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Some Florida Republicans AWOL on talking about Amendment 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The age breakdown is equally vivid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The margin of error is 3.8 percent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Administrative law judge sides with state in medical marijuana licensing case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro-medical marijuana group set to launch first TV ad

The United for Care campaign is hitting the airwaves.

The group behind the medical marijuana ballot initiative recently filmed its first advertisement and is expected to release it this week. The 30-second spot features a Miami Beach doctor talking about the benefits of Amendment 2.

“My patients are fighting cancer, epilepsy, and other diseases. Right now, to ease those patients’ pain and suffering, physicians prescribe opiates and other dangerous narcotics that have significant risk,” said Dr. Jeff Kamlet, a practicing internal and addiction medicine specialist, in the advertisement. “Amendment 2 will allow me to legally recommend all safe and effective treatments, including medical marijuana, to patients who are suffering. ‘Yes on 2’ means I can offer compassionate, effective care and get my patients the help they need.”

Kamlet has been a supporter of the amendment, writing an op-ed in 2014 backing it. In it, Kamlet said doctors “should be allowed to recommend medical marijuana to their patients suffering from debilitating conditions without interference from politicians.” The op-ed went on to say “sick Floridians should not have to put their own freedom at risk in order to secure medicine they need to dramatically improve their quality of life.”

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

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

In a fundraising email to supporters this weekend, the organization said “thanks to our donors and a big new $1 million donation that came in on Friday, we’re starting TV ads in select markets very shortly. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the ads are expected to air in Tampa, Miami, West Palm Beach, Orlando, and Jacksonville markets

Records show People United for Medical Marijuana, the fundraising group behind the amendment, raised $222,141 between Sept. 17 and Sept. 23. The committee, records show, spent $104,306 during the same time period.

‘Reefer Madness’ returns to Tallahassee

The forces against this year’s medical marijuana initiative lined up a one-two punch Friday against the proposed state constitutional amendment.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Ken Bell provided the legal jab, saying marijuana doesn’t belong in the state’s chief governing document. He addressed reporters at a press conference in Tallahassee.

“You create a fundamental right that the Legislature is very constrained in its ability to deal with in terms of any unintended consequences,” said Bell, a conservative who sat on the court from 2003-08. 

State Sen. Jack Latvala — the Clearwater Republican set to be Appropriations Committee chair — delivered the moral cross, saying enshrining marijuana in the constitution is just plain wrong.

“I want to be a little more personal,” Latvala said. “I don’t want this to come to Florida … I just see too many opportunities for abuse.”

Backers of the broader use of medical marijuana are trying again in 2016, after a similar amendment failed narrowly at the polls two years ago. The committee behind it is again called United for Care. 

After enjoying broad support, it only got 58 percent of the vote — just shy of the 60 percent required for passage of an amendment — after a negative ad campaign largely financed by Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson.

The latest amendment now is polling between 65-75 percent.

The initiative is again backed by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who has spent millions of dollars on the campaigns. Morgan has spoken publicly about his interest in the cause: His brother’s need for marijuana to ease crippling pain.

But the opposition continues to rally against what former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford called “the Coloradofication of Florida, where the end game is a pot shop on every street corner.”

Florida already allows by statute the low-THC, or non-euphoric, marijuana, mostly for children with severe seizures and spasms, and the higher-THC strain approved this year for terminally ill patients.

But Latvala and others continue to raise concerns, for instance, that “Amendment 2 will bring kid-friendly pot candy to Florida,” a claim just rated “half true” by PolitiFact.

“I just think it’s wrong,” Latvala said. “I’m concerned that there won’t be the ability for local governments to regulate where these bud shops or pot shops are located … Most of all, we have no scientific evidence that there’s any medicinal value for marijuana.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse“the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine.”

“However, scientific study of the chemicals in marijuana … has led to two FDA-approved medications that contain (those) chemicals in pill form. Continued research may lead to more medications,” its website adds. 

United for Care campaign manager Ben Pollara said in an email, “If the Legislature had done their job in the first place, Sen. Latvala wouldn’t have an amendment to oppose. They didn’t.

“The current law isn’t even being accessed by many of the families it was narrowly written to help,” Pollara said. “If Sen. Latvala is displeased that this issue is now before voters as a constitutional amendment, perhaps he should reflect on why the Legislature failed to enact the people’s will.”

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia “now allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs,” 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.

The No on 2 campaign’s website is here. The website for the organization behind this year’s amendment is here.

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Poll: 73% of voters support medical marijuana ballot initiative

The 2016 medical marijuana ballot initiative has strong support among Floridians, according to a new poll.

A new poll from the Florida Chamber Political Institute found 73 percent of voters would support the amendment. The survey found 22 percent were opposed to the ballot initiative.

The poll of 617 registered voters was conducted from Sept. 15 through Sept. 20. The survey has a margin of error of 4 percent.

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

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

The new Florida Chamber Political Institute survey is in line with other recent polls, which showed 70 percent of Floridians supported the amendment.

New ad from Drug Free Florida says marijuana ‘is not medicine’

Drug Free Florida is out with a new TV ad questioning the assertion that medical marijuana is medicine.

The 30-second spot, according to the Vote No on 2 campaign, is meant to compare a prescription drug with marijuana. According to the campaign, Marinol, a prescription drug, has the same benefits as marijuana but is “regulated by the FDA and prescribed by a doctor.”

“This is not medicine, not regulated by the FDA, not prescribed by a doctor. But Amendment 2 makes it legal” a narrator says in the 30-second spot as people are shown smoking marijuana. “Why? Because Amendment 2 is a scam.”

The ad goes on to say “you don’t smoke medicine.”

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

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

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

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