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First medical pot dispensary opens its doors

For medical marijuana in Florida, the future is finally now.

Trulieve, the approved provider in northwest Florida, on Tuesday officially opened the first medical cannabis store in the state, in a strip mall in northeast Tallahassee.

“This is a historic day for the state of Florida,” CEO Kim Rivers told a roomful of reporters and medical cannabis advocates. The company was recently granted dispensing authorization by Florida’s Department of Health.

Trulieve is now the first medical marijuana provider to offer statewide delivery and make an in-store sale in Florida. Both were to Dallas Nagy, a Pasco County man who suffers chronic muscle spasms and seizures.

The company will offer both the low-THC, or non-euphoric, strain previously OK’d by the state and the higher-THC strain allowed this year for terminally ill patients, Rivers said. Its marijuana is grown indoors to avoid using pesticides and other chemicals.

The store’s opening caps off an often frustrating journey for patients and their caregivers who had clamored for medical cannabis in the Sunshine State.

In 2014, lawmakers passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law, a measure legalizing low-THC marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

That same version is high in cannabidiol, or CBD, the active ingredient that helps control spasms and seizures. It is processed into an oil to be taken by mouth.

A three-member panel of state officials was tasked with selecting five approved pot providers for each part of the state. But that process got bogged down as officials struggled through the rulemaking process and fielded legal challenges from providers who weren’t selected.

Tuesday’s grand opening also was attended by the co-founders of the CannaMoms, a group of Florida mothers who have been advocating for medical cannabis for their kids.

“The will of the people does change the world,” said Moriah Barnhart of Tampa, the organization’s CEO. Her daughter was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer at two years of age.

“We’re being able to relinquish the title of criminal we were forced to embrace in order to save our children’s lives,” she added. “We now know our neighbors are standing beside us.”

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but selling marijuana is still a federal crime.

The Obama administration, however, has given guidance to federal prosecutors to not charge those, particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

Also, a proposed state constitutional amendment is planned for the 2016 election, backed by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, that would create a right to medical marijuana. A 2014 attempt failed at the ballot boxes.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission

First medical pot dispensary to open in Tallahassee

The first medical marijuana dispensary in Florida is slated to open.

Trulieve, the approved organization in northwest Florida, is set to open a dispensary in Tallahassee on Tuesday, one week after being given dispensing authorization by Florida’s health department.

The state’s Office of Compassionate Use, which was formed to oversee state regulation of medical marijuana, projects that there will be dispensing locations in 19 cities by the time all six organizations are up and running.

The legislature gave limited approval to medical marijuana in 2014, with many expecting it to be available early in 2015. The process was beset by administrative delays.

Patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms can order medical marijuana by contacting their physician, as long as both are in a state registry.

Trulieve, which will offer in-store sales in Tallahassee, is the first dispensary to open its doors in the state, according to a press release. The company plans to host a press conference in its store Tuesday afternoon.

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press

medical marijuana

77% of Florida voters now back medical marijuana ballot initiative

A medical marijuana amendment continues to have strong support throughout Florida, according to a new poll.

The survey — conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research on behalf of the United for Care campaign — found 77 percent of likely Florida voters said they supported the ballot initiative. The survey found 20 percent were opposed it it, while 3 percent of likely voters said they were undecided.

Kevin Akins, a pollster with Anzalone Liszt Research, said the survey showed support for medical marijuana in Florida “is stronger than ever.” He said the survey found “a broad and diverse coalition of voters” support the amendment.

“I’m obviously pleased at these levels of support, but I’m also not surprised,” said Ben Pollara, the United for Care campaign manager. “The notion of allowing medical decisions to be made by doctors and patients, not politicians, is simply not controversial. Floridians are compassionate and they know that marijuana can help alleviate suffering.”

The firm conducted a similar survey in June 2014. That survey found 69 percent of voters supported the 2014 amendment. That version received 58 percent support, just shy of the 60 percent needed to become law.

In a statement Monday, Pollara said the 2016 language is stronger than the 2014 initiative and addresses “a number of concerns that some voters expressed previously.” The language, he said, was unanimously approved by the Supreme Court.

The firm conducted the poll from July 17 through July 21. Respondents were read the ballot title and summary, and asked if they would vote “yes” or “no” on the amendment. The survey has a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

Pasco County man receives first delivery of medical marijuana in Florida

DSC_0021A Pasco County man suffering from Dystonia with Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms became the first Florida patient to receive a delivery of medical marijuana today from Trulieve, a medical cannabis dispensary.

The delivery came days after Trulieve became the first dispensary to receive formal authorization from the state Department of Health to both grow and dispense low-THC medical cannabis.

“Honoring our commitment to a statewide delivery service, we are pleased and proud to announce that the very first patient in the state has received low-THC medical cannabis,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said.

She added, “I have said this before, but we really want to thank the Department of Health for their supreme public service during this process.  The staff and leadership have been consummate professionals throughout this process and have been accessible and knowledgeable all along the way.”

Now that the first patient has received medical cannabis, Rivers said Trulieve would begin in-store sales of medical marijuana at its Tallahassee facility within the next few days. It will be the first such dispensary in Florida.

Patients won’t have to travel to the state capital to receive the drug. Trulieve will provide statewide delivery of low-THC cannabis immediately. Trulieve will also have high-THC medical marijuana available beginning in early August.

The legalization of marijuana has been a hot-button item across the country for the past several years. So far, 25 states have legalized medical marijuana. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana. Still, other states have some form of the issue on November ballots.

United for Care got a medical marijuana amendment on the 2014 ballot, but it was defeated. Although a majority of voters — about 58 percent — supported the initiative, it failed because state law requires a state constitutional amendment to get at least 60 percent of the vote.

The initiative is back on the ballot this Nov. 8. If approved, medical marijuana would become legal for those with “debilitating” medical conditions.

But more recent changes to laws have relaxed the laws regarding the prescribing of medical marijuana to some patients with the most severe or fatal diseases.

Doctors in Florida are allowed to dispense medical cannabis under the “Charlotte’s Web law.” That law allows doctors to prescribe the drug to treat a qualified patient with cancer or a physical medical condition that chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms provided no other satisfactory alternative treatment exists for that patient.

Terminally ill patients or those with certain medical conditions are allowed to try nontraditional remedies under the “Right to Try Act.”

Patients who wish to obtain an order for the low-THC cannabis or higher THC medical cannabis products may do so by contacting their physician who can issue an order for these products in accordance with Florida law.

First medical marijuna in Florida to be available next week as Trulieve gets DOH approval to begin dispensing

Hackney Nursery can begin dispensing medical marijuana.

The Gadsden County nursery — doing business as Trulieve announced Wednesday it had received formal authorization from the Department of Health to dispense medical marijuana. It hopes to begin dispensing medical marijuana from its Tallahassee facility, and begin statewide deliveries, within a week.

Trulieve is the first dispensing organization in the state to get state approval to begin dispensing the product, said a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.

“We are happy to announce that we have passed all inspections — from growing and processing to dispensing — and are the very first medical cannabis provider in the state to receive these formal authorizations,” said Kim Rivers, the company’s CEO, in a statement. “And we are most excited to get this much-anticipated medicine to the patients of Florida.”

Trulieve is one of six dispensing organizations authorized to cultivate, process and dispense low-THC cannabis and medical cannabis in Florida. Rivers said the company will begin sales at its Tallahassee facility in the coming days.

Rivers said the company will have the low-THC cannabis available for statewide delivery immediately. Full-strength marijuana products authorized under the state’s Right to Try Act will be available in early August.

The Right to Try Act allows terminally ill patients to try experimental treatments that haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Lawmakers expanded the bill to allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana.

The low-THC version was authorized under the 2014 Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. Legal challenges marred implementation of the law, but other dispensing organizations have said they getting close to being able to distribute the product.

Mel Sembler gives another $500K to Drug Free Florida

Drug Free Florida raised more than $500,000 in two weeks this month, the vast majority coming from a single donor.

State records show Mel Sembler, a prominent St. Petersburg fundraiser, gave the committee $500,000 between July 2 and July 8, the most recent reporting period. The committee raised $510,035 in the fundraising period, boosting its fundraising haul to nearly $7.4 million.

Drug Free Florida, which is backing the Vote No on 2 campaign, spent $64,397 in the one-week period. The committee has about $895,000 cash-on-hand.

Vote No on 2 mounted a successful campaign to defeat the 2014 medical marijuana ballot initiative. The 2014 amendment received 58 percent support, just shy of the 60 percent needed to become law.

People United for Medical Marijuana, the fundraising committee backing the ballot initiative, raised just $4,840 in the fundraising period. That one-week haul boosted its total fundraising to nearly $9.7 million.

The 2016 ballot initiative allows individuals 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.

On revamped website, ‘Vote No on 2’ campaign embraces power of video

I admit I’m a political junkie; after all, I run a website called Florida Politics.

What I love about politics and these final months of the campaign season is you can always see new and innovative ways folks are trying to communicate with voters.

Facebook realized the power of video storytelling when it saw the huge success of YouTube. So, in typical Facebook fashion, they figured out a way to capture it for themselves by allowing you to upload video content directly to your own post and bypass YouTube.

By not using the YouTube link for video content in a Facebook post, Facebook becomes even more relevant for campaigns.

And speaking of campaigns, have you noticed how the price of websites has plummeted since more and more campaigns use Facebook to interact and communicate with voters and their supporters on a daily basis? And how campaigns spend less and less time updating websites?

But websites still hold a place in a campaign — when done right. They are the landing page for online ads and a way to direct large email audiences to your campaign, a repository of news, endorsements, news releases and issue papers.

So when someone comes up with a new model for a website that is cutting-edge, eye-catching and informative, I sit up and pay attention. And that’s just what happened this week, when the “No on 2” campaign released its revamped website, voteno2.org.

When you to go the home page of the website, you are greeted with a page that has five sections: two on the left, two on the right and one large one in the middle.

In each of these sections is a picture representing an issue they want you to know more about, but here’s the new and innovative part; when you hover over each section, the picture becomes clear, a one-sentence description appears, and then you are presented with the opportunity to click on a video.

And who doesn’t want to click on a video that sits on top of a picture of a guy smoking pot from a large bong?

Their home page is now embedded with five different videos. That’s right, five.

The real question is: if people are viewing and wanting video content, why haven’t campaigns done this before? Plenty of campaigns have the money to produce videos, but they seem not to realize the potential video sharing can have. Seems to me statewide campaigns should take note; they are always releasing videos, but they are hidden in an obscure internal page.

And when I watch the videos, something else occurs to me — four of the five are exactly 30 seconds long. Now, I’ve been around the block a time or two, and I know that most web videos are a little longer than that, so the only reason to create 30-second ads is to run them on television. Otherwise, you make them longer.

Hearing begins today for Gainesville nursery jilted in medical marijuana grower selection

An administrative law judge in Tallahassee today began hearing testimony in a petition by a Gainesville nursery that was bypassed in April’s medical marijuana grower lottery when the state awarded the coveted contract to a competitor.

The Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use chose a handful of agribusinesses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana in Florida. Alachua County’s Loop’s Nurseries, in business since 1949, was passed over in favor of two other nurseries in the northeast part of the state.

It immediately filed a protest with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and asked for its day in court.

The hearing is scheduled to last the better part of the next two weeks.

Wednesday morning, Administrative Law Judge R. Bruce McKibben began hearing arguments and testimony in the matter.

What hangs in the balance are millions of dollars in revenue, as the medical marijuana industry in Florida starts to crank up.

Already growers around the state are growing and, in some cases, harvesting their crops to create various treatments for eligible patients, including those with terminal illnesses and childhood epilepsy. The growers also are licensed to process the pot and dispense it.

The state chose these agribusinesses to perform the tasks:

  • Chestnut Hill Tree Farm and San Felasco Nurseries (Grandiflora) in Alachua County;
  • Hackney Nursery in Gadsden County;
  • Surterra Therapeutics (Alpha Foliage) in Hillsborough County;
  • Modern Health Concepts (Costa Nursery Farms) in Miami-Dade County; and
  • Knox Nursery in Orange County.

Applications of prospective growers were reviewed by a panel of three, including the director of the Office of Compassionate Use, a member of the Florida Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council and a certified public accountant, who reviewed the applications, scored each one and chose the top two.

San Felasco initially scored the highest with Chestnut Hill coming in second, according to a filing in the case. Loop’s Nurseries scored third.

Then, San Felasco’s application was denied because of an employee who failed a background check, documents said. But on April 4, San Felasco was notified it had been approved to be a dispensing organization in Northeast Florida. The reports gave no reason for the reversal.

In a pre-hearing statement, health department officials said this:

“The department contends that Loop’s was not entitled to be the approved dispensing organization for the Northeast region under section 381.986, Florida Statutes, and the applicable rules.”

Loop’s contends it should have been selected over San Felasco and that it had met all the deadlines and complied with all the statutory and regulatory conditions.

Four other agribusinesses were vying for the lucrative post in Northeast Florida.

John Moye, a Tallahassee attorney who represents Loop’s, said in the petition, filed April 15, that his client is seeking a ruling that says Loop’s qualifies under the law and an order denying San Felasco’s selection as the fifth medical marijuana grower in the state.

“Loop’s Nursery’s pending application to serve as a dispensing organization in the Northeast region satisfies all statutory and regulatory requirements for approval …” the petition says, and the nursery, “is superior to all other pending applications submitted …”

Other jilted nurseries have filed similar protests.

On June 3, an administrative law judge signed a 21-page order dismissing the petition filed by McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery in Eustis, which had spent nearly $2 million for land and a warehouse to grow medical pot.

McCrory’s application fell within a fraction of a point of Knox Nursery, which landed the job to serve the Central Florida region.

The administrative law judge dismissed McCrory’s petition with prejudice, meaning it cannot refile the protest, through it can file a suit in state court.

Anti-Amendment 2 groups has quiet fundraising month

As the 2016 election season swings into fifth gear with politicians and committees filling treasuries with contributions, this was the total collected in June by the leading special interest group opposed to legalizing medical marijuana in Florida:

$00.00.

After tallying more than half-million dollars in May, all but $1,000 from a single donor, Mel Sembler, the billionaire behind the Vote No on 2 push to keep medical marijuana from being available to eligible patients, the Drug Free Florida Committee didn’t register a single cent in June, according to its campaign contribution filing with the Florida Division of Elections in Tallahassee.

Officials with the campaign could not be reached for comment, but a political observer said there could be several reasons why the cash didn’t flow in.

“You could look at it several ways,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. “One is that there is such a focus on the presidential race that it is hard to get people to pitch in money” for an issue race.

McManus said candidates and causes both have to raise funds to promote their own agendas and defeat the opposition.

“An amendment campaign is almost like a candidate’s race,” she said, and if voters don’t know much about an amendment issue, they will either vote haphazardly or not vote at all.

MacManus added surveys have shown that most voters don’t know enough about amendments to cast well-thought-through votes.

“How do you inform people?” she said. “Through advertising, mostly television and radio advertising.”

And how to you get that publicity?

“That takes money,” she responded. “It takes as much money as a candidate’s race.”

And the next few months typically represent a lull in fundraising, she said.

“The other problem right now is that summertime is tune-out-politics time for most Floridians,” she said. “And when it does get into the fall, there will be nonstop advertising for the presidential and the Senate race.”

May’s $500,000 windfall for Vote No on 2 came after 14 months in which no donations were reported, though since 2014, the group has reported more than $6 million in contributions.

On the other side of the aisle, the People United for Medical Marijuana raked in more than $51,000 in June, following a tally of nearly $110,000 in May.

The group has collected over $10 million in donations since the push began more than a decade ago to make medical marijuana available to patients in Florida. So far this year, the group has received nearly $500,000 in contributions, records show.

“It’s not surprising Mel Sembler’s crusade to deny sick people access to medical marijuana is having a tough time finding support,” said Ben Pollara, spokesman for United for Care, which is behind the Vote Yes on 2 campaign to expand the current law in Florida which allows limited medicinal marijuana treatment for some patients.

Asked if he believed the lack of contributions was an indication the Vote No on 2 backers were conceding the battle, Pollara said, “No idea. I kind of doubt it.”

People United for Medical Marijuana has its own wealthy benefactor, Orlando attorney John Morgan, who himself has donated $2.7 million to the Vote Yes on 2 campaign. Amendment 2 is on November’s general election ballot and would expand the patient base as well as allow growers and processors to produce a stronger grade of product.

Two years ago, a referendum on the amendment failed, even though 57 percent of voters approved the measure. It takes 60 percent to adopt a constitutional amendment in Florida.

United for Care questioned about breast cancer contribution

State regulators are questioning a contribution to a breast cancer fund by the backers of proposed medical marijuana referendum, calling it an “invalid contribution” requiring further explanation.

People United for Medical Marijuana, whose campaign, United for Care, is pushing for the passage of Amendment 2 on November’s general election ballot, responded by saying the $155 contribution made in February “was made in significant part with the intent of advancing the support, media coverage, petition-gathering efforts and fundraising ability” of the amendment’s campaign.

United for Care Treasurer Ben Pollara, in a response filed with the Florida Division of Elections, said it is the expressed goal of the group to get the amendment, which expands the current law to include a wider variety of patients and treatment with a stronger grade of pot.

“It was with this goal in mind,” he wrote, “that People United for Medical Marijuana made a $155 contribution to Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation on Feb. 19, 2016.

“Cancer is one of the most debilitating, deadly and prevalent conditions that is helped by medical marijuana and is specifically listed as a qualifying condition within Amendment 2’s ballot language,” he wrote.

There are more than 1.2 million cancer patients in Florida, 390,000 of whom are diagnosed with breast cancer, Pollara added.

United for Care has raised nearly $400,000 since January in contributions, including more than $100,000 last month.

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