Medical marijuana – Page 3 – Florida Politics

Judge strikes down ban on smoking medical marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court takes initial pass on ‘home grow’ case

The Florida Supreme Court has turned down a request from Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner to let him immediately pursue growing and juicing his own marijuana.

The court on Friday denied his petition to remove a delay of the effect of a lower court’s ruling. The case now is under review at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Friday’s 1-paragraph order says Redner had “failed to demonstrate” that getting involved now was “necessary to protect this court’s eventual jurisdiction or to prevent irreparable harm.”

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers had tried to make her order last month immediately applicable.

It confirms that Redner — a 77-year-old lung cancer survivor — has the right to ‘home grow’ under 2016’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana. His doctor says juiced marijuana is the best way to keep his cancer in remission. 

The Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, appealed. That caused the delay of the effect of Gievers’ ruling. The state says only licensed medical marijuana providers can grow cannabis in Florida.

Luke Lirot, Redner’s attorney, has said the state erroneously argues that the amendment doesn’t mean what it says: That qualified marijuana patients can grow their own.

The state’s legal definition of “cannabis” says it’s “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not (and) the seeds thereof,” which Lirot says bolsters Redner’s case.

Redner, owner of the Mons Venus nightclub, is a vegan. Gievers’ order limits him to no more than eight ounces or raw marijuana daily, based on his doctors’ recommendations. It applies only to Redner and allows him to “possess, grow and use marijuana” only for juicing.

Health spokesman Devin Galetta has said the agency “fully expects Judge Gievers’ ruling to be reversed on appeal.”

State files to block effect of ‘home grow’ ruling

The state’s Department of Health says a trial court made an “erroneous conclusion” that Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner has a constitutional right to homegrown, juiced (medical) marijuana.”

But Redner’s attorney says the state simply continues to argue – also erroneously – that the state’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana doesn’t mean what it says.

The department filed a response Friday to Redner’s request to the state’s Supreme Court to allow him to immediately pursue growing and juicing his own marijuana.

He won a decision, now under appeal, from Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers last month that Redner — a 77-year-old lung cancer survivor — has an immediate right to ‘home grow.’ His doctor says juiced marijuana is the best way to keep his cancer in remission, though the state countered he “also acknowledged the lack of scientific research to support this claim.”

But the state appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which reinstated a delay of the effect of the ruling while the case is under review there. Redner asked that court to expedite the appeal.

The Health Department regulates medicinal cannabis through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

In its response, the department’s lawyers in part argued that under the “definition of ‘medical use,’ a qualifying patient is not entitled to cultivate (i.e., grow) or process marijuana because the words ‘cultivate’ and ‘process’ are not included” in the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016.

“Instead, the right to cultivate and process medical marijuana is reserved for” authorized medical marijuana providers, it says.

But the state’s definition of “cannabis” says it’s “all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not (and) the seeds thereof,” which Redner says bolsters his case.

While he awaits the appeal, he’s also asking Gievers to order the state to reimburse his legal costs — including $16,000 for PowerPoint presentations — because he won the lawsuit. The state later asked that the costs request be held “in abeyance” pending the appeal.

Health spokesman Devin Galetta has said the agency “fully expects Judge Gievers’ ruling to be reversed on appeal.”

Luke Lirot, Redner’s attorney, said he “disagrees with the department’s arguments” and said the stay should be lifted. 

“We have an important constitutional issue that will invariably be before them, coupled with (Redner’s) emergent medical condition,” he said. “… Time is of the essence.”

Redner, owner of the Mons Venus nightclub, also is a vegan. Gievers’ order limits him to no more than eight ounces or raw marijuana daily, based on his doctors’ recommendations. It applies only to Redner and allows him to “possess, grow and use marijuana” only for juicing.

Friday’s full 22-page filing is here.

Surterra Wellness setting up shop in Largo

Surterra Wellness’ newest medical marijuana treatment center will open for business in Largo Thursday morning.

The new venue, located at 10761 Ulmerton Rd., is the company’s third in the Tampa Bay region and eighth in the Sunshine State. Other locations include Miami Beach, Orlando, Deltona, Pensacola and Tallahassee, with a Jacksonville location on the horizon.

Surterra’s launching the new “Wellness Center” with a grand opening event, set to run from 10 am to noon Thursday, where locals can stop by and have their questions on medical marijuana or Surterra’s product line answered, or to simply mingle with other attendees.

Directions to the Largo MMTC are available on the Surterra website, as is an offer for new customers to receive $50 off their first purchase if they’re a registered medical marijuana patient.

Surterra is one of the largest marijuana cultivators in the blooming Sunshine State medical marijuana industry. The Atlanta-based company’s product line includes a series of vaporizer pens – devices similar in size and shape to the electronic cigarettes found in many gas stations – that deliver marijuana extracts to patients via an inhaled vapor. Unlike their nicotine-delivering cousins, however, the “Relief Vaporizer Pens” never need to be charged.

Other products offered by the company include patches, oils, tinctures, lotions and sprays.

The company has also recently “joined the fight to allow direct-to-patient sales of full cannabis plants,” with CEO Jake Bergmann saying last month that medical marijuana patients “should be able to obtain cannabis in any format their doctor thinks will work best to treat them.”

Florida’s current medical marijuana laws do not allow the plant to be smoked, and it must instead be consumed via some other, non-combustible method.

Lawmakers fire another warning shot over medical marijuana rules

A legislative panel is again taking the state’s medical marijuana regulators to task, asking whether they are “refusing to modify the rules” governing the drug.

Kenneth Plante, coordinator of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC), fired off a letter Tuesday to Department of Health general counsel Nichole Geary.

In it, he said the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use had failed to address the committee’s prior objections in its proposed rules issued May 1.

“Was this an oversight, or is the Department now taking the position that it is refusing to modify the rules?” Plante wrote.    

Among other things, medicinal cannabis regulators didn’t respond to objections earlier this year over a $60,000 “nonrefundable application fee” to become a marijuana provider, and a provision for “contingent” licenses, saying they weren’t in state law.

“I think it is fair to say that the Department’s failure to address the Committee’s objections … is not indicative of a good faith effort” to work with lawmakers, Plante wrote.

The letter was copied to Sen. Kevin Rader, the Delray Beach Democrat who chairs the committee; Health Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip and Office of Medical Marijuana Use director Christian Bax.

“The department is reviewing the letter received today,” Health Department spokesman Devin Galetta said Tuesday. “We are committed to pushing forward with the additional licenses and look forward to working with JAPC to finalize these rules as quickly as possible in order to meet our goals.”

The committee, which ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, has previously had problems with medical marijuana rulemaking.

Lawmakers have been upset for months, mainly over what they call the department’s slow-going in implementing medical marijuana under a 2016 constitutional amendment that voters passed by 71 percent.

Lawmakers later approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed an implementing bill, which gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

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

The committee had also sent 15 letters to the department since October giving Health officials a heads-up as to concerns—to be met with no response.

“Our responses are a collaborative process between leadership, legal and policy,” Bax said at that meeting. “We think it’s appropriate to give these objections the time and consideration they’re due … We’ll respond in good time.”

The Legislature also included a provision in the 2018-19 state budget that freezes a portion of salaries and benefits for the department’s brass, including Philip and Bax, until they get a move on in writing new rules.

Pay up: Joe Redner seeks costs after winning ‘home grow’ lawsuit

Joe Redner now wants a court to order the state to reimburse his legal costs — including $16,000 for PowerPoint presentations — after he won a lawsuit to start growing and juicing his own medical marijuana.

The Tampa strip club mogul last week filed a motion with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, seeking more than $45,000 to pay for court fees, transcripts, and travel and lodging, among other things. 

The PowerPoint displays used at trial should be reimbursable, attorney Luke Lirot argued in the motion, because they “were admitted into evidence.”

“All requested costs are within reasonable bounds,” he added.

In a decision now under appeal, Gievers last month ruled that Redner — a 77-year-old lung cancer survivor — has an immediate right to ‘home grow.’ 

His doctors say juiced marijuana is the best way to keep Redner’s cancer in remission. The owner of the Mons Venus nightclub also is a vegan.

Gievers’ order limits Redner to no more than eight ounces or raw marijuana daily, based on his doctors’ recommendations. It applies only to Redner and allows him to “possess, grow and use marijuana” only for juicing.

The 1st District Court of Appeal later reinstated a delay of the effect of the ruling while the case is under review there. Redner has asked that court to expedite the appeal.

The Department of Health regulates medicinal cannabis through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Spokesman Devin Galetta again on Monday said the agency “fully expects Judge Giever’s ruling to be reversed on appeal.” 

Health Department sends ‘warning’ to Joe Redner’s marijuana doc

The head of the clinic where Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner‘s doctor works says he’s concerned whether medical marijuana regulators are “trying to go after Dr. Barry Gordon because of his involvement in the Redner case.”

Redner is a lung cancer survivor who is in remission, and Gordon recommended juiced marijuana as the best way to keep his cancer in check.

Redner later sued and won a recent ruling from Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers to grow his own marijuana for juicing; that decision is being appealed by the state’s Department of Health, which includes the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU).

Patrick DeLuca, CEO of the Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, confirmed the content of emails independently obtained this week by Florida Politics between Gordon and the OMMU.

“You should know that … for the first time in 18 months, the OMMU sent a ‘warning’ email to Dr. Gordon which contained protected private patient information (unredacted) alleging mistakes made in entering patients” into the state’s medical marijuana use registry, DeLuca told Florida Politics Wednesday.

An OMMU staff member first wrote to Gordon noting “deficiencies” in his filings, including “incorrect” Social Security numbers or missing telephone numbers for five patients.

Gordon responded that he had entered complete Social Security numbers but the state’s computer system had “truncated” them to the last four digits. He also said phone numbers aren’t “required fields.”

“As I testified” in Redner’s lawsuit against the state, he added, “there have been numerous bugs, outages, missing orders and data that was completely entered that disappeared due to what is believed to be shoddy coding….” He then said he had fixed the entries.

Courtney Coppola, OMMU’s deputy director under Christian Bax, copied on that email, shot back: “This email was in no way related to the ongoing litigation and further communication regarding the case will be directed to the Office of General Counsel.”

“The functionality related to being unable to save without providing a complete Social Security number is relatively new,” she wrote, “and while it was required, some profiles were saved without this information.

“In an effort to best assist Florida’s patients and physicians, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use was taking a proactive step to complete these profiles.”

Asked for comment, Devin Galetta – interim communications director for the Department of Health – on Thursday said that in an “effort to ensure that all qualified ordering physicians remain complaint with (state law), the Office of Medical Marijuana Use may contact physicians to supply/correct any missing or incomplete data in the registry.” 

He then repeated verbatim what Coppola had told Gordon: “The functionality related to being unable to save without providing a complete Social Security number is relatively new, and while it was required, some profiles were saved without this information. In an effort to best assist Florida’s patients and physicians, the Office … was taking a proactive step to complete these profiles.”

Gordon could not be reached at his Venice office this week. Galetta has previously said the department “fully expects Judge Gievers’ ruling to be reversed on appeal.”

(The emails in question, reprinted below, have been edited to exclude personal identifying information.)


Matt Gaetz, Carlos Curbelo, Darren Soto lead marijuana research bill

Touting it as the most bipartisan and therefore best-prospect bill in a long time for the issue, Florida’s U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz unveiled a proposal to legalize and promote federal research into medical marijuana Thursday.

Gaetz, the Republican from Fort Walton Beach, was joined by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, the Republican from Kendall, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, the Democrat from Orlando, and several other lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, to announce the Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018.

Gaetz, who pushed through Florida’s medical marijuana law in 2014 when he was in the Florida House of Representatives, said the federal bill starts with a bipartisan group of 26 sponsors and co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“I’m very excited about this legislation. I have a high level of confidence that it will be marked up and passed out of the House Judiciary Committee, which will be historic,” Gaetz said. “Never before in Republican control of the Congress has the Judiciary Committee even taken up cannabis reform.”

Curbelo called it a complicated issue, with a lot of politics, and stigma, but said the matter of research should be simple.

“What we’re all proposing today is that research institutions and the federal government be allowed to discover, to learn about this substance, potential benefits, potential risks,” Curbelo said. “The truth about marijuana, about cannabis should be laid out for everyone to see. And the decisions that we make as a government, and, by the way, that doctors make, should be based on science and fact.”

The bill would provide “safe harbor” status to federal research institutions to conduct research into the medical pros and cons of marijuana and other forms of cannabis. It also would allow private research efforts to start receiving federal grants. The bill also calls for the establishment of more federally-controlled cannabis farms, to increase the amount of research-grade cannabis for researchers to study. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has one, at the University of Mississippi.

Soto and several other initial backers, including Democratic Republican U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic U.S. Reps. Lou Correa, and Barbara Lee, all of California; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, talked about the recognized therapeutic effects for epilepsy, seizures, and other neurological maladies, and the prospects it has to help veterans,  as a safer alternative to opioids.

“This has been sinful that we have prevented the type of research that can go into cannabis,” Rohrabacher said.

Previously, Gaetz and Soto co-introduced a bill that would remove marijuana from its status as a “Schedule I” narcotic, which would have cleared it for research and largely decriminalized it on a federal level.

“Since Congress isn’t ready yet to do just that, at the very least we can start official research and protect folks through safe harbors to conduct research,” Soto said.


Dana Young: Let’s get the medical marijuana licensing train rolling

Sen. Dana Young is pressing the Department of Health to ramp up efforts to issue more licenses for medical marijuana providers.

Young, a Tampa Republican, sent a letter to Office of Medical Marijuana Use director Christian Bax on Tuesday.

She referred to the state’s cracking the 100,000 mark last Friday – coincidentally on April 20, or 4/20 – in the number of registered medicinal cannabis patients.

Lawmakers, as well as patient and provider advocates, have been complaining about Florida’s supply of medicinal cannabis not keeping up with what they say is the burgeoning demand.

“Given the indisputable fact that patient demand for medical marijuana is quickly increasing, my strong recommendation is that the Department award the additional four contingent MMTC (medical marijuana treatment centers) licenses in the upcoming review cycle to be activated once the number of qualified patients reaches 200,000,” Young wrote.

Approved MMTCs currently number 13, with 34 retail locations across the state, state records show.

“Thus, the review for issuance of licenses for the 200,000 patient threshold would be done at the same time as the review for licenses to meet the initial 100,000 threshold,” Young said.

She added: “Based on information from my constituents and others interested in the success of Florida’s medical marijuana program, there are many interested and qualified applicants for these statutorily mandated additional MMTC licenses, ensuring that the current application cycle will have a sufficient number of strong candidates.”

(For those wondering, her campaign account reported a $1,000 contribution on March 30 from Surterra Texas, a medical cannabis company. Surterra also is licensed in Florida, with six dispensaries here. Young faces re-election this November against outgoing Democratic House Leader Janet Cruz, also of Tampa. Democrat Bob Buesing has said he’s dropping out of the race.)

But a Health Department spokesman last week noted that patients not only have to be registered to trigger additional licenses, but also “active” and “qualified,” according to state law.

That means they also must have a patient identification card, Devin Galleta said. As of last Friday’s tally, the number of “approved ID card applications” is only 75,208, with 2,935 more applications being processed.

Young has lambasted Bax before over the backlog of applications for both marijuana growing and dispensing licenses and state-issued patient ID cards. Bax, in turn, blamed delays, in part, on the number of lawsuits and administrative challenges over marijuana.

At a committee meeting last October, Young shot back, “I’m not buying it that because there’s litigation out there you can’t fulfill your statutory duty to issue these licenses.”

“The department is currently in the rulemaking process for the acceptance of new MMTC license applications,” Galleta said Tuesday. “We appreciate Sen. Young’s input into the process and will take her recommendation into consideration as we work to finalize the rule.”

The full text of the letter is here.

State tops 100,000 marijuana patients—but don’t expect more providers

Florida now has topped 100,000 patients in its medical marijuana use registry, according to the Department of Health.

But that doesn’t mean the department will issue another four licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana, as provided under state law.


The Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) reported Friday – coincidentally on April 20, or 4/20 – that there were 100,576 people in the state’s medical marijuana registry.

State law says within six months of cracking the 100,000 mark, “the department shall license four additional medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs).” With every additional 100,000 patients, another four licenses have to issue.

Here’s the catch: Those patients have to be “active” and “qualified.”

That means “a resident of this state who has been added to the medical marijuana use registry by a qualified physician to receive marijuana or a marijuana delivery device for a medical use, and who has a qualified patient identification card,” Health spokesman Devin Galleta explained in an email.

As the department’s own disclaimer says, “Not all patients entered into the medical marijuana use registry apply for medical marijuana use identification cards.”

And the number of “approved ID card applications” is only 75,208, according to OMMU records. There are 2,935 applications now being processed.

Approved MMTCs number 13, with 34 retail locations across the state, records show.

Gary Stein, among other things a medical marijuana advocate and marijuana historian, has been critical of the state, as have lawmakers, for a backlog of applications for state-issued patient ID cards. The Legislature earlier this year cut top Health Department officials’ pay until regulators fully implement medical marijuana.

“Who are these people who were registered by their doctors, but have no card, nor are they in the (queue) to get a card?” wrote Stein in February, on the CannaChronicle website.

He further questioned why patients paid hundreds of dollars “for their doctor visits, then never bothered to send in the $75 and their application to get their card?”

“It is possible some may have died,” he added. “We know from talking to several MMJ doctors that people have died waiting for their cards.”

Nonetheless, Friday’s news comes as some cheer to those representing medical marijuana businesses.

“Today’s number shows the perpetually maturing patient base in Florida,”said Taylor Patrick Biehl, who help runs the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. “It is our hope that those anxiously awaiting to apply for MMTC licenses will soon be able to, creating a more equitable, accessible and affordable market for our patient base.”

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