Medical marijuana – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Legislature backs bill removing black farmer medical marijuana requirement

The state is one step closer to removing a barrier for a black farmer to receive a medical marijuana growing license.

The Senate on Thursday passed a bill (HB 6049) that would delete a provision from statutes requiring a black farmer to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association Florida Chapter to be eligible for one of the state’s medical marijuana growing licenses.

The House passed the bill earlier, meaning it now awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s approval to become law.

The move comes in the wake of an ongoing lawsuit filed by Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City who argued that the BFAA stipulation barred him from receiving a growing license.

The state is required to give one of its 10 pot-growing licenses to a recognized class member of the Pigford v Glickman class-action lawsuit, in which the federal government was found to have discriminated against black farmers. When the state crafted its medical marijuana licensing laws, it stipulated that in order for a black farmer to be eligible to receive a license under the Pigford v. Glickman clause, the black farmer must also belong to the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

Smith said he was not able to join BFAA and that the provision is unconstitutional. A Tallahassee judge in December sided with Smith and ordered Department of Health officials to stop awarding licenses, according to the News Service of Florida.

Before the vote, Sen. Kevin Rader withdrew an amendment that would have subjected the director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use to confirmation of the Senate.

The current director, Christian Bax, has been criticized by the Legislature for not “fully implementing” medical marijuana as provided by statutes.

“This has never happened in the history of the Legislature where the rule that the statutes that we create are being broken by the executive branch and its as simple as that,” Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat, told senators before withdrawing his amendment.

The bill received near-unanimous approval in both chambers. Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, was the lone no vote in the Senate. Rep. Brad Drake, a Eucheeanna Republican, was the lone no vote in his chamber.

Judge sets trial for medical marijuana ‘no smoke’ case

A Tallahassee judge has set a one-day trial for May 16 in the legal effort to overturn the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

But in her order, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers said she will first hear the state’s motion for summary judgment at 10 o’clock that morning; summary judgments allow parties to win a case without a trial.

If it does proceed to trial, Gievers will hear the case without a jury. Her order was filed last Friday.

The suit is backed by John Morgan, the Orlando attorney and entrepreneur known for his ubiquitous Morgan & Morgan law firm advertisements.

He championed passage of the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis approved by voters in 2016.

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow marijuana to be smoked.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language, which itself does not expressly say medicinal cannabis can be smoked. The suit is against the Department of Health, which regulates medical marijuana.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero, who sponsored the implementing bill, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however.

Attorney Jon Mills, arguing against the ban at a January court hearing, said the amendment’s definition of marijuana includes the smokeable kind.

Calling for ‘heart,’ lobbyist Nikki Fried announces possible run for Governor

Lawyer-lobbyist Nicole “Nikki” Fried, who specializes in medical marijuana issues, says she might run for Governor this year after coming to the conclusion the current field of Democratic candidates “need(s) a heart transplant.”

“Florida Democrats are tired of losing and are looking for a new voice: Someone different, someone who isn’t afraid to speak the truth and is willing to turn the political status quo on its head,” she said in a statement to Florida Politics Sunday.

“Someone has to fight for the millions of Floridians—especially our children—who can’t afford a lobbyist or a trip to Tallahassee,” she said. “We need to bring back a strong offensive playbook to a state party that has been stuck playing prevent defense for decades.

“The current field of candidates are just not cutting it—we need a heart transplant. Based on the overwhelming amount of support and encouragement I have received, I am seriously considering running and bringing my drive, my vision, and my unapologetic voice to the field.”

Fried founded the lobbying shop Igniting Florida in 2016 after leaving the Colodny Fass firm. Current clients are Florida’s Children First, San Felasco Nurseries, and the School Board of Broward County, according to registration reports.

In 2014, she received an award from The Florida Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee “for her leadership of the Florida’s Children First lobbying team,” according to her bio. Fried also has served on the Bar’s Standing Committee on the Legal Needs of Children.

The 40-year-old received her undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Florida, where she was student body president, and Hall of Fame and Blue Key member. Fried then got a master’s degree in political campaigning and law degree also from UF.

Howard Talenfeld, chair and president of Florida’s Children First, first met Fried when they worked together at Colodny Fass. 

“She absolutely has the commitment, concern, the knowledge of and connection to our youth and to children who are at risk,” he said. “I will say none of the candidates ever contacted us to ask what children need. She certainly was the first.”

Kelly Sullivan, a Jacksonville attorney who’s known Fried for the better part of two decades, called her “energetic, organized.”

“She has perseverance. She would be an excellent governor; she’s motivated, well spoken, and can marshal the energy to make a difference.”

Osceola County finds sweet spot for medical marijuana dispensaries

It may have taken 16 months, an attempt by the Florida Legislature to tie local authorities’ hands, and threats of a lawsuit, but the Osceola County Commission has found what many may consider the sweet spot in approving retail sales of medical marijuana.

As a result, one medical marijuana company gets exclusive rights to open stores in Osceola County, but just three of them.

On Monday the Osceola County Commission approved two measures that will allow three medical marijuana dispensaries in the county, one on U.S. 192 between Kissimmee and Celebration; one on U.S. 192 between Kissimmee and St. Cloud; and one on South John Young Parkway between Kissimmee and Poinciana; and then to ban any additional cannabis dispensaries in the county.

The medical marijuana business was awarded to San Felasco Nursery of Gainesville, which is also known as Grandiflora, and which is operating its medical marijuana retail business under the name The Green Solution, in association with a Colorado-based medical marijuana company of that name.

“I’m really happy to see Osceola County residents are going to have access to the medicine that a lot of them need, without having to go way out of their way to get it,” said Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer, who supported The Green Solution stores getting their certificates, and who nonetheless also voted for the countywide ban.

Elsewhere, throughout Florida, most cities and counties have struggled with their options on medical marijuana.

That’s because last summer the Florida Legislature restricted local options to essentially allowing as many medical marijuana stores as the market would bear, to go in anywhere that a pharmacy could be located; or to ban them entirely. Many local officials who knew they have Walgreens and CVSs around the corner from schools, churches, and prize tourist attractions, shuddered at the “anywhere” option. So many cities and counties voted to ban them, even though many of the same officials involved said they wouldn’t mind a small number of stores in carefully-chosen locations.

In Osceola County’s case, their first assessment was to provide for three or four stores countywide. They’re getting three.

“Things just seemed to work out,” said Osceola County spokesman Mark Pino.

Here’s how they worked out: In October 2016 the county commission approved a regulatory ordinance detailing how “medical marijuana treatment centers” would be approved for operation certificates. San Felasco applied and got preliminary county approval for three locations. Meanwhile, Florida voters approved Amendment 2 in November 2016, greatly expanding the state’s medical marijuana industry. So before The Green Solution certificates could be issued, Osceola County backtracked, and approved a temporary moratorium, buying time to see what the Florida Legislature would do about the new, expanded law. The legislature’s response was to pass the enabling legislation that included the all-or-nothing choice for counties and cities. The Green Solution threatened to sue Osceola County to get its already-approved certificates. Osceola settled.

On Monday the board of county commissioners approved the settlement with The Green Solution, and then approved a county-wide ban henceforth, under the state-mandated all-or-nothing provision.

“This is an equitable solution to this matter and gives us, as the local jurisdiction, the power to prevent an out-of-control proliferation of these facilities,” Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins, Jr. stated in a news release. “When voters approved Amendment 2, I don’t think they wanted dispensaries on every street corner in the community. This agreement and our ban cements this intent while allowing those who need this service the ability to access it.”

Rick Scott: Department of Health doing ‘everything it can’ on medical marijuana

Arguably the greatest evidence of a disconnect between Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration and the Florida Legislature can be found in the state’s medical marijuana program.

Tensions boiled over Monday in the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

Committee chair Kevin Rader, a Democratic state Senator from Delray Beach, put the executive branch and beleaguered Office of Medical Marijuana head Christian Bax on blast.

Bax, who got his MBA in 2015 and who has no experience administering state programs, is seen by almost no one outside the executive branch as being the right fit for the job.

“They’ve had these (objections) for four months to look at, to work on, to talk about with our staff. It’s incompetence. This has never happened … in the 40 years this committee has been meeting,” Rader said.

With some believing that the Scott administration’s botched rollout of a medical marijuana program approved by 71 percent of Florida voters amounts to deliberate sabotage, Florida Politics asked Scott his thoughts.

He did not address Bax’s competency for his position in his remarks.

“With regard to Amendment 2,” Scott said, “the Department of Health is implementing Amendment 2.”

“Already over 1,000 doctors are registered and over 40,000 patients are registered,” Scott added. “They’re doing everything they can to streamline the process and work through this process.”

“As you all know, this is a new process and they’re working very hard,” Scott concluded.

Whether that answer will reassure critics in the Legislature and throughout the state remains to be seen.

Material from Florida Politics’ James Rosica was used in this post.

Medical marijuana regulator’s silence vexes lawmakers

Four times, lawmakers on Monday gave the state’s top medical marijuana regulator an opportunity to speak on their objections to rules and regulations on the drug.

Bax

And four times, Christian Bax said nothing because it wasn’t yet time to do so, he later explained.

“The department has 30 days in order to respond,” Bax, director of the Health Department‘s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, later told reporters.

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

Bax did, however, give a brief presentation to members of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

The upshot: “We now understand the Legislature disagrees with us … we hear you (and) we plan on moving aggressively,” Bax told the panel.

It wasn’t enough for committee chair Kevin Rader, a Democratic state senator from Delray Beach: “They’ve had these (objections) for four months to look at, to work on, to talk about with our staff. It’s incompetence. This has never happened … in the 40 years this committee has been meeting.”

Lawmakers have been upset for months mainly over what they call the department’s slow-going in implementing medical marijuana under a 2016 constitutional amendment that voters passed by 71 percent. Lawmakers later approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed an implementing bill, which gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

At Monday’s meeting, the committee formally approved 17 individual objections, ranging from the department’s issuing “contingent licenses” and requiring the submission of a $60,830 nonrefundable application fee, to its listing more than 40 distinct operations violations “with no standards or guidance … , thereby vesting unbridled discretion in the Department.”

Rader

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

“We asked them, how did they come up with the rules they’re coming up with?” he told reporters. “Mr. Bax and his office must do something to move forward, to let the voters know, our constituents, the people in pain who want this.”

But Bax did go over efforts trying to regulate advertising and signage, edible products, and addressing the use of “solvents and gases” used in marijuana processing that could be toxic to humans. And he said the department has inspected over 100 medical marijuana treatment centers, some “multiple times.”

Ultimately, the committee can wag its collective finger but can’t enforce sanctions against the department, an executive branch agency that answers to Gov. Rick Scott.

Rader mentioned a budget-related proposal by Rep. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, to freeze salaries and benefits for the department’s brass, including Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip, until they get a move on.

Wouldn’t that do more harm than good in getting Health officials to do their job, Rader was asked.

“I think that’d be a good conversation (to have) with the Governor’s Office and their staff,” he said. “Because there’s incompetence going on.”

Added Taylor Patrick Biehl of the Medical Marijuana Business Association: “The question remains: How long will this be held up? Will the process be further delayed? We can only hope that the Department will heed the continued comments and frustration by both the Legislature and sick patients.”

The committee’s meeting packet is here. A Twitter thread during the meeting is here.

Updated 7:30 p.m. — Health Department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri sent the following statement:

“The Florida Department of Health’s priority continues to be ensuring patients have safe access to low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana, as determined by Florida voters and outlined by the Florida Legislature.

“We are proud of the progress we have made. Low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana has been and continues to be available for the more than 45,000 approved Florida patients. DOH has approved 27 dispensing locations, and delivery options from licensed MMTCs (medical marijuana treatment centers). There are also more than 1,000 qualified ordering physicians available to patients, and the processing time for identification cards continues to drop and is now down to under 30 days.

“Since July, DOH has licensed six additional MMTCs. This issue continues to be frequently litigated by special interests, but our focus will remain with Florida patients.”

Jason Brodeur to Health Dep’t: No pay till progress on marijuana

Rep. Jason Brodeur is telling the state’s top health officials to get to work on medical marijuana—or they won’t get paid.

Brodeur

The Sanford Republican has offered an amendment to the House’s 2018-19 budget proposal that would freeze more than $1.9 million in salaries and benefits for the Department of Health‘s brass, including Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip and other top officials.

They’ll get paid, Brodeur said, when the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use starts dealing with the backlog of applications for marijuana growing and dispensing licenses, and for state-issued patient ID cards, among other things.

“The Legislature has grown tired of hauling (Health officials) into meetings to ask why they are not executing their legislatively prescribed duties,” Brodeur—chair of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee—told Florida Politics on Wednesday.

“So now we are going to withhold salary and benefits until they respond to the 15 JAPC letters they have been sent since October 3, 2017,” he added, referring to the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee. Its mission is to “ensure that rules adopted by the executive branch agencies … stay within the authority specifically delegated by the Legislature.”

Lawmakers have been vexed for months over the department’s tortoise-like progress in implementing medical marijuana under a 2016 constitutional amendment that voters passed by 71 percent. Lawmakers later approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed an implementing bill, which gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

Young

Sen. Dana Young, for example, upbraided chief marijuana regulator Christian Bax in an October meeting of the Senate Health Policy Committee.

Bax had explained that a plethora of lawsuits and administrative challenges, most over denied licenses, was slowing down the works.

“I’m not buying it that because there’s litigation out there you can’t fulfill your statutory duty to issue these licenses,” said Young, a Tampa Republican and the panel’s chair.

“I don’t think there is anyone in this room who would like to get these licenses out more than I do,” Bax said. “We want to move this process (forward) as quickly as possible.”

Young said, “Doesn’t it seem a bit complacent for you to simply throw your hands up and say, ‘Oh, we cannot issue. We’ve been sued’? You all get sued all the time … You have a duty under our state laws to issue these licenses.”

Brodeur on Wednesday also referred to coverage of Bax by POLITICO Florida and the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I read a few stories last year about Bax’s inexperience and resume and paid little mind, but the failure to make numerous deadlines has caused me to seriously question whether he has the ability to administer the job,” Brodeur said.

“The department is working diligently to respond to the many inquiries from JAPC,” Health Department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email. “We are scheduled to meet with (the committee) on Monday and hope to address their concerns so that we can all move forward in the best interest of Florida’s patients.”

Updated Thursday — Brodeur’s language was not reflected in the Senate’s budget proposal released this morning. In response, Brodeur tweeted, “I anticipate it will be a conference issue.” A request for comment has been sent to Senate Appropriations chair Rob Bradley.

Democrats’ guests to State of the Union include DACA recipient, medical marijuana patient, hurricane evacuees

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is bringing a medical marijuana patient. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch is bringing the wife of an American held hostage in Iran. U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel is bringing a trailblazing anti-sexual harassment advocate. U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy are bringing Puerto Rico evacuees. U.S. Rep. Val Demings is bringing a police officer who responded to the Pulse nightclub massacre.

As usual, a handful of members of Congress are using their guest tickets to the president’s State Of The Union Address to honor someone from their district they admire — and to maybe make a political statement. On Monday and Tuesday a few of them will be holding press conferences introducing their guests, offering their inspiring story, and promoting the political causes they personify.

Florida Politics surveyed Florida’s 27 members of Congress and two senators and got a handful of advance responses on guests being brought to President Donald Trump‘s first State Of The Union address. Almost all of the responses came from Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Ponte Vedra Beach Republican running for governor, is bringing his wife Casey Black DeSantis, his office said.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson‘s office said she gave her guest ticket to Frankel.

Frankel is not yet saying exactly whom she’s bringing, but said on Friday it will be “a trailblazing anti-sexual harassment advocate” to be introduced on Monday.

Deutch, a Democrat from Boca Raton, is bringing Christine Levinson, wife of Bob Levinson, of Coral Springs, who has been missing in Iran for nearly 11 years, making him the longest-held hostage in American history.

Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, is bringing Dani Hall of Clearwater, who was born with a birth defect impacting her lower spine, and who moved from powerful narcotics to medical marijuana, when she finally found relief.

Soto, an Orlando Democrat, will be introducing Claudia Sofía Báez Solá, 18, who was a college student at the University of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria shut down that institution and most of the island, and who was sent, by her parents, and with her brother and grandmother, to live in Orlando while the parents continued to work to support them, living in a house with limited power.

Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, is providing her ticket to Emmanuel Ortiz-Nazario, a 30-year-old from Puerto Rico who relocated with his wife and two young children to central Florida after Hurricane Maria.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, is bringing Orange County Police Officer Adam Gruler, who was the first on the scene at Pulse the morning of June 16, 2016, and his wife Jaimi Gruler. The couple has just adopted three elementary school-age siblings.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, is providing her pass to Brenda Irizarry, 43, who serves on Castor’s Task Force on Puerto Rico Recovery & Assistance. She was among many Tampa Bay-area Puerto Ricans who took immediate action the day after Hurricane Maria to mobilize relief efforts, collecting supplies to send to the island.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Weston, is bringing a DREAMer from her district, Nicholas Perez, a DACA recipient who is a Broward County businessman.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, is bringing Paul Tutwiler, executive director of the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation, which offers services to 25,000 Jacksonville residents in communities heavily damaged by Hurricane Irma.

Judge allows medical marijuana ‘no smoke’ case to go forward

What looks like a loss at first blush is a win for John Morgan in his legal effort to overturn the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

A Tallahassee judge on Friday granted the state’s motion to dismiss as to People United for Medical Marijuana, the association-plaintiff, saying it didn’t have the legal standing to be in the case.

It’s the political committee behind the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis approved in 2016. Morgan, the Orlando attorney and entrepreneur known for his ubiquitous Morgan & Morgan law firm advertisements, championed the amendment’s passage.

But Circuit Judge Karen Gievers allowed the lawsuit to move forward for the three other patient-plaintiffs, who qualify to use the drug. (Her order is here.)

They are Diana Dodson of Levy County, a cancer patient; Roberto Pickering of Leon County, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder; and Catherine Jordan of Manatee County, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jordan and her husband attended the hearing on the motion Thursday.

“This is a win for the patients; it specifically recognizes their rights,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Mills said in an interview. “I spoke to the Jordans and they are delighted. She’s a hero and I am glad to represent her.”

Gievers gave Mills 10 days to amend the complaint, which he said he “may or may not” do, now that the patient-plaintiffs won the day. 

The state has two weeks to file an answer to the complaint, including any affirmative defenses. A request for comment from the Department of Health, charged with regulating medical marijuana, is pending.

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow marijuana to be smoked.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language, which does not expressly permit medicinal cannabis to be smoked.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero, who sponsored the implementing bill, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping” are permitted, however.

Mills, arguing against the ban at Thursday’s hearing, said the amendment’s definition of marijuana includes the smokeable kind.

Updated at 6 p.m. — Morgan tweeted later on Friday, “This is a win for patients who are sick and who are dying. The Florida Legislature should save the taxpayers money and enact smoke NEXT week!! But then the pharmaceutical giants would not like that. #NoSmokeIsAJoke” 

In another tweet, he said, “Today was a GREAT day for patients’ rights. We will amend for this one plaintiff. This judge’s rulings today puts us one step closer to the right to smoke and to fight illness and death with dignity!! #NoSmokeIsAJoke”

Fate of medical marijuana smoking ban now with judge

An attorney arguing to overturn Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana says if a constitutional amendment doesn’t say it can’t be smoked, then lawmakers and regulators can’t stand in the way of patients who want to.

“If you’re the Legislature, why would you pick out smoking and say no? Because this (amendment) allows it,” attorney Jon Mills told reporters.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers on Thursday held a hearing in Tallahassee on the state’s motion to dismiss the case, backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan. He championed the amendment’s passage in 2016. Morgan did not attend the hearing.

The judge did not immediately rule, saying she would get out a decision “as soon as possible.”

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow marijuana to be smoked.

But Mills, arguing against the ban, said the amendment’s definition of marijuana includes the smokeable kind. The text, however, does not expressly permit medicinal cannabis to be smoked.

Lawmakers “want to contradict the Constitution, which says you can” smoke, added Mills, retired dean of the University of Florida law school and a former state House Speaker (1986-88). “Why were they talking about it? Because they just didn’t want people to smoke.”

Deputy Solicitor General Rachel Nordby earlier had told Gievers if there’s no specific requirement in the amendment for smoking medical marijuana, then the state can regulate the use of the drug, including banning smoking.

Plaintiff Cathy Jordan of Manatee County, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, also attended the hearing. Her husband told reporters she’s been treating herself by smoking marijuana for 20 years “under the radar.” Doctors even privately told her to do so, Robert Jordan said.

“The cannabis is keeping her alive. That’s what this all about,” he said. “Legislators shouldn’t be taking the place of doctors, telling us what we can and cannot do … She has to smoke; it keeps her lungs clear.”

Whatever the outcome of the case, Jordan said they’ll find smokeable marijuana “somewhere.”

“But she can’t go to jail,” he added. “It’ll kill her.”

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