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matt gaetz

Poll: Matt Gaetz’s medical marijuana support A-OK with CD 1 Republicans

A poll commissioned after Matt Gaetz cruised past his two primary challengers found that Republican primary voters were just fine with their Congressman supporting medical marijuana.

Nearly 70 percent of Republicans in Florida’s 1st Congressional District told St. Pete Polls they cast their ballot for Gaetz in last week’s primary election.

Though the Shalimar Congressman’s actual vote total was closer to 65 percent, more than half of those who said they were in Gaetz’s corner were also supportive of the Sunshine State’s 2016 medical marijuana law while only 37 percent said they were against it.

That gives the law a plus-16 margin of support among Gaetz’s voters in the ruby-red district — registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by more than 2-to-1 in CD 1.

In 2016, Floridians voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment allowing people with debilitating conditions to use medical marijuana.

Well before that amendment (or the failed 2014 version) went before voters, Gaetz sponsored the state House version of a bill legalizing the use of low-THC medical marijuana to treat certain patients, such as children who suffer from debilitating seizures.

When dispensaries started rolling out medical marijuana to patients, Gaetz even went on a ride along to deliver the medication to a Northwest Florida family.

The first term Congressman has also given medical marijuana some attention during his time in Washington. Earlier this year, he joined Kendall Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto in sponsoring a bill to legalize and promote federal research into medical marijuana.

When St. Pete Polls asked Gaetz supporters if they were aware that their Congressman was “a strong supporter of medical marijuana research and helped pass Florida’s first low-THC medical cannabis law,” 58 percent answered in the affirmative.

Among those who said they were aware, only 29 percent said it influenced their vote — 16 percent said that it was positive, while 13 percent said it was negative. For the remaining 71 percent, medical marijuana didn’t factor into their decision at the polls.

When asked if they had seen any advertising on Gaetz’s support for medical marijuana, 31 percent said they had while the balance said they had not.

The St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Sept. 4, received responses from 604 registered Republicans in Florida’s 1st Congressional District who said they voted in the Aug. 28 Republican primary. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

The poll was commissioned as part of “Wellness Week,” a collaboration between Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls and Empowering Wellness.

State, Joe Redner battle over legal cost in pot case

The Florida Department of Health is appealing a ruling that would require it to pay more than $30,000 in legal costs in a fight about whether Tampa businessman Joe Redner should be able to grow his own medical marijuana.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers last week said the state should pay $30,299 requested by Redner’s attorneys for costs related to such things as expert witnesses, according to court documents.

The Department of Health quickly filed a notice that it was appealing Gievers’ decision to the 1st District Court of Appeal. The state has argued, in part, that it should not be required to pay costs while an appeal remains pending in the underlying legal fight about growing medical marijuana. Gievers this spring sided in the underlying case with Redner, who contends he should be able to grow his own medical marijuana to try to prevent a recurrence of lung cancer.

Redner’s argument is rooted in a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in the state. But the Department of Health has appealed the ruling in the underlying case to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Bill Nelson, Rick Scott deadlocked at 47% according to latest poll of race for Florida’s U.S Senate seat

New polling verifies Florida’s U.S. Senate fight as one of the tightest in the nation, with Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott virtually tied.

But even in a politically divided state, a substantial majority still favors legal medical marijuana use.

A survey by St. Pete Polls commissioned for Florida Politics finds both candidates at about 47 percent; in fact, it shows Nelson with just a tenth of a percentage point edge — well within the 2.3 percent margin of error.

And there’s little space for either side to grow, with just 5 percent of voters surveyed still undecided.

Nelson, a three-term U.S. Senator, faces the toughest fight since his 2000 election to the Senate in a challenge from two-term Gov. Scott, who so far has spent almost $28 million campaigning, while the incumbent spent a little more than $6 million.

But there is one issue where voters feel more aligned: The legal use of marijuana for medical purposes.

And that could spell problems down the road for Scott.

Florida Politics this week launches a collaboration with the medical marijuana advocacy group Empowering Wellness and will roll out a week’s worth of exclusive polling, data and analysis. That includes asking the same voters surveyed in the Senate race their thoughts on medicinal cannabis.

St. Pete Polls found 74 percent of likely voters in the survey favor allowing the use of medical marijuana if approved by a doctor, with 20 percent in disagreement and another 5 percent unsure

Additionally, 66 percent believe patients should be allowed to smoke the product, with 24 percent opposed to the practice and 11 percent unsure.

As for Scott, 45 percent of the voters in the poll disapprove of the way the governor has handled the implementation of Florida’s medical marijuana law, while just 30 percent approve. Another 26 percent were unsure.

And when pollsters informed those surveyed that Scott had opposed medical marijuana and his administration delayed its implementation significantly, the results got worse, with 49 percent of voters saying they were less likely to support his Senate run.

Another 37 percent said the news made them more likely to vote for Scott while another 15 percent said they were uncertain how they felt.

Some 71 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical cannabis in 2016.

Nikki Fried secures Democratic nomination for Agriculture Commissioner

Nikki Fried won the primary election for Agriculture Commissioner Tuesday night, defeating Democratic opponents Roy David Walker and Jeff Porter.

Fried, a Broward-based lawyer and medical marijuana lobbyist, entered the race relatively late in June but became a quick favorite who easily outraised Walker and Porter and stood out among their lackluster campaigns.

“I’m honored that Florida Democrats have put their faith in me to finally elect a Democrat to the office of Agriculture Commissioner,” Fried said in a news release. “Florida needs new leadership at the Department who will advocate for expanded patient access to medical marijuana, fix Adam Putnam’s failures in overseeing concealed weapons permits, and work to protect both consumers and our clean water, land and coasts.”

Her campaign to lead the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is distinct. While the Republican candidates emphasize the agency’s connection to Florida farmers, Fried focuses heavily on a relatively new agricultural frontier: marijuana. She has also made a point of criticizing the state’s gun policies, a merited strategy as her bid for the office coincided with news that the agency’s current head, Putnam, oversaw critical errors in the department’s issuing of concealed-weapons permits.

In a news release accompanying a candidate introduction video, Fried’s campaign stated she “intends to use the office to expand access to medical marijuana for sick and suffering Floridians, support the agriculture industry while protecting Florida’s land, water, and beaches, advocate for consumers, and be an independent, compassionate voice on the Florida Cabinet.”

Helping Fried’s campaign are former and current stars of the Florida Democratic Party. Among her endorsers: former Governor and current U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, U.S. Rep Lois Frankel, former U.S. Rep Patrick Murphy, former CFO Alex Sink, 25 state lawmakers, and 33 county and municipal leaders.

She also was the unanimous favorite of editorial boards across the state, including the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Heraldand Sun Sentinel.  Fried also received the backing of labor union SEIU, Ruth’s List, and the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

Fried will compete against Republican nominee Matt Caldwell in the Nov. 6 general election.

Personnel note: Jennifer Tschetter joins Carlton Fields

Jennifer Tschetter has joined the Carlton Fields law firm’s national medical marijuana task force, the firm announced. 

She departed Tallahassee’s Hopping Green & Sams, where she’d been since 2016.

The former general counsel, chief of staff and chief operating officer of the Florida Department of Health now co-chairs Carlton Fields’ 18-lawyer task force.

There, she will “represent medical marijuana treatment centers and other industry interests as they navigate a complex regulatory landscape,” the firm said.

That’s not all, Tschetter said in a statement.

“At Carlton Fields, I have a national platform and specialized colleagues who can assist my clients with their business and legal needs in areas including taxation, corporate transactions and securities, finance and banking, and cryptocurrency,” she said. “I am excited to join the firm’s outstanding team of knowledgeable and respected lawyers.”

During her tenure at Health, she oversaw rulemaking for the apportionment of trauma centers and presided over the beginning of the rollout of the state’s medical marijuana delivery system.

“Our clients will benefit immensely from Jennifer’s deep understanding of the inner workings of public agencies,” said Nancy G. Linnan, chair of the firm’s Government Law and Consulting practice. “Her proven track record in the rapidly expanding area of cannabis law, as well as several other regulatory areas, is an enormous boon to our capabilities.”

Tschetter also has been appellate and rules counsel for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

She received a bachelor’s degree in political science from South Dakota State University and her law degree from the University of South Dakota School of Law.

Tschetter will remain based in Tallahassee. 

Other states use medical marijuana to curb opioid deaths. Will Florida follow?

Three states already have started to explore how medical marijuana can help opioid users break their addictions. Could Florida be next?

“Studies show there’s been a significant reduction in opioid use in states that have medical cannabis programs,” says Todd Beckwith, marketing director for AltMed, which opened its first Florida dispensary in June.

Continued research could prove vital as Florida continues to wrestle with regulation of the burgeoning marijuana industry, which for the moment exists entirely in the health care space.

As doctors figure out how to handle a recently illicit drug, another social plague continues that stems from the use of narcotics long dispensed legally over drugstore counters.

The Sunshine State continues to suffer some of the worst pains from opioid abuse, and in 2016 led the nation in total number of drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response, state lawmakers increased sentencing requirements for suppliers, boosted funding for addiction treatment and actively cracked down on pill mills.

But as that drug crisis unfolded, public opinion rapidly shifted on once-maligned marijuana.

The Florida Legislature in 2014 legalized use of low-THC cannabis extracts to treat epilepsy, cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Then voters in 2016 went farther, passing a constitutional amendment expanding that to allow patients with HIV, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other conditions to use the narcotic.

Yet to date, the list of eligible conditions for a cannabis prescription does not include pain management. On the other hand, even after a new opiate law went into effect July 1 limiting prescriptions for acute pain, physicians can sign off on opioid use for any terminal or progressive illness or for traumatic injuries.

“Florida voters recognized that medical cannabis can and should be an available option for patients,” said Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, the state’s largest medical marijuana dispenser. “We know there is a growing body of science that supports cannabis as a viable and non-addictive alternative to highly addictive and dangerous drugs such as opioids.

“We strongly support giving doctors and patients this viable alternative,” she added. “Trulieve hears story after story of patients successfully and effectively transitioning from opioids to medical cannabis as a safer medical alternative to treat their conditions.”

Then again, marijuana advocates don’t deny that chronic pain often warrants the use of powerful opiates.

“There are some things in which a pure pain management regimen is necessary,” Tallahassee lawyer John Lockwood says.

The problem comes, though, when patients get hooked. “What people have a problem with,” Lockwood notes, “is coming off that prescription.”

And that’s where other states have started to consider that cannabis could serve as an alternative to pills.

Totaling Tolerance

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 21 and 29 percent of all patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain end up misusing the drugs, and four to six percent of users end up transitioning to becoming heroin users.

And thousands die from the abuse. Almost 64,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2016, including 4,738 in the state of Florida.

But as more states allow for medical marijuana, there has been a direct effect on the number of opioid fatalities. A Rand Corporation study found a decline in deaths in those states legalizing marijuana, but only in those allowing medical dispensaries.

Similarly, a study released by the University of Georgia found a correlation between legalizing cannabis as medicine and reductions in opioid use.

This one found that in states with home-cultivation laws, there was a  seven percent reduction in opiate prescriptions and a 14.4 percent decline in opiate use. In particular, the study saw sharp reductions in prescriptions for hydrocodone and morphine.

“What we were able to do is ask what happens to physician behavior in terms of their opiate prescribing if and when medical cannabis becomes available,” said W. David Bradford, co-author of the Georgia study.

That prompted Georgia Rep. Allen Peake, chairman of the Medical Cannabis working group in the Georgia House, to file legislation expanding its patient registry to include patients with “intractable pain” so long as they have been treated for that condition for a minimum of six months. Georgia law allows for patients on the registry to possess 20 ounces of low-THC oil.

But Georgia’s not the only state exploring the connection. The Illinois Legislature in May passed a law allowing patients with certain debilitating conditions to enroll in an Opioid Alternative Pilot Program. The website Illinois Policy reports the bill passed both chambers of the Legislature with bipartisan support.

And in June, the New York State Department of Health through an administrative rule added opioid replacement to the list of medical conditions for which physicians could prescribe marijuana.

“Medical marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for pain that may also reduce the chance of opioid dependence,” said New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. “Adding opioid replacement as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana offers providers another treatment option, which is a critical step in combatting the deadly opioid epidemic affecting people across the state.”

Delayed Reactions

Lockwood says the rules and legislation used by these states should serve as a model to Florida lawmakers looking for a way to curb opioid deaths.

To date, the direction states have gone in terms of allowing cannabis into pain management remedies has been as a last resort rather than a first course of action, meaning the drug more often gets used to wean people off of their opiate addiction rather than being offered as the primary way to deal with chronic pain in the first place.

“States are going to treat this is a way to ease you off your prescriptions,” Lockwood says.

But the law may be lagging behind the medical community on the matter. Physicians, mindful of the same studies driving policy in New York, Georgia and Illinois, have started experimenting with cannabis as a solution to addiction in Florida already.

Beckwith notes that while Florida has a short list of medical conditions that doctors have approval to treat with cannabis, there’s also a provision of the law that allows for a physician to make an individual assessment that a patient would benefit from the drug.

“It does require them to submit additional paperwork,” Beckwith said. But he says physicians have determined cannabis as a proper treatment for those addicted to opioids and alcohol, and some suggest cannabis be used to treat chronic pain.

Still, including opiate abuse on the list of conditions so that all physicians certified to prescribe cannabis could simply do so without leaping through bureaucratic hoops would streamline the process and help more people.

He notes that the Rand study that showed a correlation between legalizing medical marijuana and reducing opiate deaths also found that over-regulating the industry could negate the positive impacts.

“Our findings are consistent with previous studies showing an association between the legalization of medical marijuana and lower deaths from overdoses of opioids,” writes Rosalie Liccardo Pacula, co-author of the Rand study.

Tighter regulations, coupled with growing popularity of illegal narcotics like fentanyl, can erase gains made as far as curbing opioid mortality. That’s read in the industry as a signal too-tight regulation will strangle out potential benefits, but it also shows cannabis alone won’t magically solve a separate epidemic.

“This is a sign that medical marijuana, by itself,” Pacula writes, “will not be the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis today.”

Andrew Dolberg

Facebook reinstates Andrew Dolberg medical marijuana ad after ‘error’

Facebook says an ad from House District 98 candidate Andrew Dolberg promoting medical marijuana was reinstated after being removed because of an “error.”

As Florida Politics previously reported, Dolberg says he received a notice from Facebook that the ad was removed because the company does not allow the promotion of illegal drugs.

In the ad, Dolberg advocated for the expansion of medical marijuana as one of a few potential fixes to the state’s health care system. Medical marijuana is legal in Florida but illegal at the federal level.

A Facebook spokesperson says the ad was rejected incorrectly but was reinstated after the company’s systems identified the error. The ad is now available in Dolberg’s “Info and Ads” section.

Dolberg noted in his original statement that he had appealed the decision.

“I believe in ensuring suffering people have access to the medicines prescribed by their doctors,” Dolberg said.

‘Please explain’: Legislative panel again questions marijuana regulators

A special panel of lawmakers continues to demand answers from medical marijuana regulators, according to a new letter obtained Tuesday through a public record request.

Among the latest queries from the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC): The identities of “subject matter experts” that the Department of Health plans to use to evaluate license applications, and whether a rule governing a license reserved for a black farmer contradicts state law.

Not mentioned in the committee’s Aug. 17 letter, however, is a Tallahassee judge’s ruling earlier this month that the medical marijuana law’s carve-out of special categories of licenses is unconstitutional.

JAPC ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Health spokesman Brad Dalton said the agency’s lawyers were “still reviewing the letter,” and “no response has been authored at this time.”

The 9-page JAPC letter, signed by Chief Attorney Marjorie C. Holladay, starts many of its paragraphs with “please explain” or “please correct.”

For instance, “Please explain how an applicant can explain its plan for the recall of medical marijuana products based on a testing result when the department has not proposed or adopted rules regarding testing.”

It dings regulators for conflating “license” and “registration” as used for medical cannabis providers, known as “medical marijuana treatment centers,” saying “the terms are not interchangeable.”

“The Legislature’s use of the terms ‘license’ and ‘licensure’ … was deliberate and indicates a preference for the use of those terms, and the use of the word ‘registration’ within that context is inconsistent with the statute,” Holladay wrote.

She even asks why one regulation “only requires the applicant’s floor plan to demonstrate that it has outdoor lighting” when state law “requires a medical marijuana treatment center to ensure that its outdoor premises have sufficient lighting from dusk until dawn.”

The missive comes less than a month after Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson struck down several parts of the law that implements the constitutional amendment – passed by 71 percent of voters in 2016 – that authorized medicinal cannabis.

The ruling came in a challenge brought by Florigrown, which had been denied a chance to become a provider. The company is partly owned by free speech advocate and Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner.

He is a medical marijuana patient himself, having won a ruling to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it to keep his cancer from recurring. That’s under appeal by the state.

The letter is another salvo by legislators, many of whom have been exasperated over what they see as the department’s sluggishness in implementing medical marijuana.

At a meeting this February, JAPC formally approved 17 individual objections and listed more than 40 distinct operations violations “with no standards or guidance, thereby vesting unbridled discretion in the Department.”

The committee also sent more than a dozen letters to the department giving Health officials a heads-up as to concerns—to be met with no response.

As a reminder of its displeasure, the Legislature also included a provision in the 2018-19 state budget that freezes a portion of salaries and benefits for the department’s top brass until they get going on putting new rules in place.

The full letter is below:

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Andrew Dolberg

Andrew Dolberg: Facebook denied my ad promoting medical marijuana

(Update: A Facebook spokesperson responded by saying the ad was rejected incorrectly, and was reinstated after its systems identified the error)

Andrew Dolberg, a Democratic candidate for House District 98, is accusing Facebook of being a buzzkill after the company allegedly rejected a pro-medical marijuana ad from the Dolberg campaign.

The ad called for increased access for medical marijuana, which is legal in Florida after a Constitutional amendment was approved in 2016.

However, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, which can cause conflict even in states that have approved the drug.

The drug’s status at the federal level appears to be behind Facebook’s decision on the Dolberg ad. The campaign says they received a notice rejecting the ad because the company does not allow ads that promote illegal drugs.

Facebook’s ad policies confirm that. “Ads must not promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs,” reads the company’s section on “Prohibited Content.”

“Facebook claims to prioritize free expression and to serve as a forum for the open exchange of ideas,” Dolberg said in a statement to Florida Politics.

“However, we saw the company choose to limit discussion about a political issue, specifically suppressing a conversation about the ways medical professionals may choose to treat sick and dying Floridians. I have appealed Facebook’s decision because I believe in fair, unabridged debate and I believe in ensuring suffering people have access to the medicines prescribed by their doctors.”

Dolberg’s dilemma isn’t the only issue arising from the conflict between state and federal law on the marijuana issue. Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried recently had campaign accounts shut down after she confirmed she was receiving money from the marijuana industry.

Banks are at times hesitant to engage in transactions with companies dealing with the drug due to marijuana’s illegality at the federal level. In response to her accounts being canceled, Fried proposed creating a state-sponsored bank that would be able to deal with the industry.

Dolberg says the pro-medical marijuana pitch was part of a broader message in the ad, promoting passage of state laws to expand Medicaid and establish mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Nikki Fried proposes new bank to serve medical cannabis providers

Freshly fired as a Wells Fargo bank customer for taking campaign cash from the medical marijuana industry, Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried on Monday envisioned a state-sponsored bank to work with cannabis providers.

During a news conference outside the Capitol office she would occupy if she secures the Democratic nomination and wins in November, Fried supported federal legislation that would ease providers’ access to financial services.

“I have also brought up the opportunity for the state of Florida to actually open up its own bank for this industry,” Fried told reporters.

She said she would discuss that prospect with whoever gets elected chief financial officer and “see if we can’t start moving that policy forward.”

The bank’s move in no way compromised her standing as a candidate, she said. But she did not rule out legal action.

“It is a private company. They are allowed to make their own policies. However, we are definitely looking into what legal options may be available to us,” Fried told reporters. A request for comment is pending with the company.

The bank first raised questions in July about whether Fried was “advocating for expanded patient access to medical marijuana.”

A representative asked the campaign, “Can you confirm the types of transactions expected for this customer & if any of the transactions will include funds received from lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity?”

On Aug. 3, Wells Fargo notified the campaign it would need to close all accounts.

Fried is a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and lobbyist who has represented industry players and has made access to medical marijuana a central campaign plank.

At first, “I thought this was a joke,” she said of the bank’s action.

Fried complained that she was “kicked out of the bank for voicing support” for a provision “that is literally in the Florida Constitution.” Meanwhile, marijuana providers across the country have trouble opening bank accounts because of “outdated federal laws,” she said.

“This is much bigger than my campaign. I’m happy to tell Wells Fargo, ‘Good riddance.’ And finding a bank to take my campaign contributions without making a value judgment on my platform was not difficult. But when this happens to medical marijuana business, as it does every day all over the country, it has a much more devastating impact,” Fried said.

“Small business owners — families, veterans, hard working Americans — every day live in perpetual financial instability. Will I be able to pay my mortgage? Will I be able to pay for day care? Can I keep my lights on at home? What if I get kicked out of another bank tomorrow? Will I be held up at gunpoint, or worse, when I’m on my way to work because I’m forced to run an all-cash business?”

Fried said she has moved her campaign account to BBT, the Branch Banking and Trust Co. She also moved the account for Florida Consumers First, her PAC.

“I would like to urge Floridians, Americans, to re-evaluate their relationship with a financial institution that would refuse a checking account to a candidate for office abiding by every federal and state campaign law,” she said.

“We need to re-evaluate our approach to medical marijuana on the public policy level, and to re-evaluate the laws that are on the books — and the politicians who obstruct them, and ignore the life-changing impacts of medical marijuana by keeping these laws in place.”

She stressed that she is not directly involved in the medical marijuana industry.

“I am a candidate. I have the right to be heard,” Fried said. “I am not touching the plants; I am not selling the plants; I am not producing the plants. I’m simply advocating for the expansion of medical marijuana, and that was the reason for closing me down.”

Fried was asked why no bank has gone after other medical marijuana advocates but singled her out for taking money not even from the industry directly, but from its lobbyists.

“I am the first candidate, to my knowledge, across the country that is coming from the industry. So I think that my campaign, in particular, was targeted,” she said. “The rest of the state knows I have a real shot at winning in November,” and that this was an opportunity “to slow me down or stop my voice.”

“It is too coincidental that it’s my campaign on these issues, that I do believe that somebody along the way — and I don’t know who — but that somebody tipped them off to this.”

She advised other candidate across the county who hold similar views and bank with Wells Fargo to “rethink their banking relationship and pull their account.”

To that end, Seattle-based GRN Funds 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.

Moreover, Florida’s agriculture commissioner oversees a number of aspects of the industry, including regulation of pesticides and food safety, Fried said: “Once we start getting edibles out, they would oversee all of the food safety aspects.”

The bank’s move might turn out to be a blessing, she said.

“If it gets my message out there for expansion of medical marijuana, that’s the whole point of this — is to make sure the will of the people is heard,” Fried said. “If this is how this has to be done, then this is how it has to be done.”

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