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Rick Scott says he’s ‘reviewing’ whether to call medical marijuana special session

Gov. Rick Scott did not close the door entirely on a special session on medical marijuana, telling reporters his office was reviewing his options.

“I know there’s a lot of people involved and interested in the issue,” said Scott, following a stop in Fort Myers on Tuesday morning.

Scott said a special session was “something we’re reviewing.”

The comments come as calls for a special session to pass rules governing medical marijuana implementation continue to mount. More than a dozen state lawmakers have sent letters to the Department of State asking for a special session, and others have taken to social media to show their support for a special session.

Lawmakers couldn’t agree on an implementing bill before the end of the 2017 Legislative Session earlier this month. One of the main sticking points between the House and Senate was whether to limit the number of retail facilities licensed growers could have. The Senate supported caps; the House did not.

Calls for a special session to address medical marijuana began almost as soon as the 2017 Legislative Session ended. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he supported a special session on the issue; while Senate President Joe Negron has asked members for their input on how they think the they should proceed.

Lawmakers could head back to Tallahassee if Scott were to decide to call a special session; or if Corcoran and Negron issue a call for a special session. There is also a process for rank-and-file members to trigger a special session, something some members are trying to do.

As of last week, 16 members of the House and Senate had sent letters to the Department of State asking for a special session. The department received 11 letters from House members, including Rep. Kathleen Peters and Rep. Katie Edwards, and five from senators, including Sen. Darryl Rouson and Sen. Greg Steube.

“It is with great urgency that I write this letter to you requesting that the State of Florida properly and efficiently convene a Special Session that serves the purpose of ensuring that the 71% of Floridians that voted for the legalization of medical marijuana are heard,” wrote Rep. Shevrin Jones in a May 24 letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. “It is our duty to ensure that the usage of medical marijuana serves its purpose here in the great state of Florida to enervate medical conditions.”

If 32 lawmakers formally request a special session, the department must poll the Legislature. Three-fifths of each chamber need to agree before a call is issued.

Knox to open Orlando’s first medical marijuana dispensary Friday

Winter Garden-based Knox Medical is set to open Orlando’s first medical marijuana dispensary Friday in a location near Florida Hospital’s downtown campus.

Knox is one of nine companies statewide licensed to produce and sell medicines derived from cannabis. Knox has been in operation for several months, relying primarily on delivery service, and earlier this month opened its first storefront, in Gainesville. The Orlando dispensary will be its second, and the company vowed to open more in Jacksonville, Lake Worth, Tallahassee, and St. Petersburg in a short time.

The Orlando location hold a grand opening at 11 a.m. Friday, at 1901 N. Orange Ave. in Orlando, about six blocks from Florida Hospital, a location consistent with the company’s vowed strategy of locating near major medical centers.

The facility, the first of its kind in Central Florida, is open to qualified patients who have registered with Florida’s Compassionate Use Registry.

Like the Gainesville dispensary, the Orlando storefront will be low-key, with a single sign announcing “Knox Cannabis Dispensary.” The interior also is designed to be low-key, looking more like an optician’s office than like some of the marijuana shops that opened in California, Colorado and elsewhere under the medical marijuana laws sweeping through states.

“Knox Medical is working with Florida’s top architects and designers o create a cohesive dispensary experience that puts the needs and interests of our patients first,” said a statement from Knox’s founder and chief operation g officer José Hidalgo, and co-founder and chief operating officer Bruce Knox.

Florida approved a limited medical marijuana law in 2014, allowing for non-euphoric products designed to treat epilepsy and other neurological conditions, plus some cancer patients. Last fall Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a much broader medical marijuana initiative. The Florida Legislature failed to adopt enabling legislation, so the current legal parameters of medical marijuana are a little unclear.

Drug Free America Foundation wants marijuana Special Session

The Drug Free America Foundation is adding its voice to those calling for a Special Session on Medical Marijuana Implementation, according to a Monday press release.

“It is critical that our leaders call a special session to complete the unfinished business of implementing Amendment 2,” said Calvina Fay, executive director of the Foundation. “Moreover, it is short-sighted to think that the lack of legislation to implement Amendment 2 will stop the marijuana industry from operating.”

Fay, among other examples, cited a recent cease and desist letter from the Department of Health to Trulieve, telling it to stop selling its whole-flower cannabis product meant for vaping that also could be broken down and smoked.

“These and other similar issues are all addressed in compromise legislation that died when members of the legislature could not come to an agreement on the number of dispensaries allowed for each licensee,” Fay added.

“It is imperative that our legislators come together, take action and not allow the marijuana industry to operate as it does in some states, with no regards to public health and safety.”

A Special Session could be called jointly by Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, but Negron has not yet made up his mind whether to convene lawmakers.

The regular 2017 Legislative Session ended earlier this month without agreement on a bill.

Was it actually John Morgan who had financial conflicts in marijuana implementation?

John Morgan was at his Trumpiest earlier this month when he took to social media to savage his longtime aide-de-camp, Ben Pollara, over the failure of legislation implementing medical marijuana this Session.

Labeling him “Fredo,” (from the Godfather trilogy) and telling FloridaPolitics.com that Ben “f**ked the patients,” Morgan accused Pollara of putting the interests of wannabe medical marijuana businesses over the larger cause.

Pollara emphatically denied those charges, but admitted in an email to supporters that issues of patient access, “tended to align with businesses that wanted entry into the Florida market, and were kept from doing so …”

The ugly, public split between what POLITICO Florida called the “Batman and Robin of … Florida medical marijuana” has left many observers asking what the real story was behind the breakup. Some of the details that have been reported have led to further questions about what, exactly, Morgan’s interests and motivations were in this fight.

Morgan called Pollara a “sellout,” but was that actually a Trump-style red herring? Was it, in fact, John Morgan who had the financial conflict on implementation?

I don’t know.

When asked directly, John acknowledged a business plan to acquire an existing grower, but when FloridaPolitics.com asked for more details he demurred, with a cryptic, barely-denial denial.

The ownership structure of existing medical marijuana license holders is shrouded in secrecy — so public records won’t answer the question.

But here’s what we do know about John Morgan’s connections to Florida’s authorized marijuana distributors:

— Numerous session post-mortems had reported that the Morgan-Pollara rift began on the Tuesday night of the last week of session, when Morgan called Pollara on three-way with Jake Bergmann, CEO of Surterra, one of the seven license holders. Representing Surterra is Michael Corcoran, the Speaker’s brother, who Morgan has described as a friend. Their other lobbyist is Billy Rubin, someone who Morgan has known since college.

— The Morgan-Bergmann-Pollara call concerned the very issue that doomed medical marijuana this Session: retail caps. This issue divided medical marijuana interests into two camps: the “cartels,” i.e., existing licensees; and the “Have Not’s,” those that wanted access to the Florida market. Pollara had been viewed throughout the Session as the leader of the Have Not’s (with Sen. Jeff Brandes as their patron saint); Morgan’s position tended to line up squarely with the cartels. The positions also ended up dividing between the House (cartel position) and Senate (Have Not position). Before the call, Morgan had been noticeably absent throughout the Session, while Pollara had been a near constant presence in Tallahassee, testifying at every committee, including speaking for retail caps in Senate HHS Appropriations.

— After implementing legislation failed, and during his social media rampage against Pollara, Morgan and Speaker Corcoran had a veritable love fest on Twitter. They thanked each other, Corcoran threw shade at Pollara, and Morgan went after Negron.

— In April, from Anguilla, Morgan posted a photo on his Facebook page of medical marijuana products produced by Knox Medical, another of the seven licensed Florida marijuana growers. The post has subsequently been deleted.

— John hinted to FloridaPolitics.com — but stopped short of outright saying — that he was looking at potentially investing in or purchasing one of the current license holders. Other sources have heard that Morgan recently hosted an investor pitch at his office for that very same licensee. According to the sources, Morgan was very much present at the meeting, but it was less than clear what his involvement with the business was (if any).

Now all the above is highly circumstantial … but certainly suggestive.

Consider this final point:

John is a capitalist. His bread and butter might be the law business, but this guy owns an advertising firm, billboards, hotels, amusement parks and has all sorts of other entrepreneurial ventures. Think about the pitches that come across his desk daily.

Now, consider how many of those over the past few years must have been marijuana related.

The opportunity was certainly there, should Morgan have decided to take it. Only he can answer that, although he is under no obligation to do so publicly.

But John Morgan is not exactly a shrinking violet. He’s still very much contemplating a run for Governor. And he’s said if there’s a special session on medical marijuana, he’ll be coming to Tallahassee this time.

John’s put himself in a position where, sooner or later, he’s going to have to answer this question. Without doing so effectively, his credibility on medical marijuana could go up in smoke.

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Carlos Guillermo Smith, Amy Mercado say special session needed to end cannabis legal limbo

Saying that the current limbo of law is bad for doctors and patients, Democratic state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado pleaded with Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Legislature leaders to call a special session to deal with medical marijuana.

“We are here because 71 percent of Florida voters approved the constitutional right to medical cannabis. But we also are here because unfortunately once again Tallahassee politicians have thwarted the will of the people and they have refused to implement Amendment 2, medical cannabis,” said Smith, of Orlando. “They should be ashamed.

“While the out-of-touch, old-fashioned conservative majority in Tallahassee continues its hand-wringing over whether or not cannabis is actual medicine… or whether they can actually get over themselves and listen to the voters, qualified patients are dying, qualified patients are waiting,” he continued. “And there is no question that the governor, the Senate president of the senate and the speaker of the House need to be leaders and officially call for a special session and demand that the Legislature implement the will of the voters immediately.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called for a special session to pass implementing legislation to fill out the laws for the Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative approved by 71 percent of the voters in November. Senate President Joe Negron and Gov. Rick Scott have not. The Florida Legislature failed to pass the implementing bill on the last day of Session earlier this month.

Cannabis activist and author Gary Stein argued that the lack of implementing laws means that the qualifying patients – and the doctors who assist them – are caught in legal “fog” between what should be authorized under Amendment 2 and what little cannabis law and regulation exists based on the 2014 “Charlotte’s Web” bill the Florida Legislature approve.

Mercado, also of Orlando, talked about how her grandmother went through chemical and radiation therapy for stage 4 cancer, and she and the family wanted to try everything and anything. “Had medical cannabis been available, I’m pretty sure we’d have tried that too,” she said. “So we need to make sure, and ensure, that no one gets the way of patient access to medication that makes them feel better.”

Smith and Mercado also called on the Florida Department of Health to lift rules that would not be allowed under Amendment 2, but which slow down or prevent people from using medicines derived from cannabis.

Among them, they called for Florida to:

– Waive the 90-day waiting period for patients to access the medicines after they have been certified as qualified patients.

– “Stay out of the sacred patient-doctor relationship.”

– Stop rules that prevent qualified patients from getting access.

– Protect employees who can be legally fired from their jobs for using medicines derived from cannabis in their homes.

– Expand qualified conditions to include non-malignant chronic pain.

– Open the market to allow more competition, including to minority-owned businesses.

– Allow for smokable cannabis.

Still no decision from Joe Negron on marijuana Special Session

Senate President Joe Negron has yet to decide to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session on medical marijuana implementation, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, is still “in the process of having discussions with senators in response to the memorandum he sent last Thursday,” Katie Betta said in an email. 

Negron had sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to guide state Health regulators on the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, last week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Others chiming in on social media for a Special Session include Sens. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican; Dana Young, a Tampa Republican; Travis Hutson, an Elkton Republican; and Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who also penned the only “formal response” as of Friday.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan have called for a session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on TwitterMorgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

State orders sales stopped on new cannabis product

Florida’s Department of Health on Monday ordered a Quincy-based dispensary to quit selling a medical cannabis product that could potentially be broken down and made into pot that can be smoked.

Trulieve began selling its first whole-flower cannabis product meant for vaping last week at five retail dispensaries and through home delivery. The buds in the Entourage Multi Indica vaporizer cup, however, could also be used in joints, pipes or bongs.

The Department of Health authorized Trulieve to sell sealed vaporizer cups containing marijuana. However, Office of Compassionate Use Director Christian Bax said in a cease and desist letter to Trulieve that the mesh caps can be removed with minimal effort and cannot be reattached.

Vaping is allowed under state law, but smoking is prohibited. Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said the company had issued warnings to patients that the product should only be used for vaping.

“We were surprised by the letter, but are immediately and completely complying with the department’s wishes while evaluating our options,” she said.

The department also found in a tour of one of Trulieve’s retail facilities that a vaporizer it advertises for use with the product is sold only online. Trulieve also was not able to show how to use the product with the vaporizer.

Currently, low-THC cannabis can be used by patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms. The law was expanded last year to include patients with terminal conditions. It also allowed them to use more potent strains.

The rules from a medical marijuana constitutional amendment passed last November, which will expand the list of conditions for which patients can receive pot, must be in place by July and enacted by October.

Jeff Brandes asks for medical marijuana Special Session

Add state Sen. Jeff Brandes to the list of those calling for a Special Legislative Session on medical marijuana implementation.

“I hope that we can reconvene in a Special Session, which should include ample time for public input, to implement the will of the voters, so that patients and entrepreneurs alike may access the marketplace,” Brandes wrote to Senate President Joe Negron on Friday.

This week, Negron sought input from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, Senate spokeswoman LaQuisha Persak said there had been no “other formal responses.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill related to the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

Before that, the state in 2014 legalized low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through another Brandes measure, the “Right to Try Act,” that includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

Brandes, who filed a marijuana measure (SB 614) this Session, is asking for a “horizontally integrated regulatory framework … to provide the flexibility needed to promote specialization and robust competition.”

The two chambers this year came to an impasse over the number of dispensaries, with the Senate moving to 15, “five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill,” Negron said in a memo.

But the House “responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died,” Negron said.

The 2017 Legislative Session ended Monday.

“The drive of implementation legislation must be patient focused, not the interests of existing license holders,” Brandes said, calling for “local governments (to) play a role in determining the number of dispensaries and their locations,” and avoiding “arbitrary limitations on the number of (medical marijuana treatment clinic) licenses,” instead following “market demand.”

“I believe we can accomplish these goals by setting high quality standards, strong insurance and bonding requirements, robust seed-to-sale tracking, and a well-regulated registry,” Brandes wrote. “This model would promote ease of use and the availability of affordable medical products to suffering patients.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran this week called for a Special Session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran spokesman Fred Piccolo on Friday said his office had not received any communications from House members about a Special Session.

Joe Negron seeks guidance on medical marijuana

Without using the words “Special Session,” Senate President Joe Negron is seeking “ideas” from fellow senators after the 2017 Legislative Session ended without a bill to implement the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

Negron sent a memo Thursday, released by his office, saying he “believe(s) we should consider the best way to meet our constitutional obligation to implement Amendment 2.”

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill that would implement the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

“It was our mutual obligation to work together in good faith to find a principled middle ground on this important issue,” Negron wrote. “…Please feel free to contact me with your ideas on how to achieve this objective.”

The memo came a day after House Speaker Richard Corcoran called for a special legislative session during WFLA-FM radio’s “The Morning Show with Preston Scott.”

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” Corcoran told Scott. “Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked. “It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Earlier Thursday, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, urged for a Special Session on medicinal cannabis implementation and insurance issues during an appearance at the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.

The full text of Negron’s memo follows:


As the Senate evaluates the best path forward on legislative implementation of Amendment 2 (Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions), I wanted to provide you with the context of actions and opportunities to date.

Under the leadership of Senator Bradley, the Senate passed an implementation bill that reflected three guiding principles shared by a strong majority of our membership. This Senate consensus can be described as follows.

First, the Legislature has a solemn duty to fully and fairly implement Amendment 2, which was passed with the support of over 71 percent of the voters in 2016.

Second, we should ensure medical marijuana is readily accessible to any Floridian who suffers from an enumerated debilitating condition, as determined by a licensed Florida physician. At the same time, the Senate did not support an unwarranted expansion of treatment centers until patient demand has been established.

Third, in order to foster a free market and affordable medicine, licenses and dispensaries should be structured in a way that promotes competition and quality.

The Senate Bill (SB 406 by Senator Bradley) also included sound provisions such as requiring dispensaries to look and feel like medical offices and providing that medicine certified by a physician would be available without arbitrary and unreasonable delay.

Of course, our colleagues in the House had their version of how an appropriate implementation bill would look. It was our mutual obligation to work together in good faith to find a principled middle ground on this important issue. I believe both the House and Senate did their best to accomplish this goal; however, we were unsuccessful in reaching agreement during the 2017 Regular Session.

Consistent with the wishes of most Senators, the final Senate position was to provide for immediate issuance of 10 new licenses, which we believe is fair to the seven incumbent providers (who are already authorized to cultivate, process, and dispense) and reflects the Senate commitment to marketplace competition.

In addition, to move in the direction of the House position, during informal negotiations the Senate offered to raise the dispensary cap to 15, which was five times the original cap of three in an earlier version of the Senate bill.

On the final day of Session, the House responded by setting its dispensary cap at 100 and providing a deadline for issuing new licenses of more than a year from now. Obviously, the Senate was not in a position to accept this House proposal. The medical cannabis bill then died in the House without being transmitted to the Senate for further consideration prior to Sine Die.

As I said on Monday evening, I believe we should consider the best way to meet our constitutional obligation to implement Amendment 2. Please feel free to contact me with your ideas on how to achieve this objective.

Richard Corcoran joins calls for medical marijuana special session

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has added his voice to those calling for a special legislative session on medical marijuana.

Corcoran spoke Wednesday on “The Morning Show with Preston Scott” on WFLA-FM radio in Tallahassee.

Lawmakers failed to come to agreement this Legislative Session on a bill that would implement the medical cannabis constitutional amendment passed in 2016. Just over 71 percent of statewide voters approved the measure.

An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

“It absolutely needs to be dealt with,” Corcoran told Scott. “When you have 71 percent of the voters say, ‘we want legalized medical marijuana,’ and the fact we couldn’t get (an implementing bill) done, to just leave it to bureaucrats sitting at the Department of Health would be a gross injustice.

“I do believe and support the notion that we should come back and address and finalize dealing with medical marijuana,” he added.

“Does that mean a special session?” Scott asked.

“It would, absolutely,” Corcoran said.

Senate President Joe Negron on Monday also signaled his inclination for a special session.

“I think that’s something that now that session is over and our budget passed that we’ll confer with the House and governor, and then make a decision on whether that’s something we should do,” he told reporters. “I think the Legislature does have a responsibility to be involved in that implementation, so that’s something we’ll look at.”

Others, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan also called for a special session on medical marijuana, with Morgan doing so in a nearly nine-minute video on Twitter.

Morgan has been behind the amendment since it was first filed for 2014, when it failed to get enough votes.

Under the state constitution, a special session can be convened by proclamation of Gov. Rick Scott, or “by consent of two-thirds of the membership of each house.”

A state law also provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.”

Another section of that statute allows 20 percent of state lawmakers to request a special session, after which the Florida Department of State must poll all members, who have to approve on a three-fifths vote.

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