Medical marijuana Archives - Page 5 of 34 - Florida Politics

House medical marijuana amendment could quicken pace for new licenses

After months of discussion, the House appears ready take steps to open up the medical marijuana industry.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues filed an 82-page, delete all amendment on his medical marijuana implementing bill (HB 1397) early Tuesday morning. The amendment comes just hours before the House is scheduled to vote on the bill.

The amendment, among other things, appears to quicken the pace by which the state issues licenses for medical marijuana treatment centers.

Under the proposed amendment, current license holders would be grandfathered in and receive a license to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana, as well as low-THC cannabis. The amendment also calls on the department to license any applicants denied a license, if the applicant was awarded “a license pursuant to an administrative or legal challenge.”

While that language was contained in the amended version of the bill lawmakers discussed on Friday, the amendment put forth Tuesday calls on the Department of Health to issue 10 more licenses “as soon as practicable, but no later than July 1, 2018.”

According to the amendment, one of the applicants in each region must be the “next-highest scoring applicant after the applicant or applicants that were awarded a license for that region; was not a litigant in an administrative challenge on or after March 31; and is not licensed in another region.” The department must also issue a license to a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalist Association.

The amendment then calls on the department to issue four additional licenses within six months after the registration of 100,000 active, qualified patients in compassionate use registry.

The bill as it currently stands doesn’t bring new licenses online until 150,000 qualified patients register with the medical marijuana use registry.

The House is scheduled to take up the bill when it meets at 10:30 a.m. today.

Michael J. Bowen: For epilepsy, Senate medical marijuana bill is ‘step in right direction’

Michael J. Bowen

You may have heard about a man having a grand mal seizure on the Florida Senate floor two weeks ago.

That was me.

I am a die-hard conservative activist.

I support Floridians’ now-constitutional right to access medical marijuana.

And I’m a patient.

I was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 13 and like most went through the brutal process of trying numerous barbiturates until finding the right ‘cocktail’ that worked. Every epileptic case is unique and requires a custom treatment. In my case, it took 600 mg of downers per day to control my seizures; affecting my motor skills, thinking and lifestyle.

Needless to say, it was a life changing event.

Thirty-four years later, my epilepsy is intractable. That means big pharma drugs no longer work to prevent my seizures. After a year of research, my wife convinced me to try CBD oil, which has virtually no THC. It works.

After months of testing dosages, we have reduced the severity and quantity of my seizures dramatically. CBD oil also works as a “rescue” medication that can stop a seizure within seconds, and it is the only medicine that helps my epilepsy.

One in 26 people have epilepsy; more than Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Autism and Cerebral Palsy combined. Every year over 54,000 people will die as a result of epileptic seizures — the fourth leading killer in Florida alone. Epileptics like myself literally wake up and thank God for another day.

Medical marijuana is helping ensure that I get the chance to wake up every day.

It is hard to adequately explain what having a seizure is like.  For me, I get an “aura” seconds before going into full convulsions.  When I come out of it, I can’t tell you my name, my wife’s name, where I am, or even what year it is.  All of this comes back over the next hour or so.  I do, however, recognize people.

The pain is extraordinary. Imagine your hardest workout and multiply that by 10.

After a seizure, sheer exhaustion puts me to sleep for days. After the last time — at the Senate committee — I bit my tongue so hard I could barely talk for a week.

Three weeks ago, as a member of the board of directors for the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, we held a “walk the talk” awareness event. There were dozens of kids walking who suffered from epilepsy.

Four families walked in-memoriam of children who had died.

It was truly emotional and steeled my resolve to fight for those kids.

I tell you this so you will understand the true medical need for cannabis.  It is incomprehensible to think we make opiate painkillers more accessible that a natural healthy alternative.

House Bill 1397 — even in its amended form — is an awful attempt to make medical marijuana legal in name only.

HB 1397 is the equivalent of Obamacare:  many have health insurance, but outrageous deductibles prevent most from getting actual health care.

It’s a disaster for patients.

I support Senate Bill 406, aka the Bradley bill. It’s not perfect, but a step in the right direction.

In the final legislation, I would like to see more competition and the decriminalization of public application by caregivers.  It should never be a crime to save a life. Period.

I was a senior adviser for Donald Trump’s campaign in Florida, and proud of the result. We won with 49 percent of the vote in November. In comparison, a whopping 71 percent of the voters told our legislature to legalize medical cannabis.

I am very disturbed that the will of the people is largely being ignored.

I can assure lawmakers that, regardless of party affiliation, if you vote against the will of the people, we will work get you out of office.

My wife and I, along with numerous other patients and caregivers will be back in Tallahassee this week to continue to fight for this lifesaving medicine.

I would urge anyone reading this to go to identify your representative and senator and remind them of their duty.

Hurry up! Session ends this Friday.


Michael J. Bowen is CEO of Coalition For a Strong America  ( and a board member of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida. He is a patient, not a criminal.

Medical marijuana: OK, it time to drop caps on dispensaries

To be frank, it was a pretty smart move, in retrospect.

As competing bills to implement Amendment 2 get bogged down mid-Session, the hot-button flashpoints began: The number of new medical marijuana licensees, as well as the process to award those highly-valued “Willy Wonka” golden tickets.

Current license holders have a point: “We invested millions (at your statutory direction) in anticipation of Amendment 2 passing to become operational.”

And, in case anyone forgot, investors are losing their shirts waiting for the number of patients to grow to the point where they can start recouping investments.

Not bad.

The pro-Amendment 2 folks also have a pretty good argument. Not so much an argument; more like a threat.

Essentially, it’s this: “71 percent of voters supported this. They are going to be mad if they can’t get cheap medical weed.”

“And, by the way, did we mention that 71 percent of voters supported it?”

You see, things are starting to get bogged down.

To compel current medical cannabis licensees to back off their position, somebody (with some strategy smarts) said: “OK, let’s show them. Let them keep their licenses, but make those licenses nearly worthless.”

Then, former Sen. Frank Artiles introduced an amendment limiting licensees to three dispensaries each.

What would that mean if the bill’s amendment to cap dispensaries (which had been adopted) became law? The current crop of more than a half-dozen entities — those that already went through the legal/financial/statutory gauntlet to become a fully-functional and legal medical marijuana grower/producer/sellers — would be limited to just three outlets. (They can also secure home delivery — in limited amounts.)

That would result in either severely restricting access to medical marijuana to anyone living around a major metropolitan area, or make the cost of the product would be extremely expensive. Or both.

And considering that local municipalities are proactively limiting those numbers through local zoning ordinances, this is piling on to a level that could put medical marijuana out of reach for most patients — particularly those who really need it.

Let us step back, shall we?

At first, these caps, from what I have heard from many sources, were not meant to be something to become law. Even pro-Amendment 2 folks supported it. They were doing such — and this is a vital point — only as a means of leveraging to acquire more licenses, with fewer restrictions.

After all, they were looking for more access, fewer hurdles, and lower prices.

In short, less would be more — or at least that was the theory.

But it’s not.

In the present circumstance, less is less. And caps on dispensaries means less access, fewer available products, and fewer licensees. But when it comes to cost, less is more — medical weed prices would skyrocket, that is.

To be clear, pro-Amendment 2 folks are really not looking for limited access and higher prices — it seems obvious they were pushing this notion simply to upset the game.

They are seeking more product at a lower price; this was a way (they hoped) to get to that end.

That is what they did, and succeeded.

But now the dust has settled, and the Senate bill still has caps in it.

With only three full days left, it may just be time to back off.

Caps on dispensaries — at any number — helps nobody. What it does is hurts those who took a chance, making an investment in medical cannabis. It also hurts those who live in rural (and even some suburban) areas.

Also, dispensary caps hurt patients — particularly those who are very sick or need to travel.

And, most of all, it hurts the 71 percent who supported medical marijuana for severely ill patients.

It’s time to drop the caps and move on.

House prepares medical marijuana bill for vote

The Florida House began discussions on its medical marijuana implementation bill, teeing it up for a vote early next week.

The proposal (HB 1397) was amended Friday to move it closer to the Senate bill (SB 406), but House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the bill’s sponsor, told members the House continues to be negotiations with the Senate over the final bill.

The amended version of the bill, among other things, allows edible forms of medical marijuana, so long as they are not “attractive to children.” The updated version of the bill also allows for vaping.

It also removes a contentious provision that requires patients to have a three-month relationship with a physician before they can access marijuana. A holdover from the 2014 Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, dozens of advocates had called on the House to remove the provision.

The Senate bill allows edibles and vaping, and does not include the 90-day wait period.

Once considered to be more restrictive than the Senate version, the amendment appeared to draw the ire of some of the House’s more conservative members. During debate on the amendment, Rep. Gayle Harrell said while she was “pleased to be able to vote on House bill in Health and Human Services,” she couldn’t support the amended proposal.

“This substitute amendment really expands the scope of the constitutional amendment,” said Harrell. “I believe this amendment is very dangerous. It’s going to open up the patient market.”

Harrell pointed to provisions that would expand the use of medical marijuana to people suffering from chronic nonmalignant pain as one of the issues that concerned her. That provision, she said, could allow someone to get a recommendation for something like big toe pain or a headache.

Members also peppered Rodrigues about his decision not to prohibit smoking under the bill, something Rodrigues stood behind.

“It doesn’t ban smoking,” said the Estero Republican. “Smoking is already banned.”

He also said the constitutional amendment authorized a doctor to recommend medical marijuana, but left it up to the Legislature to define the method of delivery. He said science supports the methods outlined in the proposal, and they are methods that “lead to better outcomes for Florida patients.”

The amended version of the bill does not lower the threshold for licensing new medical marijuana treatment centers. Under the proposal, current license holders are grandfathered in, and a member of the Florida chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, which was shut out of the existing system, would be issued a license. The Department of Health would then issue five new licenses to once there are 150,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry.

The Senate bill quickens the paces, issuing five more licenses by October and then adding four more for every 75,000 people who register with the compassionate use registry.

Rodrigues said licensing is part of the negotiations with the Senate.

The House could vote on the bill early next week. The full Senate could hear the Senate proposal in the coming days.

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Amendment moves House closer to Senate on medical marijuana, but differences remain

The Florida House is moving closer to the Senate’s position when it comes to medical marijuana, but conflicts over several big issues, including the number of licenses, remain in conflict.

Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues filed an 86-page, delete-all amendment Wednesday to his medical marijuana implementing bill (HB 1397). The amendment was one of more than two dozen amendments filed Wednesday, ahead of an expected discussion on the measure on the House floor Friday.

The Estero Republican has long said he was in negotiations with the Senate over the bill. He said he had hoped to present a so-called reconciliation bill during the Health & Human Services Committee meeting Monday, but told committee members that he and the Senate had “not gotten there yet.”

The amendment moves the House version closer to the Senate bill, allowing edible forms of marijuana, so long as they are not “attractive to children.” The bill calls on edibles to be, among other things, individually sealed in “plain, opaque wrapping marked only with marijuana universal symbol.” The amendment also allows vaping, something the original House bill did not allow.

The amendment also removes a controversial provision that requires patients to have a three-month relationship with a physician before they can get access to marijuana. A holdover from the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, dozens of advocates have call for the House to remove the provision.

The Senate bill allows edibles and vaping, and does not include the 90-day wait period.

While the House has moved closer to the Senate on some positions, it appears to be standing firm — at least right now — in others. The proposed amendment does not lower the threshold for licensing new medical marijuana treatment centers.

Under the House proposal, current license holders would be grandfathered in, and a member of the Florida chapter of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association, which was shut out under the existing system, would be issued a license. The Department of Health would then issue five new licenses to once there are 150,000 qualified patients registered with the compassionate use registry.

The Senate bill quickens the pace, issuing five more licenses by October and then adding four medical marijuana treatment centers for every 75,000 people who patients who register.

The Senate bill, however, caps the number of retail facilities a license-holder can have, something the House amendment is silent on.

The House could begin discussions its bill on Friday. The Senate bill (SB 406), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, has not yet been placed on the calendar.

Appropriations Committee sends its medical marijuana bill to Senate floor

A Senate panel cleared its version of the medical marijuana implementing bill, sending it to the floor and setting House and Senate up for negotiations over the two different proposals in the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill (SB 406) that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. Sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, the bill is generally favored by medical marijuana advocates; but several expressed concerns about access during the final committee stop Tuesday.

“We have a huge supply deficit in the state,” said Dennis Deckerhoff, whose son uses low-THC cannabis.

Deckerhoff said one of the dispensaries in the state has run out of the product his son uses, forcing him to go to a second dispensary, which has since changed the formula.

“Access means getting the medicine you need, not the medicine the dispensary is producing,” said Deckerhoff, who urged lawmakers not to pass the bill.

Bradley’s proposal, among other things, grandfathers in existing dispensing organizations as medical marijuana treatment centers, brings five additional medical marijuana treatment centers online by Oct. 3, and requires the Department of Health to license four more medical marijuana treatment centers after each time 75,000 patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

The bill also removes the three-month waiting period and limits the number of retail facilities from which growers can dispense medical marijuana.

The vote comes one day after the House Health and Human Services Committee approved its version of an implementing bill. The House proposal (HB 1397), which is considered more restrictive, includes the 90-day wait period; bans pregnant women from using medical marijuana, even if their doctor recommends it, and prohibits vaping and edibles.

Bradley said the Senate is in “active negotiations with our friends in the House” over the proposal. The House version is also headed to the floor.

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House medical marijuana implementing bill headed to the floor

A House panel advanced an amended version of the lower chamber’s medical marijuana implementing bill, preparing the bill for a vote by the full House in the coming weeks.

But with two weeks left until the scheduled end of the 2017 Legislative Session, the House and Senate continue to be at odds when it comes to implementing the 2016 constitutional medical marijuana amendment.

While Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, the sponsor of House bill (HB 1397), had hoped to present a reconciliation bill during the House Health and Human Services Committee Meeting, the Estero Republican said he and Sen. Rob Bradley “have not gotten there yet.”

“We have had talks,” said Rodrigues. “I’m confident we’ll get there.”

But changes accepted by the House Health & Human Services Committee appear to move the bill away from the Senate position. The committee approved a committee substitute Monday that, among other things, prohibits pregnant women from using medical marijuana, and prohibits physicians from initiating or maintaining a physician-patient relationship through telemedicine.

“Since HB 1397 was filed, I have been critical of this proposal and have been hopeful it will evolve,” said Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care. “Understanding that negotiations are ongoing, (the proposed changes) all have the effect of moving further from the Senate bill.”

The newly amended bill does establish the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer and Research Institute, something which is included in the Senate proposal.

The panel, however, rejected a proposed amendment by Rep. Bobby DuBose, which would have, among other things, removed the requirement that 150,000 qualified patients must register with the compassionate use registry before a license is issued to a black farmer.

Rodrigues said the issue of licenses was currently being negotiated with the Senate, and said the amendment was unfriendly.

Opponents continued to criticize the House bill, saying it didn’t follow the spirit of the constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent of the vote in November. Several members of the public raised concerns about access, with some saying the bill “picks winners and losers.”

“We need to stop pretending this issue is about hippies and stoners,” said Stephani Scruggs, whose husband suffered a seizure during the Senate meeting on its version of the implementing bill last week.

Some committee members agreed, with Democrats saying they did not think Rodrigues’ bill followed the spirit of the constitutional amendment.

“What we have here is an incredible maze of bureaucracy. It’s a maze of entanglement,” said Rep. Daisy Baez. “This implementing bill does not do the service that 71 percent, or 6 million, people voted for.”

Rodrigues said he continues to work with the Senate on a compromise bill, and hopes to have one soon. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to discuss the Senate proposal (SB 406) during its meeting Tuesday.

“This is a bill that is a work in progress,” he said.

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Senate panel OK’s amendment to limit number of retail locations allowed to dispense medical marijuana

A medical marijuana bill advanced through a key Senate panel Tuesday, picking up an amendment that would limit the number of retail locations allowed to dispense medical marijuana.

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Committee approved a bill (SB 406) by Sen. Rob Bradley to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

The proposal, among other things, calls on the Department of Health to issue five new licenses —at least one of which must be a black farmer —  by Oct. 3; gives patients who are not residents of Florida, but have a qualifying condition and can lawfully obtain medical marijuana in their home state, access to medical marijuana while in Florida; and allows edible products, so long as they aren’t designed to be attractive to children.

The committee backed an amendment by Sen. Frank Artiles that would limit the number of locations license holders can dispense medical marijuana. According to the amendment, licensed growers “may not dispense marijuana from more than 3 retail facilities.” The amendment does not limit facilities that only dispense “low-THC cannabis and sell marijuana delivery devices to qualified patients.”

Artiles said he filed the amendment because he wanted to make sure Florida doesn’t end up like California or Colorado, but also acknowledged three retail locations per license would likely not be the final number.

The amendment received the backing of Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care. Pollara argued without the cap, the current license holders could corner the market, creating a monopoly.

“It will be like the cable companies,” said Pollara.

Growers opposed the amendment, saying they were concerned the impact it could have on patient access. Bradley said he was “agnostic” on the proposal, but would have “a growing objection if the number stayed at three.”

“This is the beginning, not the end,” said Artiles.

The proposal passed with little input from members or the public, but not because of lack of interest. A medical emergency interrupted the hearing, leading members to take a short informal recess and forcing a quick vote before the meeting’s scheduled 6 p.m. end time.

The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. The House Appropriations Committee passed its implementing bill earlier Tuesday.

House Democrats wake up on weed

Perhaps they’ve been reading the rash of vitriolic emails and op-eds from Florida for Care, or the equally brutal reporting and editorializing from the Tampa Bay Times this past weekend.

Maybe it was the litany of emotional public comment at Tuesday’s hearing.

Whatever it was, Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee – led by the always entertaining, snarky and whip-smart Jared Moskowitz – suddenly woke up on medical marijuana.

It was a huge turnaround from just a few weeks ago.

When HB 1397 – the House’s medical marijuana implementing legislation, filed by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues – had the first hearing a few weeks ago in the Health Quality Subcommittee, it sailed through with nary a word from Democrats on the committee.

Only first year Rep. Amy Mercado voted “nay.”

This was somewhat surprising, given medical marijuana’s political history in Florida. The issue has always enjoyed a significant degree of bipartisan support with voters, while divided along sharply partisan lines in Tallahassee.

Florida’s Democratic Party executive committee twice endorsed Amendment 2, in 2014 and 2016; Republicans in the Legislature and the Cabinet were unanimous in opposition to the same in 2014, and while more muted in 2016, only Sen. Jeff Brandes and then-Rep. Dana Young broke party ranks to endorse medical marijuana last fall.

While 118 of 120 House districts gave Amendment 2 north of 60 percent support in the November elections, Democratic districts were much more likely to offer support – in the mid-to-high 70s.

In opening the debate on HB 1397, Moskowitz acknowledged as much, noting that he’d previously not been particularly engaged in the issue, but received nearly 76 percent support in his district.

In the first Senate hearing on implementation in December, Sen. Darryl Rouson, a longtime opponent of medical marijuana, publicly switched his position, citing the close to 80 percent support in his district (the highest of any Senate district statewide).

Moskowitz then began to pick apart the House bill’s overly restrictive nature, while also bringing up certain areas where he felt the bill could use additional tightening – most notably with
proximity to schools, and limiting the number of retail facilities an operator can open.

Per usual, Moskowitz’s shining moment arrived at the nexus of policy debate and humor, when he compared the requirement in HB 1397 that doctors submit justification of marijuana certifications to the Board of Medicine to Sarah Palin‘s famed Obamacare “death panels” comment in 2009.

Moskowitz wasn’t alone on the committee. Buttressing his snark was Rep. Lori Berman, who peppered tough questions throughout, and the stark, passionate, remarks of Rep. Katie Edwards.

Edwards had co-sponsored – along with now-Congressman Matt Gaetz – the original low-THC cannabis law the legislature passed in 2014 but has remained somewhat mute on the issue since. She attributed her relative silence to the emotional toll the issue can take, the burden of responsibility toward suffering patients and families, who pleaded with her to do more for their relief.

Edwards pledged she would apologize no more for legislation that did not go far enough toward bringing that relief and voted down HB 1397.

In voting down HB 1397, Moskowitz, Berman and Edwards were joined by all their fellow Democrats. The decks of the House being stacked as they are, the measure nevertheless moved forward handily.

Given the current disparity between the implementation proposals of the House and Senate, as well as Rodrigues’ acknowledgment of negotiations already occurring between the chambers, Democrats might necessarily have a degree of input on this legislation, as they have carved out for themselves on gaming.

It should then be noticed that the Democrats’ point person on gaming in the House – Moskowitz – was also carrying their banner on medical marijuana.

House Appropriations Committee clears medical marijuana bill, despite concerns from advocates

A House panel cleared the lower chamber’s medical marijuana implementing bill, despite continued concerns from advocates who said the measure doesn’t go far enough.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill (HB 1397) by Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues that would implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The proposal now heads to the Health & Human Services Committee, the final stop before a vote of the full House.

The bill, among other things, calls for a 90-day waiting period before a physician can recommend medical marijuana; prohibits smoking, vaping and edibles; and calls for new licenses to be issued after 150,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

While generally viewed as more restrictive than the Senate proposal (SB 406), Rodrigues said he has been in negotiations with the Senate about what the final proposal could look like.

“This bill is a work in progress,” said the Estero Republican. “Our goal is to produce a bill that honors the spirit of the constitutional amendment.”

Approved in November with the backing of 71 percent of Floridians, the constitutional amendment allows Floridians with debilitating medical conditions, determined by licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana. While the amendment went into effect Jan. 3, state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health have been tasked with implementing the law.

Advocates have expressed concern that the House proposal doesn’t honor the spirit of the amendment, and point to restrictions — like the 90-day waiting period and smoking prohibition — as examples to back up their claims.

“These sorts of extreme restrictions on access will simply serve to drive patients to the black market,” said Ben Pollara, the executive director of Florida for Care. “This proposal ignores the Florida Constitution and the will of 71 percent of Floridians. And in addition to that clear, direct conflict with the people’s will, the results of the policies contained within HB 1397 will instead feed the criminal activity that it’s author has said this bill was written to obviate.”

While several members commended Rodrigues for his work, they said they couldn’t vote for the proposal at this time because of the restrictions in place.

“This has probably become the most complicated subject bill this session,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz. “I think it’s more complicated than gaming or anything else, because we have to get it right. What we do here … it has tremendous ramifications if we get it wrong.”

Moskowitz called the 90-day waiting period “completely ridiculous,” and said there was no other medication or product available to alleviate pain where someone would be required to wait 90 days to get.

Rep. Katie Edwards, who co-sponsored the legislation that created the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, also called for lawmakers to remove the 90-day waiting period, saying it was a bad idea from the “word go.”

Rodrigues said the waiting period already exists under the 2014 compassionate use law, which was used as a foundation to build the implementing bill.

“I’m tired of apologizing, members,” said Edwards, after telling a story about having to explain to a relative why their child had to wait 90 days to get medical marijuana. “Don’t make the same mistake I did on some of these issues and have to tell a relative ‘I’m sorry.’”

The Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee is set to take up its implementing bill during its meeting at 4 p.m.

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