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John Morgan, Vote No on 2’s Jessica Spencer dispute each other’s facts on medical marijuana

Face to face, medical marijuana champion John Morgan and Vote No on 2 Policy Director Jessica Spencer did not agree even on the basic facts behind each other’s arguments.

In a debate televised on WESH 2 TV in Orlando over Florida Amendment 2, the medical marijuana issue on November’s ballot, Morgan, the Orlando lawyer who chairs United For Care, and Spencer spent much of their time disputing each other’s most fundamental arguments as false.

The amendment would allow for doctors to recommend marijuana for patients suffering from debilitating illnesses ranging from neurological conditions to cancer to chronic pain to end-of-life diseases — if the doctors conclude marijuana could help control the symptoms or reduce pain. With that written, formal recommendation, patients could receive state ID cards that could allow them to obtain marijuana from licensed dispensaries regulated by the state.

The amendment needs 60 percent voter approval in the Nov. 8 election to pass. A poll WESH commissioned and reported during the debate showed it is riding with 69 percent support, with just 24 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided.

Spencer repeatedly insisted the amendment is “de facto legalization” of marijuana in Florida, while Morgan repeatedly insisted that nothing in the amendment would allow for recreational use.

“When your argument is a blatant falsehood, I don’t know how to debate that,” Morgan said.

Morgan repeatedly insisted medical marijuana works for patients suffering a broad range of conditions, while Spencer contended there was not enough science for the medical community to agree.

“He needs to be educated,” she said.

Spencer insisted medical marijuana could be turned into candy, sold near schools and made attractive to children, while Morgan declared the Florida Legislature and county and city governments have the power to prevent such abuses through regulation and would indeed exercise this authority.

Morgan insisted, at its worst, marijuana would certainly be a safer alternative to highly addictive opioid medications, while Spencer argued there is no consensus, as there is with opioids, regarding appropriate medical marijuana strengths, dosages, or times to take it.

Spencer said there are legitimate drug trials under way right now involving pill-form medical marijuana, but Morgan said the pills simply do not work.

Morgan said Spencer’s organization is backed by money from the pharmaceutical industry, which is trying to stop medical marijuana approvals nationwide. Spencer disputed that, saying Vote No On 2 has received no money from the pharmaceutical industry.

Morgan accused Spencer of fearmongering with false arguments against Amendment 2. He belittled her argument about it making marijuana easier to get by contending that right now it is easy to get on the street. The amendment, he argued, is for people who need legally available alternative medicine.

“It is not legalization of recreational marijuana,” Morgan said. “What this is, is a cure for really, really, really sick people.”

Spencer accused Morgan of being “someone who preys on people who don’t want to see other people suffer.”

“Do we want to believe the medical professionals and the medical community, and the law enforcement agencies, and the people that understand science, what we should do here, and how dangerous a constitutional amendment of this kind, which is in fact de facto legalization, or do we want to believe the predators, that prey on our compassion and our caring for individuals who suffer?” Spencer concluded.

Epilepsy Foundation endorses Florida’s medical marijuana initiative

The Florida Epilepsy Foundation has endorsed proposed Amendment 2, the medical marijuana initiative on Florida’s Nov. 8 ballot.

“Important medical decisions, such as treatments and medications, should be made by licensed physicians who know their patients best. That’s why the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, along with the national Epilepsy Foundation, supports Amendment 2,” Karen Basha Egozi, chief executive officer of the organization, said Tuesday in a written statement.

“Florida’s epilepsy patients should have available whatever treatment options their doctors recommend, including medical marijuana,” she said.

The proposal would allow cannabis use by people “with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician.”

It provides legal protections for caregivers helping them administer the drug, subject to oversight by the state Department of Health.

The proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution needs 60 percent of the vote. A similar measure in 2014 garnered 57 percent support, inspiring the Legislature to enact a framework to provide marijuana-based medication to treat a limited number of ailments.

The approved marijuana extract is low grade and cannot be smoked, and is not supposed to cause the euphoric effects typically associated with marijuana use. Critics warn Florida could be overrun with “pot shops” and that the issue doesn’t belong in the Constitution.

The national foundation wrote to the state branch on Sept. 12 in support of the amendment.

“In states where medical use of cannabis is legal as a treatment for epilepsy, a number of people living with epilepsy report beneficial effects, including a decrease in seizure activity, when using [cannabis],” President and Chief Executive Officer Philip M. Gattone wrote.

“If a patient and their health care professionals feel that the potential benefits of medical cannabis for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then families need to have that legal option,” Gattone wrote.

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Florida Dems give medical marijuana proponents fundraising boost

The committee backing the medical marijuana constitutional amendment raised more than $200,000 in the first week of October, helped in part by a donation from the Florida Democratic Party.

State records show People United for Medical Marijuana, the fundraising committee behind the medical marijuana amendment, raised $201,450 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 7. Records show the committee received $50,000 from the Florida Democratic Party on Oct. 7.

The donation marks the third time this year the state party donated to the campaign. The Florida Democratic Party gave $150,000 to the committee in September.

People United for Medical Marijuana also received $125,000 from Barbara Stiefel, a Coral Gables resident who has been a major contributor to the campaign. Records show Stiefel has given the fundraising committee more than $1.3 million since 2013.

The committee spent $33,004 in the one-week time period. That sum includes $21,600 for production and post-production costs, and $850 for advertising on WMBM-AM.meThe 2016 medical marijuana ballot initiative allows people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

The pro-medical marijuana group out-raised the committee backing the opposition efforts. State records show Drug Free Florida raised $6,895 during the one-week fundraising period. That sum includes $5,000 from Advance Business Associates.

Drug Free Florida spent $543,764 during the one-week fundraising period. That includes $543,650 to Jamestown Associates for media placement.

Drug Free Florida led a successful opposition campaign when a similar amendment was on the ballot in 2014. That ballot initiative received 58 percent support, just shy of the 60 percent needed to become law.

Recent polling found 70 percent of likely Florida voters said they support the 2016 ballot initiative.


Florida police chiefs oppose medical marijuana amendment

Florida police chiefs want voters to vote “No on 2.”

The Florida Police Chiefs Association called on Florida voters to just say no to the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The statewide organization joins several other law enforcement organizations and officials, including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, in opposing the constitutional amendment.

“The Florida Police Chiefs Association strongly opposes any and all proposals that would legalize or decriminalize the sale, possession or use of marijuana,” said Amy Mercer, the executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, in a statement. “Our top priority is the safety of our citizens and communities, and we believe this amendment may create more problems than it intends to alleviate.”

The 2016 amendment will allow people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

A similar amendment received 58 percent of the vote in 2014, just shy of the 60 percent needed to become law.

The 2016 ballot initiative appears to have broad support among Floridians. A recent University of North Florida poll showed 77 percent of respondents said they were supporting the amendment.

The survey, conducted by the school’s Public Opinion Research Lab, found 45 percent of Floridians thought the marijuana should be legal for medicinal purposes only; while 40 percent said they supported legalizing marijuana for recreational use. About 15 percent said they did not think marijuana should be legal.

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Some Florida Republicans AWOL on talking about Amendment 2

Florida Republican leaders have been conspicuously quiet about where they stand on Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana.

“I think a lot of people are being quiet about it because they assume it’s going to pass and they don’t want to be on the wrong side,” incoming Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said last week about the relative scarcity of GOP leaders opposed to the measure.

After speaking with Latvala, reached out last week to four leading Republicans in Florida to determine where they stand on the issue, but five days later, only incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran responded to our entreaty.

“In 2014, the Florida House passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act that eventually became law,” Corcoran emailed Florida Politics. “The law created a strict regime for dispensing non-smoked low-THC cannabis to patients who had run out of traditional pain management options. I believe that Amendment 2 is both unnecessary and is merely a steppingstone in the full legalization playbook. The law in place strikes a balance between compassion and control and poses no danger to our kids and grandkids.”

In addition to Corcoran, this reporter also reached out to incoming Senate President Joe Negron, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

This is the second consecutive statewide election with the issue of medical marijuana on the ballot.

In 2014, the measure received over 57 percent support at the polls, short of the 60 percent required for a citizen’s led initiative to pass. Nearly every respected poll published this year shows the measure getting over the required threshold, though the polls were also favorable at this time two years ago.

Latvala took a beating on his Facebook page when he announced his opposition in September, but the Clearwater Republican said it actually demonstrated his political courage.

“To get involved in something’s that winning over 70 percent of the vote is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “It takes a little bit of courage to get involved in an issue where it looks like you’re losing.”

Many, if not most, Republicans opposed the measure in 2014, but some have come on board this year, including Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Dana Young.

While some lawmakers like Corcoran says the law previously passed by the Legislature serves its purpose, critics note it also limits the growing and distribution of marijuana to just six nursery owners in the state.

“The Legislature screwed up the opportunity in the medical marijuana law,” says Brandes. “What you’ve seen them do is create a situation where only a handful of families can get wealthy.”

The measure also is getting more buy-in from the editorial boards of some of the state’s biggest newspapers. In the past two days, three newspapers — the Florida Times-Union, the News Herald of Panama City, and the Ft. Myers News-Press — have all urged their readers to vote “yes” on the proposal. All three papers’ editorial boards had opposed Amendment 2 in 2014.

The Orlando Sentinel came out with an editorial opposing the measure, saying: “It’s the right policy, but the constitution is the wrong place to do it.”

Amendment 2 poised to pass, another survey shows, but that’s what pollster said in 2014

A poll released Tuesday by the Public Opinion Research Lab of the University of North Florida shows strong support for Amendment 2 and medical marijuana.

An impressive 77 percent of Florida voters said they would vote for the amendment, while only 18 percent stated they would vote against it.

PORL Director Dr. Michael Binder said, “Huge majorities of likely voters support Florida Constitutional Amendment 2. Not only are Democrats wildly supportive, but even Republicans are above the 60 percent threshold required for passage. The strongest support comes from the voters 34 years old and younger, but even likely voters 65 and older are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.”

The PORL survey said 87 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of NPAs, and 65 percent of Republicans support the amendment.

The age breakdown is equally vivid.

Supporting Amendment 2 are 97 percent of voters aged 18 to 24, and 98 percent of those in the 25 to 34 cohort.

The low water mark of support: 70 percent, among those 65 and older.

“In 2014, a last-minute opposition media campaign was credited with sinking a similar amendment, causing it to narrowly fail. However, it appears that this time around voters are on the verge of legalizing medicinal marijuana in the state of Florida,” Binder said.

Respondents also were asked their viewpoint about marijuana legalization in general.

Of those surveyed, 40 percent said marijuana should be legal for recreational use, 45 percent said marijuana should be legal for medicinal use, and 15 percent believe the plant should be illegal.

UNF also polled on Amendment 2 in 2014, and their results showed the measure would pass, with 67 percent support.

Curiously, in 2014, 44 percent of those polled believed recreational marijuana should be legal, four points ahead of the 2016 number.

This attrition suggests an exploitable softness in support for Amendment 2. If a last-minute opposition media campaign against Amendment 2 is robust enough, it can sway people against the measure as it did last time, if the contention that medical marijuana is a gateway to legalization holds.

In a poll taken contemporaneously with that, UNF found Charlie Crist was poised to beat Rick Scott in the race for governor by five points.

The 2016 statewide poll of 696 likely voters was conducted by the Public Opinion Research Laboratory Tuesday, Sep. 27, through Tuesday, Oct. 4, by live callers over the telephone. Of those calls, 32 percent were to landlines; 68 percent to cellphones. The sample, which was 40 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat, and 20 percent NPA, had “quota for geography based on Florida media markets.”

The margin of error is 3.8 percent.

2 Florida papers do an about-face on Amendment 2, call for yes on medical pot

Two Florida daily newspapers opposing the legalization of medical marijuana in 2014 have made an about-face, and are now supporting a “yes” vote on Amendment 2.

This week, United for Care, the organization behind Amendment 2, announced the editorial boards of the Florida Times-Union and Ft. Myers News-Press each have penned op-eds in favor of the proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot.

In “An improved medical marijuana amendment deserves support,” the Times-Union says the 2016 version is “better crafted,” citing the unanimous decision from the Florida Supreme Court as proof.

The amendment “was crafted with the abuses of pill mills in mind so there is an extra step for approval,” making it “clear that physicians who abuse the law still are liable for current malpractice laws.”

The News-Press is supporting Amendment 2 because it seeks to “help those patients dealing with severe pain brought on by disease and other severe ailments.” They note the definition of who qualifies under the law has been made “more specific” and that “A parent’s written consent is required in order for children to use the drug and caregivers must have appropriate background checks.”

In February, The Bradenton Herald also declared its support for medical marijuana, becoming the first newspaper to change its position from 2014.

Eleven large Florida dailies have issued endorsements on Amendment 2; nine of them have told readers to vote “yes.”

Those papers who are saying yes on Amendment 2 in 2016, but opposed it in 2014 include The Bradenton Herald, Ft. Myers News-Press, and the Florida Times-Union.

Papers that said yes in both 2014 and 2016: The Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Tallahassee Democrat, the Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star-Banner.

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Medical marijuana backers raise more than $1M in one week

The committee backing the 2016 medical marijuana initiative received one of its largest donations to date, boosting its coffers at a critical time in the campaign.

State records show People United for Medical Marijuana, the fundraising committee behind the ballot initiative, raised more than $1.07 million between Sept. 24 and Sept. 30. The committee received $1 million from New Approach PAC, a pro-medical marijuana group.

The committee is tied to the family of Peter Lewis, the former head of Progressive Insurance. Lewis died in 2013, and backed medical marijuana proposals in Washington and Massachusetts, according to Orlando Weekly. The committee was also a top contributor to the Oregon initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014.

The sum marks the single largest contribution the United for Care campaign has received.

Records show the committee received an additional $74,171 during the one-week fundraising period. That sum includes a $50,000 donation from John Curtin, a Naples real estate investor, and $5,000 from AltMed LLC., a Florida-based medical cannabis company.

The committee spent $704,389 during the same one-week fundraising period. That includes $520,132 to a Washington, D.C.-based firm for media consulting and advertising, and $164,244 to a Weston firm for digital media.

There appears to be wide support for the 2016 medical marijuana amendment. Recent polling found 70 percent of likely Florida voters were backing the ballot initiative, including a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters.

The ballot initiative allows individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician to use medical marijuana. It also calls on the Department of Health to register and regulate centers to produce and distribute marijuana and issue identification cards to patients and caregivers.

The amendment defines a debilitative condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

A similar amendment received 58 percent support in 2014, just shy of the 60 percent needed to become law.

The amendment might have broad support, but that isn’t stopping the group behind the opposition efforts.

Records show Drug Free Florida raised $560,525 during the one-week fundraising period. That sum includes $500,000 from Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate and opponent of the medical marijuana ballot initiative.

Adelson was a major backer of the 2014 opposition campaign, giving $5.5 million to Drug Free Florida in 2014.

The committee spent $326,438 during the same one-week period, including $134,641 for direct mail. The committee in September released a mailer meant to encourage Floridians to “Vote No on 2.”

Administrative law judge sides with state in medical marijuana licensing case

An administrative law judge ruled against a North Florida nursery that had lost its bid to get a license to grow and dispense medical marijuana.

Administrative law Judge R. Bruce McKibben issued the ruling Friday, saying Loop’s Nursery & Greenhouses “failed to prove by a preponderance of evidence that its application to become a distributing organization in the Northeast Region should have been approved.”

“It was Loop’s duty to show how its application was superior to the other applicants. It was Loop’s duty to present whatever evidence about San Felasco and Chestnut Hill was necessary to make that comparison,” wrote McKibben. “Loop’s failed to do so.”

Loop’s was one of five nurseries that applied to be the dispensing organization in the northeast region of Florida. The nursery was passed over, but the nursery challenged the decision.

The nursery’s argument, according to court records, hinged on it producing a specific strain of low-THC medical marijuana and being better equipped to produce the product.

But McKibben disagreed with the premise, saying the assertion Loop’s could “comply with the cultivation requirement better than the other two applicants is purely speculative.”

“No competent evidence was presented to infer that the proposals of Chestnut Hill and/or San Felasco were inferior to Loop’s, or conversely, that the Loop’s proposal was superior to those applications,” he wrote.

And while the nursery said it intended to grow a strain of marijuana called “Charlotte’s Web,” the judge said there was “no competent evidence that Charlotte’s Web is superior to any other strain.”

Furthermore, McKibben said Loop’s proposal was based “entirely on an oral agreement with Ray of Hope, an entity which holds the rights to Charlotte’s Web in Florida.” There was no binding written agreement, and McKibben said nothing “prohibits Ray of Hope from granting other Florida growers the right to use that strain as well.”

Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in Alachua was initially awarded the license for Northeast Florida. While San Felasco received the highest score, its application was denied because an employee failed a background check. That denial was later overturned, and San Felasco also received a license.

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Drug Free Florida releases second TV ad in medical marijuana opposition campaign

The group opposed to the medical marijuana ballot initiative is out with a new advertisement, this time focusing on the idea that medical pot will be marketed to kids.

Drug Free Florida released its second TV ad Monday. The advertisement, called “Pot Candy,” is meant to inform Floridians about the impact of medical marijuana. The 30-second spot will air in each of Florida’s media markets, and also will air on Spanish-language television and radio.

“With Amendment 2, this is what medicine will look like: Pot packaged like candy, up to 20 times stronger than it once was,” a narrator says in the advertisement. “Marketed to kids, sold next to schools in nearly 2,000 pot shops across Florida. No medical standards. No pharmacists. No prescriptions. And no way to stop it, unless you vote no on Amendment 2.”

The ad is the latest in a series of advertisements by Drug Free Florida that aim to tell Floridians medical marijuana isn’t medicine. The release comes as United for Care, the campaign backing the medical pot initiative, announced it was releasing an ad in the coming days.

The proposal would allow people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

Drug Free Florida ran a successful campaign against the 2014 medical marijuana amendment. The amendment received 58 percent of the vote, just shy of the 60 percent needed to become law.

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