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Medical marijuana’s big Florida win, as voters ‘writ large’ said yes

Florida voters approved medical marijuana with 71 percent of the vote on Election Day, and a new report commissioned by Florida for Care shows just how widespread support for the measure was in every corner of the state.

According to the TLE Analytics report, Amendment 2 reached the 60 percent threshold in each of Florida’s 27 congressional districts, all 40 state Senate districts, and 118 of 120 Florida House districts.

The two House districts where the measure failed, HD 110 and HD 111, were only narrow defeats. HD 110 came in with nearly 59 percent in favor and HD 111 showed about 58 percent supporting the measure.

“The breadth and consistency of these numbers across disparate and diverse parts of the state truly shows the mandate voters gave this law,” said Sean Phillippi of TLE Analytics. “Amendment 2’s was not a regional or even metropolitan victory. Florida voters writ large said ‘yes’ to medical marijuana.”

Medical marijuana also outperformed President-elect Donald Trump across the state, even in counties that are traditionally Republican strongholds – in Collier County, 62 percent of voters backed Trump, while 64 percent backed Amendment 2.

The report also highlighted the vote totals in the home districts of some of the amendment’s biggest critics.

Mel Sembler, the founder of Drug-Free Florida, is registered to vote in HD 68, SD 19 and CD 13, each of which featured a top-10 margin of victory for Amendment 2. In CD 23, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz’s district, voters approved the measure by a 3-to-1 margin.

Florida for Care Legislative Director Dan Rogers said the numbers are “proof positive that voters delivered a clear mandate for medical marijuana in this election.”

“Legislators of both parties are going to be surprised by how high the support in their own districts actually was,” he said. “This was truly a broad expression of the people’s will and can’t be spun as anything but.”

medical marijuana

Knox Medical to begin dispensing medical marijuana this week

Knox Medical will soon begin dispensing medical marijuana to qualified patients.

The company announced Tuesday it recently received approval from the Florida Department of Health to begin dispensing low-THC and medical cannabis this week. The company is set to begin initial deliveries to qualified patients Friday.

Knox Medical is one of six organizations in the state approved to cultivate, process and dispense low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana. The Orange County organization received the highest score out of all the nurseries that applied for permission to cultivate, process and dispense medical marijuana.

“Ever since Knox Medical was awarded the highest score in Florida to produce medical cannabis, our team of growers, engineers, researchers, and experts have prepared for this exact moment to produce industry leading medicines for patients and their families,” said Bruce Knox, co-founder and chief operating officer of Knox Medical, in a statement. “We are honored to have this privilege to serve our fellow Floridians who require compassionate medical relief.”

The company is set to open five state-of-the-art dispensaries in Orlando, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Lake Worth and Tallahassee in early 2017. The company plans to announce another round of dispensary locations in 2017.

“Knox Medical is producing superior quality medicinal cannabis, and our mission is focused on putting the needs and interests of patients first,” said Jose J. Hidalgo, the founder and CEO of Knox Medical, in a statement. “At every stage in this process, from cultivation to dispensing at our medical facility, from engaging physicians and guiding patients throughout this process to building first-in-class dispensaries throughout Florida, our objective at Knox Medical is to exceed the definition of excellence at every level.”

Low-THC cannabis was authorized under the 2014 Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. Legal challenges marred implementation of the law, but at least two other dispensing organizations have begun distributing the product.

In 2015, lawmakers expanded the Right to Try Act to allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana. And under a newly approved constitutional amendment, more patients could have access to full-strength medical marijuana.

John Morgan torn on possible governor run, and in no hurry

John Morgan has powerful split emotions about the prospect of running for governor in 2018 as a Democrat, and figures he has at least a year to decide.

Morgan, the 60-year-old Orlando trial attorney who championed Florida’s Amendment 2 medical marijuana initiative this year, said others – not he – are pushing for him to run for governor. And while flattered, he insisted it’s not his idea, and he’s not giving it any serious thought yet.

“I don’t think I have to do anything this year, 2017,” Morgan said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it now, if only when he’s driving around, kicking it around in his head.

“The advantage I have, for better worse, is they [any other candidates for governor in 2018] are going to have to spend $25 million at a bare-bones minimum to have any name ID. To me that’s a starting number,” he continued. “And so for better or worse, except for Miami and Fort Lauderdale, I[his Morgan & Morgan law firm featuring him in TV and billboard advertising] am in all those markets, and have been for 30 years or so. I also have the advantage of four years of [campaigning statewide for medical] marijuana, and a very big following. When people come up to me, they thank me for marijuana.”

A group of south Florida politicos, led by Democratic operative Ben Pollara, have put together “For The Governor,” a campaign pushing a petition drive to draft John Morgan for governor, through social media and other communications. Pollara was Morgan’s former campaign manager for United For Care, which ran the successful Amendment 2 campaign this year.

Pollara said he’s in the process of formally incorporating a For The Governor Political Committee and expects to begin raising money.

He and Morgan both stated that they had not discussed the initiative with each other, though Morgan hasn’t dismissed it.

“You’ve got to be careful because our egos can really get us into trouble,” Morgan said. “Everybody says, ‘I like you. I like you. I like you. I want you to do it.’ All of the sudden you like what you are hearing, and all of the sudden you go off on a venture you shouldn’t go off on, for a lot of reasons.

“I’ve got a great life.”

In the interview, Morgan quickly explored several reasons why he wouldn’t dream of running for governor.

* He professes no clear Florida governing platform at this point, other than a strong conviction that something must be done about low wages in Florida. And he’s not convinced that his being governor would be the most effective way for him to address that; he’s exploring another constitutional amendment initiative to do so.

“I would only want to do it [run for governor] if there was something that I thought that I could make a difference in. And what I worry about is, even if I defy all odds, and win, could I even get anything done with a Republican senate and house?” he said.

* He’s very close to U.S. Rep. Gwen Grahamthe most likely Democratic candidate for governor so far, and particularly close with her father, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham. And he expressed admiration for other potential Democratic candidates, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn,  and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

* He even likes some potential Republican gubernatorial candidates, citing Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran and former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, among others.

“If I find someone who inspired me, then I would go, ‘You now what? the state would be in good hands with this person.’ It doesn’t matter if they’re a Republican or Democrat,” Morgan said.

* His business interests are complex on a level approaching Donald Trump’s, and he’s not sure he wants to unwind, disengage or liquify anything. Besides his law firm, which is in 18 Florida cities and eight other states, his business interests including hotels, real estate, shopping centers, and attractions.

* Finally, he’s not crazy about enduring personal attacks and knows his profession and lifestyle leave him and his family wide open to ugly anti-Morgan campaign smears.

“I’ve been on TV for 30 years, so I’ve had people writing mean things to me, calling me with mean things, discussing my fat face, my, you know, whatever, so I’m used to mean things. But with this [draft John Morgan campaign] out there, the meanness out there ramps up a little. So I’m like, ‘Who wants this?'” Morgan said. “I’m used to the one-offs. I’m used to people writing me: ‘You’re an ambulance chaser.’ But I’m not used to this where everybody can weigh in. That’s been kind of unnerving.

“It seems like in politics people believe they have a special license to be meaner than usual. That’s what I’ve found these last few weeks,” he said, adding it bothers him, “Because I like to be liked.”

But Morgan does see reasons to run.

He’s not convinced Graham or the other Democrats can actually win. He’s at a point in his life when he’s contemplating the difference between being “successful” and being “significant.” He takes his victory with the medical marijuana initiative to heart on a humanitarian level. He likes that feeling. And he thinks more must and can be done.

“You know, there are things I believe very fervently. I believe that the real issue out there in America is people are not paid fair wages for a fair day’s work,” he said. “Now I don’t know what the number is. I don’t know what the number is. But I believe peoples’ frustration is, they go out, they do everything right, they put on a uniform, and at the end of the day they’re further behind than they were before.”

Perhaps the answer is another constitutional amendment initiative, one aimed at creating a living wage in Florida, Morgan said.

“I’ve already started researching what that language would look like. It may be that my best bet to do what I want to do would be to have a constitutional amendment. I now know how to navigate that world, after making lots of mistakes the first time around,” Morgan said. “But is $15 too much? Would that pass? What’s the magic number? I don’t know.”

The lessons Morgan draws from 2016 political victors is that voters are rejecting career politicians and the status quo, whether it’s Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica of Winter Park. Morgan is certain he fits the outsider identity. If he ran and won, he said he’d pledge a one-term tenure and donate the governor’s salary to charity.

He believes voters want someone who’s less partisan and more practical. Morgan has backed Republicans in the past and said he certainly would in the future. He even praised Gov. Rick Scott for being single-minded on jobs, and for delivering on that.

But mostly, Morgan said, voters deserve someone with compassion for them, and that’s a mark he believes he has.

“What I think is missing in politics today is compassion. I think it’s too much not about what’s for us but what’s for them,” Morgan said. “I don’t believe somebody should be a non-violent felon, go to jail, and not have their civil rights restored. That’s a crime. I don’t believe drug addiction is a crime. The leader I’m looking for is someone who is compassionate and thinks about people first. And I think that includes the minimum wage.”

Pollara and others pushing the draft-Morgan campaign have many of the same concerns about a Morgan run that Morgan himself expressed. Yet they also have his same concerns about the Democrats’ prospects without Morgan. The next governor will oversee another redistricting, which could lock a party’s power in Florida for another decade, Pollara cautioned.

The draft Morgan effort, he said, is “a product of anxiety we Democrats feel about this upcoming governor’s race. Now we’re looking at 2020 redistricting,” which could lead to a “generation of irrelevance” for Democrats.

Morgan also expressed a clear, proud sense of accomplishment, having pushed medical marijuana into Florida’s constitution.

“I got beat with the marijuana the first go around [in a failed 2014 campaign.] I learned my lessons,” Morgan said. “And I think the people who are supporting e the fact I didn’t quit, and I won, and I didn’t just win, I won in a big way.

“And what I did in four years was more than any legislator has done in the last 40 years.”

bongs

Bong ban doesn’t apply to medical pot, advocate says

Florida’s bong ban, as toothless as critics say it may be, now is preempted by the recently approved constitutional amendment on medical marijuana.

That’s according to Ben Pollara, campaign manager of United for Care. The group has fought for the ballot initiative, which first failed in 2014 before passing this year with 71 percent of the vote.

State law prohibits devices such as “metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic pipes,” commonly known as “bongs,” when used to smoke pot.

But the amendment’s language says “medical marijuana treatment centers” can “sell (and) distribute” what it calls “related supplies,” so long as they go to “qualifying patients or their caregivers” and are registered with the state Department of Health.

“The plain language of the amendment covers ‘related supplies’ and was written that way precisely because of poorly conceived pieces of public policy such as the law in question.” Pollara said.

Lawmakers have tweaked the bong ban over the years, to include ever more inventive ways of smoking.

They have outlawed “2-liter-type soda bottles” if used to smoke an illegal substance, and even have banned “balloons” and “duct tape” if used as drug paraphernalia.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, backed a bill when he was in the House that made the sale of all marijuana pipes a first-degree misdemeanor, with second and subsequent violations classified a third-degree felony.

The Legislature passed the bill, which was signed by Gov. Rick Scott and became law in 2013.

But even Rouson has admitted that the amendment, if passed, would basically nullify any bong ban as it relates to medical pot.

“If legitimate medical users choose to use a banned device as a delivery system, then, yes, the amendment allows it,” he told the Tampa Tribune in 2014.

Pollara has long maintained the ban is rarely enforced anyway, noting in particular that virtually every independently-owned gas station and bodega in Miami sells what could be considered bongs.

“The irony here is that the effect of the law is basically to push more cancer causing tobacco on Floridians,” he added.

To sell such paraphernalia, businesses “need the imprimatur of tobacco sales to justify their sale of ‘tobacco supplies,’ so you have all these head shops that probably otherwise wouldn’t be selling cigarettes that currently are doing so, so that they can sell all the related supplies,” Pollara said.

The medical marijuana amendment is set to go into effect on Jan. 3. Meantime, the Department of Health “must set regulations for the issuance of identification cards, qualifications and standards of caregivers and registration of medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of the effective date,” according to Ballotpedia.

Medical marijuana advocates up in arms over Jeff Sessions

The head of a medical marijuana advocacy group is criticizing President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General.

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, said in an email Friday that the Republican Sessions “has criticized the morality of cannabis users and has stated that cannabis is more harmful than alcohol.”

Sessions, a former federal prosecutor, once “rebutted (President) Obama’s observation that marijuana is safer than alcohol by citing a renowned expert on substance abuse: ‘Lady Gaga says she’s addicted to it and it is not harmless,’” according to Forbes.

On the other hand, Sherer said, Trump “repeatedly said he supports medical cannabis and that he believes states should be able to set their own policies in this area.”

The president-elect “needs to reassure the more than 300 million Americans living under some sort of medical cannabis law that his attorney general will honor his campaign pledge to respect state medical cannabis programs,” Sherer said.

“Plain and simple, medical cannabis is a critical therapy used by millions of patients to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and more,” she added. 

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A ballot initiative giving Floridians a state constitutional right to medical pot passed earlier this month with 71 percent of the vote.

But marijuana is still outlawed by the federal government. The Obama administration has given states a pass, saying federal prosecutors should not charge those — particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers” — who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

Marijuana reform went 8 for 9 on the ballot; is it at a tipping point?

After marijuana amendments passed in eight of the nine states where it was on the ballot Tuesday, now nearly a quarter of all Americans live in states where recreational use of marijuana is legal.

Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada approved recreational marijuana amendments last week, giving nearly 50 million more Americans the right to use marijuana.

Additionally, Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota voted in favor of medical marijuana amendments, while Montana residents voted to roll back restrictions on their medical marijuana laws put in place by their state Legislature.

Arizona was the only state where marijuana failed on the ballot in 2016. The southwestern state already has medical marijuana laws on the books, but voters shot down a measure to legalize recreational use.

Once these amendments go into effect, eight states will have fully legalized marijuana, including the whole of the west coast, while 28 states and the District of Columbia will have legalized medical marijuana.

Marijuana’s ballot success this year could have pushed the drug past the tipping point when it comes to how the federal government enforces drug laws.

The new amendments also will mean an additional 68 members of the U.S. House of Representatives will come from states where recreational marijuana is legal, 53 from California alone.

President Barack Obama said the swing toward marijuana legalization — both for medical and recreational use — may make strict drug policies untenable for federal law enforcement agencies.

“You’ll now have a fifth of the country that’s operating under one set of laws and four-fifths in another,” he said in an interview with Bill Maher. “The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others … that is not going to be tenable.”

Medical marijuana Amendment 2 gets 60 percent in almost every county

They love them some medical marijuana in the Florida Keys, and in the college towns of Gainesville and Tallahassee.

But then, Floridians seem to like the idea throughout the Sunshine State of making medical marijuana a state constitutional right.

Amendment 2, which rolled to a huge victory Tuesday, was approved by at least 60 percent of voters in 63 of Florida’s 67 counties, falling short of the statewide 60 percent approval threshold only in four sparsely populated counties: Dixie, Lafayette, and Holmes in the Panhandle, and Hardee in southwest Florida. And it barely fell short in those.

Statewide, Amendment 2 won with 71 percent approval of 9.1 million votes cast for Tuesday’s election. The issue got 6,596,615 yes votes in unofficial returns posted by the Florida Secretary of State. It needed 5,467,718 yes votes to pass, meaning it was approved with more than 1.1 million votes to spare.

The county that most embraced the idea of medicinal products processed from marijuana is Monroe. The home to the Florida Keys and the Everglades’ lowlands gave an 80 percent thumbs-up to Amendment 2. Not far behind were Alachua and Leon counties, homes to the University of Florida, Florida State University, and Florida A&M University, which offered 77 and 76 percent approvals, respectively.

And not far behind them were a whole host of counties, including some of Florida’s most urban. Broward, Pinellas, Palm Beach, Duval, Orange, and Hillsborough counties all offered at least 73 percent approvals, swinging hundreds of thousands of votes each into Amendment 2’s convincing margin of victory. Among big-city counties, only Miami-Dade failed to top 70 percent, but still registered 68 percent approval.

There really weren’t any hot spots of opposition. Even traditionally conservative counties such as St. Johns, Flagler, Clay, Lee, Sarasota, Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Bay all offered 70 percent approvals for Amendment 2.

As for Dixie, Lafayette, Hardee, and Holmes, the lowest support among those was in Holmes, at 57 percent approval. If every county had to top 60 percent [and they don’t; the 60 percent threshold is only for a statewide tally], then Holmes fell 290 yes votes short; Hardee, 158; Lafayette, 34; and Dixie, 8.

Email insights: The People speak, compassion arrives with Amendment 2

Medical marijuana backer John Morgan put out an enthusiastic email Tuesday night after Election Day results showed Florida voters overwhelmingly supported Amendment 2.

“Nearly 4 years. Two elections. Over 2 million petitions from Florida voters. $8 million of my money. 18,238 donations from 8,287 supporters like you. Over $10 million spent against us, fighting compassion,” Morgan wrote.

“This is it. WE did it. YOU did it.”

Amendment 2 had received more than 71 percent support with 90 percent of the vote in, far beyond the 60 percent support constitutional amendments need to pass in the Sunshine State.

Two years ago, the amendment failed after picking up just under 58 percent of the vote.

Morgan said, however, that this campaign was “never about winning an election.”

“The end was always, always always delivering compassion to those who could benefit, those desperate for the relief medical marijuana can bring,” he wrote.

Morgan closed out the victory email with the following stanza:

“The will of the people is the best law.

I couldn’t agree more.

The People spoke tonight.

For almost four years I’ve been telling you two things.

One. Compassion is coming.

Two. BELIEVE!!!!!!!

Tonight, I also have two messages for you.

Compassion is HERE!!!!

And, I will always deliver this message:

BELIEVE!!!!!!!!!!”

Amendment 2 for medical marijuana sweeps the polls with a huge win

Florida’s Amendment 2, allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana to patients who need it, swept the polls with a 70-to-30 split in Tuesday’s election.

Last time out, it got 58 percent of the vote, but because it required a “super majority” of 60 percent, it didn’t pass.

Supporters of the amendment say it’s a sensible alternative medicine and can greatly help patients in need, offering a natural alternative to drugs that may have harmful side effects, and alleviate pain for cancer patients and others suffering debilitating conditions.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for Amendment 2, said the idea of the amendment wasn’t only about medical marijuana — it’s also about respecting the doctor-patient relationship.

“This is about taking politicians out of the doctor-patient relationship,” he said. “We’ve had a long statewide conversation about this. I believe the people of Florida are compassionate, and that they believe a decision should be made by a doctor and patient together, even if that decision includes marijuana. People trust their doctors to have the treatment that’s right for them, whether that’s dieting and exercise; narcotics and opiates; or even marijuana. That decision should be made in the context of the doctor-patient relationship, not by Tallahassee politicians.”

Opponents said the amendment is a “scam” intended to legalize marijuana under the guise of doing it for medical reasons.

Tom Angell, chairman with Marijuana Majority, applauded the amendment’s passing.

“This is a major tipping point: With Florida’s decision, a majority of states in the U.S. now have laws allowing patients to find relief with medical marijuana, and these protections and programs are no longer concentrated in certain regions of the country like the West and Northeast.

“It looks like medical cannabis will get more votes tonight than whoever ends up winning the presidential and U.S. Senate races, and that shows just how mainstream this issue has become. The next president and the new Congress need to get to work right away in 2017 on modernizing federal law so medical cannabis patients and the businesses that serve them in a growing number of states don’t have to worry that the DEA could knock down their doors at any minute.”

2nd try at medical pot amendment gains support in Florida

A proposed amendment to the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana has gained widespread support in Florida two years after falling just shy of passing.

Most state polls have support for Amendment 2 above the 60 percent threshold needed for approval. A similar measure was on the 2014 general election ballot and received 58 percent.

Supporters say they have listened to concerns from two years ago and changed the amendment’s wording to tighten oversight over the industry and protect children from harm.

In the meantime, the Florida Legislature has passed two measures allowing limited use of medical marijuana, though delays in implementing them have fed support for an amendment that would make it more broadly available.

Opponents say there still isn’t enough research proving the benefits in medical treatment. They also warn that the state will be overrun with pot shops and that children could illegally gain access to the drug.

If approved, Florida would be the 26th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize the marijuana plant for medical use. Florida is one of 16 states where only part of the marijuana plant is used.

“The legislature has failed to expand and open up the entire plant to use and only a narrow scope,” said Dennis Deckerhoff of Tallahassee, who says he will vote yes. “If the Legislature doesn’t want to do it, now it will be up to the voters.”

CURRENT STATUTE

The Florida Legislature approved the use of medical marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms in 2014 along with five distributing organizations. It was expanded earlier this year to include patients with terminal conditions under the Right to Try Act, and three more licenses were authorized once the patient registry reaches 125,000.

The amendment would widen the list of illnesses eligible for marijuana prescriptions, adding such ailments as post-traumatic stress disorder, AIDS and glaucoma.

So far, only three organizations have received distribution authorization. Two dispensaries are open in Tallahassee and Clearwater but home delivery is available statewide. Some counties and cities have passed zoning moratoriums on allowing dispensaries to open until they can do further research.

The state registry now has authorized 129 doctors and 470 patients, Department of Health spokesman Brad Dalton said.

SUPPORTERS SAY LOOPHOLES HAVE BEEN CLOSED

John Morgan, who leads United for Care, notes that the latest amendment allows marijuana to be prescribed only for debilitating medical conditions. It also adds provisions that require parental written consent for patients who are minors, and requires caregivers to register with the Department of Health.

The measure mandates identification cards for caregivers and patients and puts the department in charge of regulating medical marijuana – as the state law also has done.

A lot of the rules and regulations – from how the marijuana is grown to regulations on how it can be transported for in-home delivery – were passed by the Legislature this past March would also apply under the constitutional amendment.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, said that the state’s two-year delay in getting low-THC cannabis to consumers has pushed support for the amendment.

“If anything the benefit of the past two years is that public opinion has moved forward a lot,” he said.

OPPONENTS: “THIS IS A LEGISLATIVE MATTER”

Dr. Jessica Spencer, who is the Policy Director for No on 2, says there is no evidence that marijuana works as medicine and that the industry would be more difficult to manage if it is endorsed under the Florida Constitution.

“We need to be careful when we’re looking at constitutional amendments that they are perfect. This is not perfect,” Spencer said during a recent debate in Orlando.

Anti-amendment literature by opponents depict medical marijuana as candy and note that pot shops could be set up near schools.

Kenneth Bell, a former Florida Supreme Court justice, said he is not opposed to medical marijuana but that it should be handled by the legislative branch.

“The Legislature has already acted a couple times and this does not take into account some unintended consequences that could take place,” he said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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