Medical marijuana – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Jose Javier Rodriguez: We’re being called back to bless backroom deal

Democrats staked out their contempt for the stated purpose of the Legislature’s Special Session today with state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriquez saying lawmakers are being called in to bless a backroom deal to give the governor a slush fund.

Rodriguez, of Miami, and state Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park decried what they described as a cynical process for Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders to get what they want in exchange for $2015 million in education funding that already had been stripped away from public schools and routed to charter schools in House Bill 7069.

The special session begins this afternoon and is scheduled to run through Friday. Scott called the session to also establish the Florida Job Growth Fund to promote public infrastructure and individual job training and fund it at $85 million, the same amount he requested for incentive programs for Enterprise Florida; and pass legislation that sets aside $76 million for VISIT Florida and includes comprehensive transparency and accountability measures for the organization.

Rodriguez called the Florida Job Growth Fund a “slush fund” for the governor.

“We’re coming up here basically because we’re being asked to bless a deal that has been cut,” Rodriguez charged.

“One of the things being done with respect to our economic development program is creating this job growth program, which looks more like a slush fund than anything else, $85 million, that is not subject to scrutiny that we are going to be increasing on Enterprise Florida,” Rodriguez added. “It basically is the governor’s pot of money to do with what he will.”

Jones took aim at the education funding and HB 7069, which was passed on the last day of the Legislative Session and awaits transmittal to the governor’s office. That bill, he charged, was created without transparency “at its worst.”

He and Rodriguez characterized the Special Session as a waste of time and money and not good for Florida residents. But Rodriguez acknowledged that could change if medical marijuana is scheduled, as reported earlier Wednesday will happen.

“If we are being called up here to enact the will of the voters, yeah, sure, that’s a reason to have a Special Session,” he said.

Would it really be so bad if lawmakers didn’t take up pot during special session?

What!? No medical marijuana in the call for a Legislative Special Session? OMG!

Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Would it be so awful if lawmakers returned and did not take up medical marijuana? Now, don’t get me wrong. I think they should. If they don’t, the Florida Department of Health will be left to develop emergency rules. The Board of Medicine will tinker. The current crop of licensees will continue to produce and sell products. The courts may (or may not) get involved, but probably not in time this year to make a difference.

But, just for a minute, let’s step back from the edge and walk through this scenario.

Right now, licensees are opening dispensaries at a fairly brisk pace – Trulieve is likely to open two in the next two weeks alone. As of this writing, there are about 12,000 patients in the registry (not 20,000 as reported in the Herald-Tribune this weekend). That’s about a six-fold increase since March! Wow!

And when lawmakers meet this week will they take up medical marijuana?

Senate President Joe Negron must agree to increase the caps on dispensaries to ensure a deal. During the regular session, he was dug in at five dispensaries per licensee. Will he be willing to move toward the House position and increase the number of dispensaries five or ten fold to get a deal? Unlikely. Negron doesn’t like to cave to the House.

What we do know is if they don’t reach a deal by close of business Tuesday, there likely won’t be a medical marijuana bill during the Special Session.

From this vantage point, it looks a lot like the functional equivalent of status quo for at least another year.

Is that really so bad? Is either scenario much different?

Before the pro-Amendment 2 folks light me up (not the worst pun ever), hear me out. Seriously take a knee for a second. Under either scenario, does the world look much different if they do or do not include medical marijuana in the call?

Don’t ply me with “their sacred duty” arguments because I agree. They should figure this out. But with almost 100 percent certainty, if they include it and they pass something, it is hard to see how or why it will make much of a difference in the near or even midterm.

The patient registry is growing briskly. Competitive fires are burning across the state as licensees are scrambling to grab market share and get to market quickly (that IS what you said you wanted) and with each passing day, a growing number of patients are receiving medical cannabis as treatment. Last I checked, the world hasn’t ended.

But here’s another truth: nobody (especially the ardent pro-Amendment 2 folks) is going to be happy or even satisfied if they include medical cannabis in the call and pass something that is almost certainly going to be a compromise.

So it won’t be the end of the world if the lawmakers don’t tackle pot this week.

‘Progress’ on getting marijuana in Special Session but ‘no deal’ yet

Legislative leaders working behind the scenes are getting closer to putting medical cannabis implementation into the call of this week’s Special Session.

For instance, one senator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “some progress” had been made but there was “no deal” as of Monday afternoon.

When this week’s Wednesday-Friday Special Session was announced last Friday, it only included plans to fund education, tourism marketing and economic development.

That’s despite dozens of lawmakers, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who have said the Legislature needs to pass implementing legislation this year for the state’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana.

Lawmakers came to impasse on a bill during the regular session that ended in May. The biggest sticking point was a cap on the number of retail locations licensed growers could have in the state.

In a memo to House members Friday, Corcoran said the House has “communicated to the … Senate that this is an issue we believe must be addressed and that we are prepared to expand the call.” Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, posted on Facebook he has filed the substance for a “comprehensive medical marijuana bill to the legislature’s drafting office … out of an abundance of caution.”

“I remain steadfastly committed to adopting a patient-focused medical marijuana law,” he wrote.

Florida for Care, the group advocating for implementing legislation, sent an email to supporters urging them to contact their legislators to “demand medical marijuana be added to the call for next week’s special session.”

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott said he would be “supportive” of the Legislature adding it to the call of the Special Session. Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam also has come out in support of addressing marijuana in a Special Session.

The amendment was passed in 2016 by just over 71 percent of statewide voters. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

Special session called to tackle economic programs, public education funding

Florida lawmakers will head back to Tallahassee for a special session next week to address economic programs and public education funding.

Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Senate President Joe Negron announced Friday morning lawmakers will convene in a special session from June 7 to June 9 to tackle several issues relating to the budget.

The announcement coincided with news that Scott signed the budget 2017-18 budget, vetoing $410 million in legislative projects. The Naples Republican also vetoed the Florida Educational Finance Program, which funds K-12 public education, and a bill (HB 5501) that, among other things, slashed funding for Visit Florida Funding by 60 percent. A full list of vetoes is expected to be released later today, according to the Governor’s Office.

The governor is calling on the Legislature to provide an additional $215 million to K-12 public education, which would increase per student funding by $100; establish the Florida Job Growth Fund to promote public infrastructure and individual job training and fund it at $85 million, the same amount he requested for incentive programs for Enterprise Florida; and pass legislation that sets aside $76 million for Visit Florida and includes comprehensive transparency and accountability measures for the organization.

In a memo to House members Friday, Corcoran said the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund would be housed within the Department of Economic Opportunity and would provide “$85 million in new resources to be used for public infrastructure and workforce training.”

The House railed against incentive programs this year, even voting overwhelming to abolish Enterprise Florida, the state’s private-public economic development program. However, Corcoran told members the new program would not be used for the exclusive benefit of one company, and could become “a model for the nation.”

“The bill will be a flexible fund that the Governor can use to help create the infrastructure and job skills necessary to support economic diversification for targeted industries or for specific regions of the state,” he wrote. “The bill will require that funds be used for broad public value and not for the exclusive benefit for any one company. We believe that this new tool can become a model for the nation.”

In his memo to members, Corcoran said legislation filed during the special session, which will be carried by Rep. Paul Renner, will including $76 million in funding, but maintain the “kind of strong accountability and transparency language passed” during the 2017 regular Session.

The Senate did not support the House position on cuts to Enterprise Florida or Visit Florida, and Negron said Friday he was pleased the House was moving to the Senate position on those issues. The Senate also wanted a higher per-pupil funding model.

“As we prepare to return to Tallahassee, it appears that our colleagues in the House have expressed a willingness to move toward the Senate position in several key areas, including a significant increase in per student funding for our K-12 public schools, as well as elevating the state investment in tourism marketing and economic development efforts,” said Negron in a memo to members. “I look forward to advocating for Senators’ budget priorities during the upcoming Special Session.

In return for reaching a compromise on his top priorities, the governor is expected to sign a wide-sweeping education bill (HB 7069), a top priority for Corcoran, and a higher education bill (SB 374), a top priority for Negron. Both bills have come under scrutiny in recent weeks, in part over concerns they were negotiated largely behind closed doors.

When asked whether he planned to sign the education bill during a press conference in Miami on Friday, Scott said he was reviewing it.

The call, signed by Scott and filed with the Department of State at 9:30 a.m., does not include medical marijuana. However, Corcoran told members in a memo Friday morning the “House has communicated to … the Senate that this is an issue we believe must be addressed and that we are prepared to expand the call to address the implementation of the constitutional amendment approved by voters of the constitutional amendment approved by the voters during the 2016 election.”

Medical marijuana push continues for Rob Bradley

There are a number of pieces of unfinished business for the Florida Legislature this month; among them: agreeing on rules for medical cannabis.

The regular Legislative Session ended without complete agreement from the Senate and the House, especially on caps for retail dispensaries for licensed growers.

While the Special Session announced on Friday by Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Senate President Joe Negron did not include explicit reference to medical marijuana as one of the issues to be addressed, there is appetite for resolving issues legislatively.

And a bit of a recalibration in Senate strategy, as POLITICO Florida reported Friday.

“It is my understanding that Sen. [Rob] Bradley will continue to be the bill sponsor in a Special Session,”  Sen. Bill Galvano, the next Senate President, told POLITICO Florida.

“Leader [Wilton] Simpson is going to take more of a role in the negotiations on the issue as Majority Leader,” Galvano added.

We asked Sen. Bradley what the ramifications of that would be, in terms of process and policy.

“I wouldn’t read too much into the situation,” Bradley texted us Friday morning, regarding the Galvano quote.

“Simpson and I cross train on many issues and often work together to get them done. We are close friends and colleagues and I’m glad he’s involved to help bring this in for a landing,” Bradley added.

“The singular focus of the Senate is access to patients who deserve this medicine. The bill I present on the floor next week will likely be very similar to the versions that were 95% worked out with the House during regular session,” Bradley concluded.

With the pitched rhetoric of the Legislative Session being dialed down ahead of the Special Session on other issues, expect that medical cannabis will be yet another issue on which pragmatism ultimately prevails.

House Speaker Corcoran asserted Friday morning that the “House has communicated to … the Senate that this is an issue we believe must be addressed and that we are prepared to expand the call to address the implementation of the constitutional amendment approved by voters of the constitutional amendment approved by the voters during the 2016 election.”

medical marijuana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knox to open Orlando’s first medical marijuana dispensary Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drug Free America Foundation wants marijuana Special Session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider this final point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among them, they called for Florida to:

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

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

– Stop rules that prevent qualified patients from getting access.

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

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

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

– Allow for smokable cannabis.

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