Medical marijuana – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Rick Scott talks pot, Donald Trump

Gov. Rick Scott made his way through his first Cabinet meeting as a candidate for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, and while the meeting focused exclusively on state matters, the questions that followed from reporters unsurprisingly centered on federal issues.

Scott is leading his Democratic opponent, incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, in a few early polls and handily outspending him in advertising — at least for now. The race will undoubtedly be competitive and there’s a real chance Scott takes the top of the ticket in November.

So it follows that the Governor was asked on Wednesday for comment on legalizing pot, for his opinion of President Donald Trump and for his thoughts on the Affordable Care Act. 

A bipartisan effort is bubbling in Congress to ease the federal ban on marijuana. If passed, it would give states more discretion with the drug. The President has indicated mild support for the idea, though it would need Congressional approval first. 

“Well, I’ll deal with that when I make it to the Senate,” Scott said.

The Governor also was asked about the issue of medical marijuana — which is currently in the fore in the Sunshine State. A judge recently ruled unconstitutional a state ban on smoking the drug for treatment. Scott’s attorneys have appealed the ruling.

“What’s important to me is that everyone has access to the health care that they need,” Scott said. He said “plenty of doctors” make the drug available and “thousands of people” use it without smoking.

“What this issue is about is how you get to take it,” Scott said. “I’m going to continue to follow the law. The constitutional amendment passed, the Legislature by a bipartisan manner overwhelmingly passed a bill, and I’m going to support it.”  

Another reporter brought up the Justice Department’s decision to no longer fight for patients with pre-existing medical conditions who face higher rates or no option for coverage. Reports the New York Times, “If that argument is accepted by the federal court, it could eviscerate major parts of the Affordable Care Act that remain in place despite numerous attacks by President Trump and his administration.”

Scott remained vague on the issue.

“I think everybody ought to be able to get health care insurance,” Scott said. But he said the Affordable Care Act needs to be fixed because it’s “caused our premiums to skyrocket.”

He added: “But I don’t believe in grand bargains, I believe in incrementally trying to make change.” Among his brief suggestions: more competition, plans that fit individual families, and rewarding “people who take care of themselves.”

After being prompted by reporters to discuss Trump’s presidency, Scott lauded the administration’s work to secure funding for the dike at Lake Okeechobee. Scott said, “I’m optimistic that’s going to happen.”

As well, he said he appreciated the efforts of the Trump administration to reconsider oil drilling off Florida’s shore.

But when asked if Trump was doing a good job, Scott responded: “What I want is results.”

Joe Redner also wants Supreme Court to decide on medical marijuana

In an act of ‘humble plagiarism,’ Joe Redner‘s attorney is following the lead of John Morgan in asking the state Supreme Court to take over litigation on medical marijuana.

In a filing posted Monday, attorney Luke Lirot “suggests” that the state’s highest court take over deciding whether Redner — the Tampa strip club mogul — can grow and juice his own marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Jon Mills, the attorney who won a lower-court decision that medicinal cannabis can be smoked in Florida, has filed a similar pleading. The same judge presided over both cases: Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers. Both decisions were quickly appealed by the state and are now at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

“For the same reasons articulated in a virtually identical submittal … from which this submittal is humbly plagiarized in good faith, the important issue decided by the trial court requires immediate resolution,” Lirot wrote.

“Supreme Court review is highly probable because the issue inevitably involves the interpretation of a new section of the Constitution and the unconstitutionality of a statute,” he added. “Delay from two rounds of review only increases the injury for those who must wait to access a constitutionally protected medical treatment and postpones final determination by the Court.”

Both lawsuits involve the state constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, passed by 71 percent of voters in 2016. The amendment was spearheaded by Morgan, an Orlando attorney, entrepreneur and medical marijuana advocate. He also organized the smoking lawsuit. 

Gievers first ruled that the amendment gave Redner, a lung cancer survivor, the right to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it to prevent his cancer from recurring.

She later decided the amendment also included a right to smoke marijuana when a physician decides that’s the best use of the drug for a patient.

Both rulings are being fought by the Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

“There is a need for an immediate resolution of this dispute,” Lirot wrote. “The patients who qualify for medical marijuana … are those with debilitating medical conditions, including cancer, HIV, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

“For many Floridians, including Mr. Redner, their health care issues are urgent.”

Nikki Fried tries to parlay pot into Cabinet position

Nikki Fried has spent the past three years trying to tear down barriers to getting medical marijuana to Florida patients, facing roadblocks from state health officials and lawmakers in the process.

Now, a frustrated Fried is turning her advocacy into a broader platform — she’s running for Agriculture Commissioner.

It’s been no secret for some time among the state’s medical-marijuana industry insiders that the Fort Lauderdale Democrat was going to enter the race. But on Tuesday, Fried formally filed qualifying papers to run for the Cabinet post, which is open as term-limited Republican Adam Putnam runs for Governor.

Like many people in Florida and throughout the country, “I think that politics in government is broken,” Fried told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday.

“I witnessed it firsthand with the implementation of medical marijuana,” she said, referring to a constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2016.

Fried is among many critics who accuse Gov. Rick Scott’s administration of dragging its feet to put in place regulations for the state’s budding marijuana industry. Medical marijuana supporters also blame state lawmakers for creating too many obstacles to the industry and patients, such as a ban on smokable medical marijuana that a Tallahassee judge recently decided ran afoul of the constitutional amendment.

“Seventy-two percent of Floridians voted for medical marijuana in our Constitution, but the Legislature and our governor continued to block it every step of the way,” Fried, 40, said. “So I’m running because I think that we need new leadership in Tallahassee. I want to serve the state and listen to the will of the people and make sure that government starts getting back on track.”

Fried runs a one-woman lobbying shop, called “Igniting Florida,” which most people consider a tongue-in-cheek reference to her work in the marijuana arena.

Laughing, she explained that “Ignite” was the name of her party when she cut her political teeth as student body president at the University of Florida, where she also received her law degree and a master’s in campaign politics.

Like other experts in the marijuana industry, Fried believes that full legalization of marijuana is in Florida’s future, but she said she is currently focused on ensuring that the constitutional amendment is implemented and that sick patients get the treatment they need.

“As a former public defender, I saw day-in, day-out discrimination in law enforcement and so many of our minorities being arrested disproportionately on simple possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. The state is spending hundreds of millions of dollars incarcerating individuals for simple possession,” she said.

But for now, she said, the state needs to begin doing research and educating the public about the benefits of medicinal marijuana, which Fried called a better alternative to costly and highly addictive prescription drugs.

“This is a solution to our opiate crisis,” she said, adding that states where medical marijuana is legal have seen overdoses caused by opiates drop by up to 25 percent.

Fried said she believes she is the only candidate in the country who comes from the marijuana industry.

“Not just a supporter of the industry but knows all of the inner workings of the medical marijuana program not only here in Florida but across the country and understands all of the obstacles that have been put in the way of full implementation,” she said.

But marijuana isn’t all that Fried has on her mind in her pursuit of the Cabinet post.

She said she’s also paying attention to the other duties of the Agriculture Commissioner, including the issuance of concealed-weapons licenses.

Putnam came under fire after a report by the Tampa Bay Times last week that a former employee failed for more than a year to conduct national background checks on applications for concealed-weapons licenses. Putnam told reporters Saturday that the former employee failed to follow up on 365 applications and that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services had revoked 291 permits that had been issued in error.

“When I saw the article, my stomach dropped on how somebody who has been out there for eight years talking about his concealed weapons permits would allow something like this to happen. It’s almost like he stopped watching the store, whether that was because he was running for governor the whole time or just didn’t recognize the importance of this,” Fried said.

Fried stopped short of saying that Putnam should resign, as many Democrats have demanded.

“Certainly he does not need a promotion,” she said.

Fried said she is proudest of her accomplishments “defending people my entire life” while working on “white hat issues” including her stint in the public defender’s office, representing homeowners facing foreclosure and successfully lobbying for legislation that resulted in special-needs children in foster care getting legal representation.

Fried will face off against two other Democrats in the Aug. 28 primary, Jeffrey Porter and R. David Walker. The GOP side of the contest features Baxter Troutman, a former state House member from Winter Haven; Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring; Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers; and Plant City businessman Mike McCalister, a retired Army National Guard and Reserves colonel.

When asked what a South Florida lawyer knows about the agriculture industry, Fried said people throughout the state want good leaders.

“I have a proven track record of breaking down barriers, crossing party lines to get things accomplished. They want somebody who’s going to listen and fight for them. I have been a strong advocate for anything I fight for. That would be no different” as Agriculture Commissioner, she said.

MedMen paying $53M to enter Florida medical marijuana market

The country’s biggest medical marijuana provider on Wednesday announced it was buying its way into the Florida market.

In a press release, MedMen Enterprises Inc. of Los Angeles said it had agreed to pay $53 million for what’s known in Florida as a “medical marijuana treatment center” license from Central Florida’s Treadwell Nursery.

MedMen management say they will host a conference call about the deal, to be live streamed on their website, at 9 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday.

State records show Treadwell, which has one of 13 active licenses in the state, has “cultivation authorization only.” Florida has a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

A Treadwell representative reached Wednesday declined comment.

“As part of the transaction, MedMen will acquire Treadwell Nursery’s cultivation facility on 5 acres in Eustis, and the right to open 25 medical marijuana dispensaries,” the release said.

“For nearly a decade, we have been positioning ourselves to capitalize on enormous market opportunities like this.” MedMen co-founder and CEO Adam Bierman said in a statement. “This acquisition is right in line with our strategy of establishing a presence early on in high potential markets with limited licenses and large populations.

“Florida is the third most populous state in the country with a medical marijuana market estimated to reach $1 billion in annual sales by 2020,” he added. “MedMen has built the best-in-class brand, and we continue to invest in premium assets that solidify our dominant position in the most important cannabis markets in the world.”

Taylor Patrick Biehl, co-founder and policy director of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said Wednesday’s announcement “clearly demonstrates real interest in the emerging market.”

But, he added, “the devil is in the details as it relates to cannabis stock plays.”

On Wednesday afternoon, MedMen stock (MMEN), which trades on the Canadian Securities Exchange, was $3.89 a share, down a penny from the day’s open. Its 52-week high is $5.73. 

The deal, expected to close within 90 days, “is subject to customary closing conditions, including receipt of state regulatory approvals,” according to the release. “If certain regulatory approvals are not obtained, (MedMen) and Treadwell Nursery will have the right to terminate the agreement.”

Department of Health spokesman, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, said the agency “will review the request once it is received.”

MedMen has operations in California, Nevada and New York, which employ over 800 people and “combined account for nearly half of North America’s addressable legal market,” the company’s website says.

Judge says OK to quick effect of marijuana ruling

No surprise: A Tallahassee judge has decided her ruling to allow patients to smoke medical marijuana in Florida should be effective sooner rather than later. 

In a Tuesday orderCircuit Judge Karen Gievers said her decision will now take effect Monday, according to plaintiffs’ counsel Jon Mills

His clients include Cathy Jordan, a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who had testified she wouldn’t be alive but for smoking marijuana.

“The judge perceived the urgency here,” Mills said in a phone interview. “There will be people who need to obtain relief, and they either can’t do it or risk committing a crime.”

The state had appealed the decision, which places an automatic ‘stay,’ or hold, on the ruling pending review. Gievers’ latest order lifts that stay.

The state’s attorneys are expected to next ask the 1st District Court of Appeal to reinstate the stay, as they did in the case of Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner, whom Gievers allowed to grow his own marijuana for juicing.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Health said the agency is reviewing the ruling and “working every day to implement the law.” The agency said medical marijuana is still available to patients.

“Our focus remains with ensuring that patients have access to medical marijuana, and the Florida Department of Health has made significant progress in making this treatment available,” interim communications director Devin Galetta said.

In fact, there are more than 117,00 patients who have access to medical marijuana and over 1,300 doctors are licensed to order this treatment. There are dispensaries located across the state and patients have access to home delivery.”

The latest move doesn’t mean Jordan and others will be able to buy marijuana for smoking anytime soon, however.

As Assistant Attorney General Karen Brodeen said at a Monday hearing, there is no way now to get medical marijuana for smoking, and even if legal it would have to subject to rulemaking, “which could take several months.”

In other words, smokable medical marijuana still won’t be available as of Monday.

The legal challenge over smoking was organized by Orlando attorney John Morganwho bankrolled the 2016 state constitutional amendment allowing medicinal cannabis.

On Tuesday, he again tweeted to Gov. Rick Scott to drop the appeal: “#SlickRick please follow the law & the will of 72% of the people. Everyday you waste taxpayers’ money w/ this frivolous appeal sick people, veterans, cops, firefighters & cancer patients suffer! Where is your compassion man?”

He ended the tweet with a quote from Tuesday’s order: “There is no likelihood of success by the (state on appeal).”

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Updated 10 p.m. — Morgan sent the following statement to Florida Politics:

“The judge said the choice between breathing and committing a crime was not fair. Rick Scott is wasting taxpayers’ money on this frivolous appeal while veterans, cops, firefighters (with PTSD) and really sick people suffer. This callous meanness has no room in Florida. This act of cruelty will cost him the Senate seat. Medical (marijuana) got 500,000 more votes than he did.”

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Florida Politics’ Danny McAuliffe contributed reporting. 

‘Flower’ fight: Citrus preference sparks medical marijuana rule challenge

A Tampa orchid nursery seeking to break into the medical marijuana market is challenging the Department of Health‘s plan to give a preference in how it awards new licenses to grow the plant.

Louis Del Favero Orchids filed a challenge Friday to a proposed rule from the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which regulates the drug.

At issue is a provision in state law that gives preference in granting medical marijuana provider licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories. It’s part of legislation that implemented the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state.

For up to two licenses, according to state law, “the department shall give preference to applicants that … own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”

Del Favero says in its filing it bought “facilities that were used in citrus processing specifically for the purpose of converting those facilities for use in processing medical marijuana.”

Now, the company suggests it could have a white elephant on its hands.

The state’s proposed rule, the challenge says, “would provide no additional points to most applicants that qualify for the citrus preference” and “provides no assurance that the preference will actually result in any licenses being issued to applicants” that qualify.

Del Favero also argues that the department goes too far in using the word “property,” rather than “facility” as in law, saying it’s “granting the citrus preference to a broader group of applicants than the statute permits.”

But it’s not clear lawmakers intended on applicants simply buying an old packing plant to take advantage of the preference.

Sen. Rob Bradley—the Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the legislation during a 2017 Special Session—has said the preference was born to benefit longtime citrus producers who took a hit in recent years from the citrus greening malady.

“If you travel parts of the state, it breaks your heart to see these old orange juice factories, jobs lost,” he said then. “Transitioning some of those facilities to something new is good.”

He also told the News Service of Florida last year that “some of those old-line facilities and businesses are deteriorating much like the city of Detroit. This would allow them to have an opportunity to redesign or repurpose their facilities.”

Bradley declined immediate comment when reached Monday, saying he wanted to review the filing.

Added Devin Galetta, interim communications director for the Florida Department of Health: “The department received the petition this afternoon and is in the process of reviewing.”

Del Favero is no stranger to marijuana litigation.

In one instance, it filed to intervene in a lawsuit last year by Sarasota’s Tropiflora, which argued the citrus preference was an “unconstitutional special advantage” that puts the company at a “disadvantage” in competing for licenses to be what the state calls a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

That suit had been set for trial later this month, but Tropiflora withdrew it without explanation in May.

Judge will decide on lifting ‘stay’ in smokable marijuana case

A Tallahassee judge on Monday did not immediately rule on whether to immediately make effective her ruling to allow patients to smoke medical marijuana in Florida. 

After a nearly hourlong hearing, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers said she’d take the plaintiffs’ request “under advisement” but added she would make a decision “as quickly as possible.”

Gievers also asked plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Mills if his clients would object to holding off for a short time before she lifted a ‘stay‘ on the decision. Mills said OK to a week’s delay.

His clients include Cathy Jordan, a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who had testified she wouldn’t be alive but for smoking marijuana.

The judge on May 25 overturned part of a law passed last year by the Legislature that prohibited patients with “qualifying medical conditions” from smoking medicinal cannabis.

She had agreed with the argument 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.”

“It seems the constitutional argument is clear,” Mills told Gievers. “It’s simply not possible for a statute (and thus, legislators) to substitute its judgment for that of the constitution.”

Assistant Attorney General Karen Brodeen countered that there is no way now to get medical marijuana for smoking, and even if legal it would have to subject to rulemaking, “which could take several months.”

In other words, even if the stay was lifted, smokable medical marijuana wouldn’t be “immediately” available.

A state law, known as an “implementing statute,” aimed to carry out the 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana for a wide range of patients. Lawmakers, however, banned smoking. That quickly drew a legal challenge organized by Orlando attorney John Morgan.

He bankrolled the amendment and put together what he calls the ‘no smoke is a joke’ lawsuit. Morgan called on Gov. Rick Scott last week to drop the appeal. Morgan did not attend Monday’s hearing.

The Florida Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, appealed Gievers’ ruling on allowing smokable marijuana, which led to an automatic stay of her ruling. The plaintiffs then filed a motion seeking to vacate the stay.

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Background contributed by The News Service of Florida. 

Hearing set in smokable medical marijuana lawsuit

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers will hear arguments this morning about lifting an automatic stay of a ruling that would allow patients to smoke medical marijuana.

Gievers on May 25 overturned part of a law passed last year by the Legislature that barred patients from smoking medical marijuana.

The law was designed to carry out a 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana for a wide range of patients, but the smoking ban quickly drew a legal challenge.

The Florida Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, appealed Gievers’ ruling on allowing smokable marijuana, which led to an automatic stay of the ruling.

The plaintiffs then filed a motion seeking to vacate the stay. Gievers will consider that request at a hearing today at 9 a.m., in the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee.

She had agreed with the argument 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.”

Orlando attorney John Morgan has called on Gov. Rick Scott to drop the appeal. Morgan bankrolled the amendment and organized what he calls the ‘no smoke is a joke’ lawsuit.

“How much more money is the state of Florida going to spend chasing (its) tail?” he said in a news conference last week.

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Background contributed by Tallahassee correspondent Jim Rosica. 

Bill Nelson a hard no on adult use cannabis legalization

Cannabis legalization is approaching consensus in the Democratic field for Florida governor, but U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is maintaining a ‘Just say no’ policy.

Speaking to media in Jacksonville on Friday, Nelson was asked if he aligned with the growing consensus among the Democratic candidates for liberalization of cannabis laws, including decriminalization, legalization, and removing the plant from Schedule 1.

“That’s a fancy way that you’ve asked me ‘Do I agree with recreational marijuana’, and the answer is no,” Nelson said, breaking from hisa usual pattern of essayist expositions when answering questions.

Nelson, unprompted, broached the subject of medical marijuana by way of tweaking Gov. Rick Scott.

“This question of him trying to torpedo the constitutional amendment for medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor,” nettled Nelson, who has been messaging statewide on this issue, including advocacy of smokable medical cannabis in Tampa Thursday.

Nelson’s paradox: his measured support of medical cannabis is out of step with a more liberal approach among other Democrats with statewide profiles. While he may score points against the Scott position, his opposition to rescheduling cannabis won’t excite many activists.

John Morgan calls on Rick Scott to drop medical marijuana appeal

Saying “this madness has to end,” Orlando attorney John Morgan called on Gov. Rick Scott to drop the hastily-filed appeal of a decision allowing medical marijuana to be smoked in Florida.

Morgan spoke at a Tuesday news conference that was streamed live on Facebook.

In a 22-page order released Friday, Tallahassee 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.

Gievers agreed with the argument 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.”

The state filed a notice of appeal within minutes of the decision’s release. 

“How much more money is the state of Florida going to spend chasing (its) tail?” Morgan said. He backed the amendment, passed by 71 percent of voters, and filed the lawsuit against the ban. 

” … I really believe that Gov. Scott is playing with political wildfire for something that he does not have to do.” The term-limited Naples Republican now is trying to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson

Scott is “going to have to explain to veterans and really sick people and people who have really bad injuries why (he) kept this (case) going,” Morgan said. ” … Rick Scott is the boss and the buck stops there, with the man wearing the Navy hat.”

The state regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, under the Department of Health, the named defendant in the case. It reports to Scott.

Last year, lawmakers approved and Scott signed into law an implementing bill for the amendment that does not allow marijuana to be smoked. It does allow edibles, oils and ‘vaping,’ among other uses.

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

“Anybody that gets upset if he decided to drop this appeal, they’re not going to vote against him,” Morgan said. ” … I believe Gov. Scott has a political chance to make a huge dent … Imagine the headlines tomorrow: ‘Great Scott: Gov. Scott drops medical marijuana appeal.’ I think he gains five points overnight.”

Assuming the governor presses forward, “the fight goes on,” Morgan said. “They did not count on a person like me. Thank God I have the resources … Thank God I hate to lose.”

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