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Cities face ‘all or nothing’ choices on medical marijuana

Florida cities and counties are in a dilemma about pot.

State lawmakers approved regulations in June that left city and county officials with a Hobson’s choice about the sale of medical marijuana in their communities.

Local governments can either impose outright bans on medical-marijuana dispensaries or allow unlimited numbers of marijuana retail outlets, under an “all or nothing” approach approved during a special legislative session.

Dozens of cities have approved or are considering temporary moratoriums on medical-marijuana dispensaries, but it’s unknown exactly how many local governments have acted on the issue, because nobody – including state health officials – is officially keeping track.

Marijuana operators’ search for retail space has bloomed after voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in November that legalized marijuana for a broad swath of patients with debilitating medical conditions.

The scramble for retail outlets is expected to intensify as the number of marijuana operators continues to increase, and as local governments seek ways to restrain the sales of cannabis in their communities, at least for now.

As another result of the legislation approved during the June special session, state health officials recently authorized five new medical marijuana operations, on top of the seven businesses already active in the state. Five more are supposed to come online in October.

Nearly 72 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment last fall, making it difficult for local officials to close the door completely on the sale of medical cannabis.

But while saying they respect the will of voters, many local officials also want the power to regulate the number of dispensaries, and where the businesses can be sited, something that’s essentially off the table in the new state law, which requires local governments to treat medical marijuana distribution centers in the same way pharmacies are handled.

Most cities and counties don’t have special regulations regarding pharmacies, but instead treat them like other retail, or “light commercial,” businesses.

While some communities contemplate new zoning rules for pharmacies, a move that also could curb the development of marijuana dispensaries, others are focused on the cannabis retail outlets.

For example, St. Augustine Beach commissioners last week approved a moratorium barring medical-marijuana dispensaries from opening in the waterfront community.

“I think the main reason was just wanting to see how the situation is going to shake out and what sort of problems might occur with the sales of this stuff. There was no particular anxiety over it, but I think it’s a fear of the unknown,” said Jim Wilson, a lawyer who represents the city. “We’re a small community, and we’d rather see how this works elsewhere before we connect into it. It may work out fine later on.”

But Sen. Rob Bradley, who has been a key player in the creation and passage of the state’s medical-marijuana laws the past three years, said the new regulations were meant to encourage competition in the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry.

“I would encourage our local partners to see the bigger picture here. We are bringing online several new licenses over the next year-and-a-half. It’s important for the long-term future of the medical marijuana industry that we have real competition among not only the incumbents but the new license holders,” Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican and former prosecutor, said in a recent interview. “If local governments were allowed at this point in time to restrict in their communities the number of dispensaries to only one or two or three, that would provide an unacceptable advantage to the incumbents.”

Regarding local officials’ fears about what are disparagingly known as “pot shops,” Bradley said he thinks they may be uninformed.

“When I see some of the comments from local officials, I’m not sure that they’ve read the details of the law. We have strict limitations on advertising and signage, and all of these dispensaries are required to have a doctor’s office feel,” he said.

The new restrictions imposed by the Legislature, paired with a push by marijuana operators to open retail facilities, create “an awkward situation for a lot of cities,” said John Wayne Smith, a lobbyist who represents numerous cities and counties as well as the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

While local governments are largely focused on budget issues during the summer, they may turn their attention to medical marijuana later in the year, Smith predicted.

Others may wait for the Legislature to revamp the state law.

“I would say that it’s probably half-baked and this is probably an issue that is going to evolve and get tweaked over the next five to 10 years,” Smith said.

But the passage of the state-imposed prohibition on local governments’ ability to limit the number of retail outlets poses a problem for cities like Lake Worth, which authorized two medical marijuana dispensaries before approving a moratorium aimed at preventing others from opening.

It’s unclear, however, whether the new state law will require the city to open its doors to more dispensaries, an issue on which municipal lawyers are divided.

“By doing a nothing or all, and because we already have two, this is what you’ve done to my city. Everyone around me has a moratorium, but you’ve now told my city it’s a free-for-all,” Lake Worth City Commissioner Andy Amoroso told The News Service of Florida.

Amoroso stressed that he supports legalization of recreational marijuana and endorses the use of medical marijuana for sick patients. But he also emphasized that the state law “jeopardizes what our cities look like.”

Lake Worth is surrounded by other communities that have banned the sales of medical marijuana, meaning that retailers will likely target his city, Amoroso maintained.

Lake Worth officials need “to be able to control” what their 7-square-mile city “looks like,” Amoroso said.

“If I have medical marijuana on every corner, I can’t do that,” he said.

But Orlando city attorney Kyle Shephard said he believes a moratorium recently passed by his commission will allow the city to stop any more medical-marijuana retail shops from opening.

“Every city attorney may answer this differently, depending on their own local situation,” Shepard told the News Service.

Orlando adopted its ordinance allowing up to seven medical marijuana dispensaries before the state law (SB 8-A) was passed, Shepard said. The city believes that means its ordinance won’t be affected by the new law.

“If you didn’t get your rules on the books before SB 8 went into effect at the end of June, then you are sort of hamstrung,” Shepard said.

Orange Park council members recently advanced an ordinance that would prohibit pharmacies from opening in “light” commercial areas – something that wouldn’t affect any of the drug stores currently in operation, according to Mayor Scott Land.

The town council approved the new regulation in response to the state law, which the mayor called “an all or nothing, almost.”

“So instead of doing the all, a lot of people are going to probably choose the nothing,” he said. “I think it’s going to make it difficult for the dispensaries.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Adam Putnam: Nobody knows Florida better than I

Adam Putnam assured the 200 or so delegates to his breakfast at the Republican Party of Florida quarterly meeting in Orlando Saturday that he knows their towns, he knows their roads, he knows their barbecue places, and he knows their hopes, dreams, and struggles of living somewhere that’s not on an Interstate exit.

The Florida agriculture commissioner and former state lawmaker and former U.S. Congressman running for governor spun his theme of Florida being the greatest state, where everyone wants to visit or live, while pressing conservatism, urging that Florida must be “the launching pad of the American dream,” and warning of liberal uprisings, with “The left is coming for us!”

And, most of all, the candidate turned on his folksy side, reminded everyone he’s a fifth-generation Floridian with a ranch outside of Bartow, and strove to connect with Republicans in too-often-ignored rural areas and small towns from the Keys to the western panhandle.

Putnam, alone in the Republican race for governor until Friday, now has serious competition for the Republican primary nomination. State Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater filed to run Friday and addressed the Republican convention Friday night. Potential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach was to address the crowd Saturday afternoon. House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes also is a real prospect.

On Saturday morning, Putnam was positioning himself as the grassroots candidate.

He spoke of how two-thirds of Floridians don’t have college degrees so the state must put more emphasis on technical training and less on trying to get everyone to go to college. He spoke of making sure everyone has the chance to start their own businesses, and don’t dismiss someone starting out with a lawn-care business.

“I know our state,” Putnam said. “I know every corner of our state. I’ve been down every four-lane, every dirt road. I know all the barbecue restaurants. If you need a tip I can tell you where the best pulled-pork meal is, where the best brisket is, who’s got the best chicken. I know our state like the back of my hand. I am dedicated to the future of our state.”

From there, he appeared to respond to Latvala’s comments Friday night, when the House Appropriations Committee chairman lashed out at other candidates, whom he didn’t name, whom he accused of forgetting the needs of the Republican Party of Florida while they pursued their own careers, and of raising money for their own causes, without contributing to the party.

“We’re going to bring this state together. And this party is a part of that. It’s an integral part of that,” Putnam said to the party loyalists at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. “It’s not us against them. It’s not Bradford versus Highlands. It’s not the party versus the electeds. You have seen me at your meetings and in your Lincoln Days…. I can’t succeed as a governor if we don’t succeed as a party.”

 

Adam Putnam pushes Florida Forever funding as helping Florida on multiple levels

Speaking to a Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation meeting on military issues, Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam pushed for funding for Florida Forever.

Putnam said in Orlando Tuesday that lands acquired through Florida Forever purchases not only help all the conservation causes but bolster the state’s economic strength, in particular when its used to develop buffers around military bases.

He expressed strong disappointment that the Florida Legislature allotted no money for Florida Forever this year, and said later, speaking to the press, that even $50 million a year might not be enough.

“I’m pretty disappointed on a lot of levels that that funding was zeroed out this year,” Putnam said.

“I’m not ready to roll out a policy paper, but historically, for the last seven years Florida Forever, I don’t know if it’s ever been above $50” million, he said later to reporters. “You know, I think that’s a minimum, if you’re going to make an impact at today’s real estate values. So I would suggest a significantly higher number than that is necessary to accomplish what we want to accomplish, to have connected corridors in Florida, and protect the things and serve the things that make Florida Florida.”

Putnam is the only Republican in the race so far, though state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater will be announcing his plans next week, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes reportedly are weighing the prospect.  The Democrats so far are fielding former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park developer Chris King.

Most of Putnam’s 17-minute address to the chamber group Monday focused on his vow to make Florida “the most military and veteran friendly state in the nation,” a nod to the theme of the conference dubbed the “Military, Defense and Veterans Opportunities Summit.”

Yet while Putnam went through his agenda of efforts to support the military and veterans, including waiving application fees for veterans and military personnel to receive concealed weapons permits, the talk turned broader as he talked about using Florida Forever money to acquire buffers around military and other federal installations as a way to protect them from base closures and offer opportunities for expansion.

That calls in both Florida Forever and the state’s Rural Family Lands program, which he said have included considerations of creating more buffer around military bases.

“My point this morning was, look at the layers of benefits that come from that program, not only do you have the obvious water recharge, wildlife habitat, connecting corridors, public recreation areas, but in circumstances where those conservation lands are near military training ranges or bases, you’re getting the additional benefit of BRAC-proofing Florida,” he said, referring to the federal base Realignment and Closure program.

In his speech, called for all state agencies to prioritize veterans and their families in offering assistance for them to move on to civilian life, for permit fees to be waived, and for Florida to offer reciprocity to recognize military licensers for professional specialities.

Putnam also predicted that the emerging aerospace assembly industry along the Space Coast and northward to Jacksonville will lead to a new glory day for the space program in Florida, better than the days of the Apollo and space shuttle missions under NASA, which lead to boom and bust impacts.

That is the hope for the region, though the NASA jobs were lost by the thousands and so far the jobs being brought in by the private space companies such as Blue Origin and SpaceX have been numbered in the scores or low hundreds.

“As we look to the future, we’ll see that the glory days of Florida’s space age will not have been the Apollo program, and will not have been the space shuttle program, but will be the joint process of civilian and military investment that is going on in Florida right now, where the factories that will build the satellites will be in Florida,” Putnam said. “The rockets will be assembled in Florida. They will be launched from Florida. They will be landed in Florida. They will be repurposed and refurbished in Florida…. And they will make 60 launches a year.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson visits Florida, discusses voter suppression

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says there was no evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election but says President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity should look at the suppression of minority voters in certain states, including Florida.

The civil rights activist visited St. John Baptist Church in Orlando Sunday to encourage voter participation and to talk about voter suppression.

In a call with The Associated Press, Jackson said between 1.3 and 1.7 million voters don’t have the right to vote in Florida because they have a felony conviction although they are no longer incarcerated.

Jackson says his Rainbow PUSH Coalition has set up its own commission of scholars and activists to look into such voter suppression. The group is also focusing on voter registration in closely watched elections in Virginia and New Jersey. And in Florida, the group is focused on restoration of voting rights for felons.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Anna Eskamani raises $52K in first month of HD 47 run

Democrat Anna Eskamani raised more than $52,000 in her first month after announcing her candidacy to run in Florida’s House District 47, her campaign announced Monday.

Eskamani, of Orlando, pulled in $52,517, with her first major fundraiser yet to come, set for Aug. 15, according to her campaign. That has come from more than 300 individual donations.

The campaign also announced the backing of former Orange County Chair Linda Chapin who will be speaking at her campaign kickoff fundraiser.

The swing seat representing north and central Orange County is expected to be vacated, as Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park announced in late June that he is running for Congress instead of re-election. So far, the only other announced candidate is Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves, a Republican.

“Raising over $50,000 in four weeks was made possible by the over 300 teachers, retirees, students, veterans, physicians, nurses, executives, environmentalists, attorneys, and business owners who donated to our campaign because they want a bold new vision for Tallahassee and a proven community leader who gets things done,” she stated in a news release issued by her campaign. “We all do better, when we all do better. I truly believe that, and Central Floridians from all political persuasions can trust me as their elected voice in Tallahassee.”

Eskamani is senior director of public affairs and communications at Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida and an adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida.

Buddy Dyer urges united Orlando to go forward

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared Friday that the state of the city is united, and that that unity, drawn from Orlando’s darkest day, is needed as the city confronts its future with challenges of transit, homelessness, housing and a development of a high-tech economy.

“Two words,” Dyer concluded in his annual State of the City address, given at City Hall, “Orlando united.”

That has been the catch phrase of a city, a region, a people, embracing one another in the days and now the 13 months since the Pulse nightclub massacre of June 12, 2017. Dyer said the unity had been crafted long before Pulse and saved the city in the aftermath. It had shown the world a remarkable resiliency. And now, he said, it is needed going forward.

Dyer’s 36-minute address was short on new, bold plans or project announcements. Mostly, the mayor of 14 years pushed for a staying on the current course, completion of current projects, and expansion of current services, and programs, more urban planning, and continuation of his policies.

But he also made it clear that a new police headquarters, new developments at Lake Nona, the expansion of the city’s Interstate 4, the foundations of the University of Central Florida’s new downtown campus and the related Creative Village multi-use development, and other brick-and-mortar projects were relatively small accomplishments of the past year compared with the city’s reaction to Pulse.

“We have transformed Orlando from a place which was packed with potential to a place that has realized its potential. Most of the attention over these last several years has been on tangible projects, things we can see, touch, and quantify in dollars and cents. But the past year has been very different,” Dyer said.

“In the most challenging year in our city’s history, the intangible has defined Orlando,” he added.

It didn’t happen by accident, he insisted.

“Think about it: We spent years talking about partnerships, diversity and inclusion. Our response to Pulse showed the world that isn’t just lip service,” he said. “We showed the world what it truly means to love, to respect, and to accept your neighbor. And why partnership matters so much: We showed the world we have our differences, but when it really matters, when it really matters, we’re in this together.

“Knowing this fact is why we can say, in this national climate that is so divided, so divided, Orlando is different. Knowing this allows us to say with pride and confidence that the state of our city is united and unbreakable,” he added.

The challenge ahead, he continued is to apply that unity as Orlando transitions from a city everyone wants to visit into a city in which everyone wants to live. Those challenges, he said, include development of affordable housing, expansion of transit, public safety, the fostering of a high-tech economy, the city’s main street programs developing multiple neighborhood hubs throughout, and promotion of sustainable energy from buses to housing.

“Being Orlando United will be our advantage, as we work together to address these challenges,” Dyer said.

Gwen Graham turns free clinic ‘workday’ into push for a budget that cares

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham described a private meeting a patient asked to have with her while she was performing one of her “workday” events at an Orlando free clinic Wednesday night, and said it reminded her that state budget priorities need to be reworked to be more caring.

The patient had been struggling to get medications he needed. In his private meeting Wednesday night with the Democratic former congresswoman who wants to be Florida’s next governor, he began to cry. She responded with tears of her own, she said.

He got what he needed at the Shepherd’s Hope clinic in Longwood, one of five Shepherd’s Hopes in the Orlando area that serves people who do not qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford medical insurance. The clinics serve thousands of patients, but still, on some days, must turn people away.

“These are good people who are facing real challenges all the time. But for places like Shepherd’s Hope, which is really their last hope, what would they do?” Graham said.

“We need to have people who want to make a difference in people’s lives, who really care,” she concluded. “We need to look at our state budget in ways that get our priorities back in place, caring for people… for the right reasons.”

Graham faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King in pursuing the Democratic nomination to run for governor. She has spent much of her early campaign months pursuing the activity coined by her father, former governor and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who spent “workdays” working other people’s jobs.

While the younger Graham has worked an occasional hard-labor workday such as installing solar panels on roofs, her focus so far has been on more social services, from education to health care. It’s a distinction working into her campaign them, which she described as offering someone the voters will get to trust to care about them.

It’s a theme both Gillum and King would insist they share, though Gillum is presenting himself more as the Democrat who has the courage to push Democratic values, and King as the Democrat who has succeeded in business while pushing Democratic values.

The leading Republican thus far is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who’s defining himself with strong conservative values.

On Wednesday night she spent four hours working at Shepherd’s Hope with the organization’s president, Marni Stahlman, and with Dr. Jamaal McLeod, normally an emergency room physician in Volusia County, and the rest of the all-volunteer staff.

Graham used the moment, as she did with her workday at a Jacksonville clinic earlier this month, to condemn Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Florida Legislature for refusing to accept the federal Medicaid expansion deal offered in the Affordable Care Act, a deal that would have provided health care to at least 800,000 uninsured Floridians, and billions of dollars to Florida, but also a longterm financial commitment to Florida.

She also pushed Wednesday night for other health care reforms, such as modernizing the state’s laws so that clinics such as Shepherd’s Hope, and ordinary doctors’ offices, could turn to telemedicine and other advances to offer specialist care.

 

Orlando faith leaders call on Rick Scott to sign anti-discrimination order

Saying he promised to do something after Pulse and the gay community is still waiting, a congregation of Orlando faith leaders Monday called on Gov. Rick Scott to sign an executive order banning anti-gay discrimination in state government.

The Rev. Terri Steed Pierce, senior pastor at the Joy Metropolitan Community Church, which serves Orlando’s LGBTQ community, was joined by other protestant, Roman Catholic, and Muslim faith leaders to urge and even pray for Scott to sign the executive order they said was promised a few weeks after the June 12, 2016, massacre at Orlando’s popular gay nightclub Pulse that killed 49 and wounded 53.

Their call joins those of Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and others at Equality Florida, the state’s leading gay-rights advocacy group, who have grown sharply critical of Scott in recent weeks for not signing an order they said he had pledged.

Scott’s office said the state follows federal guidelines and that state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and state employees should not be discriminated against in any way.

“Florida is a state that doesn’t tolerate discrimination of any form,” the statement read. “Our office will continue to review ways we can work to eliminate discrimination of any kind.”

Steed Pierce and the other faith leaders who joined her Monday said that simply acknowledging and adopting federal guidelines was not enough; they wanted to see Scott formalize it with an executive order, showing firm commitment.

“Gov. Scott came to Orlando two days after the Pulse massacre to offer his support to our community. He came to this very place, sat in this very room, a sanctuary created for and by the LGBT community to share his concern with us, and with all of those affected and effected by the hate crime that happened one and half miles from here,” Steed Pierce said. “Gov. Scott was kind and sympathetic. He was shocked to hear about our realities. And upon leaving that day he promised to stay in touch.

“And so the governor continued to call me often to check on our church and this community. He agreed to do whatever he could to help us heal,” she continued. “It’s been over a year now, and the best way we can heal and overcome the loss our community suffered, is to honor the fallen with our action. The time for talking is over. It’s time to do something. Taking action can change things. And we need change within our state.”

Hannah Willard, public policy director for Equality Florida, said Smith and other staff members of that organization met with Scott’s staff in July of 2016, and were told the governor’s office would vet the idea of an executive order to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation within Florida government. Willard said talks were ongoing and started focusing simply on the matter of timing for such an order.

Muslim Imam Abdurrahman Sykes, one of two chaplains assisting when the medical examiner met with families, said Monday that Scott must back up his sympathetic words with actions.

The other speakers Monday included retired Roman Catholic Rev. Rudolph Cleare, the Rev. Bryan Fulwider of the United Church of Christ , and the Rev. Jennifer Stiles Williams of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, who prayed that Scott respond to their call.

“It is disrespectful that after such an event, Gov. Rick Scott’s promise to extend nondiscrimination protection to LGBTQ-plus state employees has not taken place,” Sykes said. “He has the power to honor the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre, an unprecedented tragedy, with action, by recognizing LGBTQ-plus equality in Florida.

“With an executive order, the very stroke of a pen, Gov. Scott can set a new standard of LGBTQ-plus state employees. This executive order would bring dignity to the victims and good will to their families,” Sykes continued. “In addition, it would send the message that hate and bigotry would not be tolerated in the Sunshine State.”

 

Kamia Brown endorses Andrew Gillum for governor

Orlando Democratic State Rep. Kamia Brown has thrown her support Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Democratic governor’s race.

“I have watched with great pride as Mayor Andrew Gillum has campaigned all over this state for governor,” Brown stated in a news release issued by Gillum’s campaign. “He is connecting with Floridians from every walk of life and every corner of Florida. I am proud to endorse him for governor, because I know he will be a champion for Orlando, for women, and for all those who need a voice against the special interests. I look forward to knocking doors with him in Orlando and beyond, to take back our state in 2018.”

Gillum faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination in the 2018 governor’s race. The leading Republican candidate so far is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Brown’s endorsement adds his list that includes those of state Sens. Jeff ClemensPerry Thurston, and Bobby Powell; and state Reps. Joseph AbruzzoLoranne Ausley, Ramon Alexander, Shevrin Jones, Al Jacquet, and Patrick Henry.

“I’m honored to have Rep. Kamia Brown’s endorsement in this campaign,” Gillum stated in the release. “She’s brought passion and energy to her work in the Legislature, and I can’t wait to work with her as governor. She is going to help us bring our message to Orlando and all across the I-4 Corridor, and I’m excited to be on the trail with her.”

Paul Renner pledges teamwork, ‘full collaboration’ as speaker

State Rep. Paul Renner pledged military-unit-like reliance on teamwork and full collaboration after he was elected by his Republican peers to be their leader-designate.

The Palm Coast Republican won on a first ballot during a closed-door meeting of Republican members of the freshman class Friday. He beat out J.W. Grant of Tampa, Erin Grall of Vero Beach, and Bryan Donalds of Naples.

Renner, a retired U.S. Navy Reserves commander and attorney, spoke of teamwork and collaboration, said his class is deep with expertise and experience and he intends to use that to the full extent.

He received 16 of 27 votes on the first ballot. Details of what the other three candidates received were not released.

“I think one of the things I spoke about is that every member of the team is critical. That is something I learned in the military, from the first day of boot camp. You learn that you succeed or fail as a team,” Renner said.

“The focus I would like to have is we have a great class, we can do great things together, and I want to be the facilitator,” Renner said.

Exactly what Renner or the other three said in their ten-minute speeches, or how the other Republican representatives responded, may never be known. The lawmakers gathered in a hotel near the Orlando airport and met in secret for nearly three hours before announcing that they elected Renner.

Unlike other recent Speaker elections in the era of term limits, this one was put off until after the Session to give the members of the class a chance to get to know each other and pick a leader from among people with whom they’ve worked.

“We’ve got a process here that will leave you with a class united,” House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues said to Renner. “It’s good for your class and more importantly it’s good for the institution.”

 

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