic we’re taking very seriously.”

Voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent.

In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version already has been approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms and is regulated by the Department of Health.

The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days.

The amendment now grants a state constitutional right to marijuana to people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician. It defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.

Those in law enforcement and addiction treatment, while saying they respected the “will of the voters,” warned lawmakers to allow for a good amount of local control.

“We are not here to be obstructionist; we want to be honest brokers,” said Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson Jr. “But we want to address the concerns that will come up … This is a herculean task.”

He suggested prohibiting selling marijuana as candy or cookies, likely to entice children, and to require tamper-proof ID cards for marijuana users. Adkinson also said the state should give leeway to towns and cities to zone for marijuana dispensaries.

But state Sen. Bobby Powell, a Riviera Beach Democrat, said he was concerned some areas would “zone out” medical marijuana entirely from their communities.

Ellen Snelling, chairwoman of the Tampa Alcohol Coalition and member of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance, added that marijuana isn’t harmless, telling the panel of her teenage daughter’s decline into drug use after trying pot.

Snelling argued for strict rules and regulations: “Don’t let Florida become California, where anyone can get a medical pot card.”

But Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, one of the state’s first medical marijuana dispensing organizations, said she and others in the business in Florida are “all about product quality and patient safety.” Trulieve operates a retail marijuana store in northeast Tallahassee.

And Rivers said she expects business to only grow.

Her company now can serve 72,500 patients, she said. After an upcoming expansion, Trulieve will be able to accommodate up to 650,000 patients with 20 milligrams of cannabis a day.

Dr. Mark Hashim, a pain specialist in Hudson, disagreed with the Health Department’s proposed rule banning telemedicine to prescribe marijuana. It’s been described as “allowing doctors and patients to connect virtually, rather than face-to-face.”

He said it would help those in rural areas or simply too sick to get to a doctor: “I don’t see a reason why we are disallowing this.”

Implementation of medical marijuana amendment brings together unlikely allies

With establishment lobbyists now representing it, the medical marijuana cause appears to have become—grab your pearls—respectable.

Florida for Care, the nonprofit organization that is advocating for “well-regulated” medicinal pot in the state, has hired Brecht Heuchan and The Mayernick Group to advocate for its interests.

Heuchan, who says he voted against the medical marijuana constitutional amendment this November, has worked for Gov. Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work PAC. He’ll lobby the executive agencies.

“I didn’t want Florida to be like California but my vote was an ignorant one, as it turns out,” he said. “The amendment … will change thousands and thousands of Floridians’ lives and this can be done in a responsible way.”

The Mayernicks, GOP loyalists and experts in appropriations, have the legislative end.

Florida voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent.

“It’s rare you get to work on an issue that helps people cope with their medical condition and is supported by an overwhelming mandate of the voters,” Frank Mayernick said.

Now the work lies in how the amendment will work in practice.

State Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, will hold a workshop next Tuesday in her Senate Health Policy committee on “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions,” a Senate schedule shows.

“There are many competing interests on the implementation (of medical marijuana),” lobbyist Tracy Mayernick said.

“We will be advocating for reasonable implementation that allows for adequate access, patient safety and affordability to the expanded patient population as well as a strong regulatory structure that meets the needs of law enforcement and communities across Florida.”

Just as important, cannabis as medicine is about to become big, even huge, business. 

A recent report says Florida will rack up over $1 billion in medical marijuana sales in the next three years. Soon, the Sunshine State could be behind only California in the size of its medical pot revenues.

It’s used as a “critical therapy by millions of patients to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and more,” according to Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access.

Here, the amendment grants a right to people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version is already approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days.

Florida and other states have operated under a kind of salutary neglect when it comes to marijuana, the sale of which is still a federal crime.

The Obama administration has directed federal prosecutors not to charge those, particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

President-elect Donald Trump “has said he supports medical marijuana and that states should handle the question of whether to legalize,” according to TIME magazine.

“I think there’s an axis between the message the voters sent, the desire of the legislature to regulate this law in a lowercase ‘c’-conservative way, and the wants of the nascent medical marijuana industry,” Heuchan said.

“I agreed to join Florida for Care because they’re taking an approach to implementation that acknowledges this balancing act, and are seeking to be productive and reasonable in the process.”


Ed. Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that John Morgan chairs Florida for Care. Morgan chairs United for Care, a separate entity.

Knox Medical opens doors to Florida’s medical marijuana future

Behind barbed-wire fences and armed guards, an unmarked, nondescript block building invisible from the road features countless surveillance cameras, a walk-in safe, explosion-proof rooms, and labs stocked with equipment that would make any college chemistry department envious, such as an inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer.

This is not Bruce Knox‘s father’s flower nursery. Not anymore.

Welcome to Knox Medical LLC’s facilities at Knox Nursery in Winter Garden, for what company officials Knox and Jose Hidalgo vowed would be the first and only public viewing ever of the Central Florida production center for medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

It’s been more than two years since Florida approved limited medical marijuana, a year since Knox and five other plant growers in Florida received state licenses through a highly-contested competition to get into the business’s ground floor, eight months since the Florida Legislature made limited expansions to the industry, and a month since voters approved John Morgan’s Amendment 2, authorizing huge expansions of medical marijuana next year.

On Friday Knox will make its first product deliveries, medical oils extracted from legally-grown, non-euphoric marijuana, delivered to qualified patients with otherwise untreatable epilepsy or other neurological disorders. It’s a modest beginning for what is still an undefined future, one which could grow to hundreds of thousands of Florida patients using all sorts of medicines derived from marijuana, for all sorts of debilitating health conditions.

“What you see is a culmination of a dream and a vision that we’ve had now for two and a half years,” said Knox, co-founder with Hidalgo of Knox Medical, and president of Knox Nursery, a business his family started 55 years ago. “A world-class, state-of-the-art processing facility… which will ensure the highest-quality product to our patients in the state of Florida.”

Knox Medical’s production center is the only facility currently licensed to grow in Central Florida but can sell anywhere in Florida. Starting Friday and for the foreseeable future the company will use unmarked vans to deliver, to the homes of state-approved patients, the oil extract based on a branded product in Colorado known as “Charlotte’s Web.” Knox’s oil, like that alternative medicine, will be extracted from marijuana plants cultured to have a very-low level of the chemical THC that gets people high and a very-high level of the chemical CBD, which experiences in Colorado and elsewhere has shown to have strong therapeutic power to stop seizures and ease other neurological disorders.

It’s not cheap and it’s not covered by health insurance. The going price is about 17 cents a milliliter, which works out to about $100 a bottle, though Knox said the company is working with the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida and another foundation to make it affordable on a sliding scale for patients with financial challenges.

Soon, Knox intends to open unmarked retail dispensaries near Florida Hospital in downtown Orlando, and in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Lake Worth.

Eventually, Knox intends to start selling other products, including those made from full-strength THC marijuana, and including edible and smokable forms. The 2016 Legislative Session expansion makes some of that possible, and Amendment 2 – once the Florida Legislature and Florida Department of Health codify it – will make far more possible. Knox already is growing high-THC marijuana at an undisclosed site, among some 19 varieties the company is currently cultivating.

And eventually the medical marijuana market, currently limited to just 1,100 qualified patients statewide, is expected to boom, to include everyone from cancer patients seeking something to take the edge of chemo-therapy nausea, to veterans seeking relief from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 72 percent approval for Amendment 2 on N0v. 8 showed Floridians are ready, Hidalgo said.

“I think education is key. My mom is 72 years old. She was completely freaked out… Just showing her how a suffering child is having 70-plus seizures a day and a single drop of CBD non-euphoric oil and the seizures stopped, she was already on board,” said Hidalgo, president of Knox Medical. “This is a new world, when you talk about pharmaceutical. It’s not quite pharmaceutical. It’s not quite like pot. It’s a new space in medicine. And it’s an exciting time.”

 

Medical marijuana’s big Florida win, as voters ‘writ large’ said yes

Florida voters approved medical marijuana with 71 percent of the vote on Election Day, and a new report commissioned by Florida for Care shows just how widespread support for the measure was in every corner of the state.

According to the TLE Analytics report, Amendment 2 reached the 60 percent threshold in each of Florida’s 27 congressional districts, all 40 state Senate districts, and 118 of 120 Florida House districts.

The two House districts where the measure failed, HD 110 and HD 111, were only narrow defeats. HD 110 came in with nearly 59 percent in favor and HD 111 showed about 58 percent supporting the measure.

“The breadth and consistency of these numbers across disparate and diverse parts of the state truly shows the mandate voters gave this law,” said Sean Phillippi of TLE Analytics. “Amendment 2’s was not a regional or even metropolitan victory. Florida voters writ large said ‘yes’ to medical marijuana.”

Medical marijuana also outperformed President-elect Donald Trump across the state, even in counties that are traditionally Republican strongholds – in Collier County, 62 percent of voters backed Trump, while 64 percent backed Amendment 2.

The report also highlighted the vote totals in the home districts of some of the amendment’s biggest critics.

Mel Sembler, the founder of Drug-Free Florida, is registered to vote in HD 68, SD 19 and CD 13, each of which featured a top-10 margin of victory for Amendment 2. In CD 23, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz’s district, voters approved the measure by a 3-to-1 margin.

Florida for Care Legislative Director Dan Rogers said the numbers are “proof positive that voters delivered a clear mandate for medical marijuana in this election.”

“Legislators of both parties are going to be surprised by how high the support in their own districts actually was,” he said. “This was truly a broad expression of the people’s will and can’t be spun as anything but.”

medical marijuana

Knox Medical to begin dispensing medical marijuana this week

Knox Medical will soon begin dispensing medical marijuana to qualified patients.

The company announced Tuesday it recently received approval from the Florida Department of Health to begin dispensing low-THC and medical cannabis this week. The company is set to begin initial deliveries to qualified patients Friday.

Knox Medical is one of six organizations in the state approved to cultivate, process and dispense low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana. The Orange County organization received the highest score out of all the nurseries that applied for permission to cultivate, process and dispense medical marijuana.

“Ever since Knox Medical was awarded the highest score in Florida to produce medical cannabis, our team of growers, engineers, researchers, and experts have prepared for this exact moment to produce industry leading medicines for patients and their families,” said Bruce Knox, co-founder and chief operating officer of Knox Medical, in a statement. “We are honored to have this privilege to serve our fellow Floridians who require compassionate medical relief.”

The company is set to open five state-of-the-art dispensaries in Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Lake Worth and Tallahassee in early 2017. The company plans to announce another round of dispensary locations in 2017.

“Knox Medical is producing superior quality medicinal cannabis, and our mission is focused on putting the needs and interests of patients first,” said Jose J. Hidalgo, the founder and CEO of Knox Medical, in a statement. “At every stage in this process, from cultivation to dispensing at our medical facility, from engaging physicians and guiding patients throughout this process to building first-in-class dispensaries throughout Florida, our objective at Knox Medical is to exceed the definition of excellence at every level.”

Low-THC cannabis was authorized under the 2014 Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. Legal challenges marred implementation of the law, but at least two other dispensing organizations have begun distributing the product.

In 2015, lawmakers expanded the Right to Try Act to allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana. And under a newly approved constitutional amendment, more patients could have access to full-strength medical marijuana.

John Morgan torn on possible governor run, and in no hurry

John Morgan has powerful split emotions about the prospect of running for governor in 2018 as a Democrat, and figures he has at least a year to decide.

Morgan, the 60-year-old Orlando trial attorney who championed Florida’s Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative this year, said others – not he – are pushing for him to run for governor. And while flattered, he insisted it’s not his idea, and he’s not giving it any serious thought yet.

“I don’t think I have to do anything this year, 2017,” Morgan said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it now, if only when he’s driving around, kicking it around in his head.

“The advantage I have, for better worse, is they [any other candidates for governor in 2018] are going to have to spend $25 million at a bare-bones minimum to have any name ID. To me that’s a starting number,” he continued. “And so for better or worse, except for Miami and Fort Lauderdale, I[his Morgan & Morgan law firm featuring him in TV and billboard advertising] am in all those markets, and have been for 30 years or so. I also have the advantage of four years of [campaigning statewide for medical] marijuana, and a very big following. When people come up to me, they thank me for marijuana.”

A group of south Florida politicos, led by Democratic operative Ben Pollara, have put together “For The Governor,” a campaign pushing a petition drive to draft John Morgan for governor, through social media and other communications. Pollara was Morgan’s former campaign manager for United For Care, which ran the successful Amendment 2 campaign this year.

Pollara said he’s in the process of formally incorporating a For The Governor Political Committee and expects to begin raising money.

He and Morgan both stated that they had not discussed the initiative with each other, though Morgan hasn’t dismissed it.

“You’ve got to be careful because our egos can really get us into trouble,” Morgan said. “Everybody says, ‘I like you. I like you. I like you. I want you to do it.’ All of the sudden you like what you are hearing, and all of the sudden you go off on a venture you shouldn’t go off on, for a lot of reasons.

“I’ve got a great life.”

In the interview, Morgan quickly explored several reasons why he wouldn’t dream of running for governor.

* He professes no clear Florida governing platform at this point, other than a strong conviction that something must be done about low wages in Florida. And he’s not convinced that his being governor would be the most effective way for him to address that; he’s exploring another constitutional amendment initiative to do so.

“I would only want to do it [run for governor] if there was something that I thought that I could make a difference in. And what I worry about is, even if I defy all odds, and win, could I even get anything done with a Republican senate and house?” he said.

* He’s very close to U.S. Rep. Gwen Grahamthe most likely Democratic candidate for governor so far, and particularly close with her father, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. And he expressed admiration for other potential Democratic candidates, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn,  and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

* He even likes some potential Republican gubernatorial candidates, citing Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, among others.

“If I find someone who inspired me, then I would go, ‘You now what? the state would be in good hands with this person.’ It doesn’t matter if they’re a Republican or Democrat,” Morgan said.

* His business interests are complex on a level approaching Donald Trump’s, and he’s not sure he wants to unwind, disengage or liquify anything. Besides his law firm, which is in 18 Florida cities and eight other states, his business interests including hotels, real estate, shopping centers, and attractions.

* Finally, he’s not crazy about enduring personal attacks and knows his profession and lifestyle leave him and his family wide open to ugly anti-Morgan campaign smears.

“I’ve been on TV for 30 years, so I’ve had people writing mean things to me, calling me with mean things, discussing my fat face, my, you know, whatever, so I’m used to mean things. But with this [draft John Morgan campaign] out there, the meanness out there ramps up a little. So I’m like, ‘Who wants this?'” Morgan said. “I’m used to the one-offs. I’m used to people writing me: ‘You’re an ambulance chaser.’ But I’m not used to this where everybody can weigh in. That’s been kind of unnerving.

“It seems like in politics people believe they have a special license to be meaner than usual. That’s what I’ve found these last few weeks,” he said, adding it bothers him, “Because I like to be liked.”

But Morgan does see reasons to run.

He’s not convinced Graham or the other Democrats can actually win. He’s at a point in his life when he’s contemplating the difference between being “successful” and being “significant.” He takes his victory with the medical marijuana initiative to heart on a humanitarian level. He likes that feeling. And he thinks more must and can be done.

“You know, there are things I believe very fervently. I believe that the real issue out there in America is people are not paid fair wages for a fair day’s work,” he said. “Now I don’t know what the number is. I don’t know what the number is. But I believe peoples’ frustration is, they go out, they do everything right, they put on a uniform, and at the end of the day they’re further behind than they were before.”

Perhaps the answer is another constitutional amendment initiative, one aimed at creating a living wage in Florida, Morgan said.

“I’ve already started researching what that language would look like. It may be that my best bet to do what I want to do would be to have a constitutional amendment. I now know how to navigate that world, after making lots of mistakes the first time around,” Morgan said. “But is $15 too much? Would that pass? What’s the magic number? I don’t know.”

The lessons Morgan draws from 2016 political victors is that voters are rejecting career politicians and the status quo, whether it’s Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica of Winter Park. Morgan is certain he fits the outsider identity. If he ran and won, he said he’d pledge a one-term tenure and donate the governor’s salary to charity.

He believes voters want someone who’s less partisan and more practical. Morgan has backed Republicans in the past and said he certainly would in the future. He even praised Gov. Rick Scott for being single-minded on jobs, and for delivering on that.

But mostly, Morgan said, voters deserve someone with compassion for them, and that’s a mark he believes he has.

“What I think is missing in politics today is compassion. I think it’s too much not about what’s for us but what’s for them,” Morgan said. “I don’t believe somebody should be a non-violent felon, go to jail, and not have their civil rights restored. That’s a crime. I don’t believe drug addiction is a crime. The leader I’m looking for is someone who is compassionate and thinks about people first. And I think that includes the minimum wage.”

Pollara and others pushing the draft-Morgan campaign have many of the same concerns about a Morgan run that Morgan himself expressed. Yet they also have his same concerns about the Democrats’ prospects without Morgan. The next governor will oversee another redistricting, which could lock a party’s power in Florida for another decade, Pollara cautioned.

The draft Morgan effort, he said, is “a product of anxiety we Democrats feel about this upcoming governor’s race. Now we’re looking at 2020 redistricting,” which could lead to a “generation of irrelevance” for Democrats.

Morgan also expressed a clear, proud sense of accomplishment, having pushed medical marijuana into Florida’s constitution.

“I got beat with the marijuana the first go around [in a failed 2014 campaign.] I learned my lessons,” Morgan said. “And I think the people who are supporting e the fact I didn’t quit, and I won, and I didn’t just win, I won in a big way.

“And what I did in four years was more than any legislator has done in the last 40 years.”

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Bong ban doesn’t apply to medical pot, advocate says

Florida’s bong ban, as toothless as critics say it may be, now is preempted by the recently approved constitutional amendment on medical marijuana.

That’s according to Ben Pollara, campaign manager of United for Care. The group has fought for the ballot initiative, which first failed in 2014 before passing this year with 71 percent of the vote.

State law prohibits devices such as “metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic pipes,” commonly known as “bongs,” when used to smoke pot.

But the amendment’s language says “medical marijuana treatment centers” can “sell (and) distribute” what it calls “related supplies,” so long as they go to “qualifying patients or their caregivers” and are registered with the state Department of Health.

“The plain language of the amendment covers ‘related supplies’ and was written that way precisely because of poorly conceived pieces of public policy such as the law in question.” Pollara said.

Lawmakers have tweaked the bong ban over the years, to include ever more inventive ways of smoking.

They have outlawed “2-liter-type soda bottles” if used to smoke an illegal substance, and even have banned “balloons” and “duct tape” if used as drug paraphernalia.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, backed a bill when he was in the House that made the sale of all marijuana pipes a first-degree misdemeanor, with second and subsequent violations classified a third-degree felony.

The Legislature passed the bill, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott and became law in 2013.

But even Rouson has admitted that the amendment, if passed, would basically nullify any bong ban as it relates to medical pot.

“If legitimate medical users choose to use a banned device as a delivery system, then, yes, the amendment allows it,” he told the Tampa Tribune in 2014.

Pollara has long maintained the ban is rarely enforced anyway, noting in particular that virtually every independently-owned gas station and bodega in Miami sells what could be considered bongs.

“The irony here is that the effect of the law is basically to push more cancer causing tobacco on Floridians,” he added.

To sell such paraphernalia, businesses “need the imprimatur of tobacco sales to justify their sale of ‘tobacco supplies,’ so you have all these head shops that probably otherwise wouldn’t be selling cigarettes that currently are doing so, so that they can sell all the related supplies,” Pollara said.

The medical marijuana amendment is set to go into effect on Jan. 3. Meantime, the Department of Health “must set regulations for the issuance of identification cards, qualifications and standards of caregivers and registration of medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of the effective date,” according to Ballotpedia.

Medical marijuana advocates up in arms over Jeff Sessions

The head of a medical marijuana advocacy group is criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General.

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, said in an email Friday that the Republican Sessions “has criticized the morality of cannabis users and has stated that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol.”

Sessions, a former federal prosecutor, once “rebutted (President) Obama’s observation that marijuana is safer than alcohol by citing a renowned expert on substance abuse: ‘Lady Gaga says she’s addicted to it and it is not harmless,’” according to Forbes.

On the other hand, Sherer said, Trump “repeatedly said he supports medical cannabis and that he believes states should be able to set their own policies in this area.”

The president-elect “needs to reassure the more than 300 million Americans living under some sort of medical cannabis law that his attorney general will honor his campaign pledge to respect state medical cannabis programs,” Sherer said.

“Plain and simple, medical cannabis is a critical therapy used by millions of patients to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and more,” she added. 

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A ballot initiative giving Floridians a state constitutional right to medical pot passed earlier this month with 71 percent of the vote.

But marijuana is still outlawed by the federal government. The Obama administration has given states a pass, saying federal prosecutors should not charge those — particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers” — who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

Marijuana reform went 8 for 9 on the ballot; is it at a tipping point?

After marijuana amendments passed in eight of the nine states where it was on the ballot Tuesday, now nearly a quarter of all Americans live in states where recreational use of marijuana is legal.

Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada approved recreational marijuana amendments last week, giving nearly 50 million more Americans the right to use marijuana.

Additionally, Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota voted in favor of medical marijuana amendments, while Montana residents voted to roll back restrictions on their medical marijuana laws put in place by their state Legislature.

Arizona was the only state where marijuana failed on the ballot in 2016. The southwestern state already has medical marijuana laws on the books, but voters shot down a measure to legalize recreational use.

Once these amendments go into effect, eight states will have fully legalized marijuana, including the whole of the west coast, while 28 states and the District of Columbia will have legalized medical marijuana.

Marijuana’s ballot success this year could have pushed the drug past the tipping point when it comes to how the federal government enforces drug laws.

The new amendments also will mean an additional 68 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will come from states where recreational marijuana is legal, 53 from California alone.

President Barack Obama said the swing toward marijuana legalization — both for medical and recreational use — may make strict drug policies untenable for federal law enforcement agencies.

“You’ll now have a fifth of the country that’s operating under one set of laws and four-fifths in another,” he said in an interview with Bill Maher. “The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others … that is not going to be tenable.”

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