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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.

State’s unemployment rate drops to 4.5%

Florida’s unemployment rate dipped to its lowest rate in nearly a decade in April, state officials announced Friday.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity announced the unemployment rate dipped to 4.5 percent in April, down from 4.8 percent one month earlier. The drop marks one of the lowest rates since September 2007, and is only slightly higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.4 percent.

“Florida businesses have excelled over the past six years thanks to the policies of Gov. (Rick) Scott and his administration,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the DEO, in a statement. “Unemployment continues to drop, private sector jobs are on the rise and Florida families are flourishing. We must not give up on our efforts to make Florida the best place to start and grow a business.”

The DEO reported there were more than 8.5 million jobs in April, up 215,400 jobs compared to a year ago.

Professional and business services saw the largest growth, adding 39,500 jobs over the year in April; followed by trade, transportation and utilities with 36,600 new jobs; construction with 34,400 new jobs; and education and health services with 32,700 jobs.

Twenty-three of the state’s 24 metro areas saw over-the-year jobs gains, according to the DEO.

Orlando once again led the state in job creation, adding 42,700 private-sector jobs year-over-year in April. The unemployment rate in the Orlando metro area was 3.6 percent.

“I am proud to announce today that the Orlando area continues to lead the state in job creation, which is great news for families and business in Central Florida,” said Scott in a statement. “Florida’s unemployment rate has also reached a nearly 10-year low, which is sending a message across the country that our state is a top destination for new jobs and opportunities.”

Leisure and hospitality saw the largest growth, with 13,400 new jobs; followed by trade, transportation and utilities with 8,800 new jobs; financial activities with 4,800 new jobs; and manufacturing with 1,600.

The Orlando-area was second among metro areas for job demand, with 37,024 job openings.

The Tampa Bay-area led the state when it came to job demand, with 47,412 job openings. It also ranked first in the state for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) openings with 14,898 openings in April.

The region’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in April.

Scott is expected to highlight the job numbers during an event in Miami later today.

Bobby Olszewski fundraisers set for Orlando, Miami in HD 44 race

Republican House District 44 candidate Bobby Olszewski is rolling out his endorsement backers for two major fundraisers late this month as he gears up for what will be a big special election primary battle in Orange County.

One fundraiser, set for the Shutts and Bowen law firm in Orlando on May 30, features the trio of honorary hosts U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and former Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

It also features 30 other hosts who cover a who’s-who of local politics in west Orange County, where HD 44 is located.

The other fundraiser is set for the next night at SMGQ Law Firm in Coral Gables.

The HD 44 race has not been scheduled for a special election yet, but it will be, because incumbent state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle who is leaving for an appeals court judicial appointment to Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals,

And earlier this week the HD 44 Republican primary contest, seen by Republicans as an important seat with a strong track to a speaker’s job, became a battle, with the entry of Kissimmee chamber CEO John Newstreet.

Olszewski has spent the past couple of months lining up endorsements, and he’ll be rolling out those people at his Orland fundraiser.

Among dozens of other hosts listed are Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley, Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn, Belle Isle Mayor Bill Brooks, Orange County School Board Members Joie Cadle, Christine Moore, and Linda Kobert, former Orange County Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez, Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson, Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer, Orlando Commissioner Tony Ortiz, Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks, and Winter Garden Mayor John Rees.

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.

Kissimmee chamber chief John Newstreet enters HD 44 race

Orlando Republican John Newstreet, chief executive officer of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce and a former aide to U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez and Marco Rubio, announced he’s entering the House District 44 race going to a special election this summer.

“I’m honored by the number of people in the community, and across the state, who have encouraged me to enter this race and represent West Orange County in the Florida House,” Newstreet stated in a news release from his campaign. “I believe I’m prepared and qualified to successfully champion the conservative values that will grow our economy, strengthen our schools, keep our taxes low, cut job-killing regulations and protect our Second Amendment rights.”

Newstreet enters a race in which former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski had established himself as the early front-runner, even before Republican state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle who is leaving to take an appointment from Gov. Rick Scott as a judge on Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals.

Republicans covet as a potential springboard to the House speaker’s position because of its relative safety, and because the special election winner will have a leg up on the freshmen of 2018. Dr. Usha Jain of Orlando also is in the Republican primary race.

The Democratic candidate is Orlando businessman Paul Chandler.

No dates have been announced for the special primary or special general election for the seat, but they are expected this summer.

Newstreet is a native Floridian who grew up in a home of nine children, and says that gave him the ability to “bring people together for a common goal.” Newstreet also is a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and a graduate of University of Central Florida. His degree is in business administration.

“My time in the Coast Guard was a tremendous gift that helped shape who I am today,” Newstreet said in the release. “Should I earn the trust of the voters, I will be a passionate advocate for our veterans and our military service men and women.”

A resident of the Orange Tree community in the Dr. Phillips region of Orlando, Newstreet began his professional career as a financial advisor. He also has served as state director for the American Legion. For the past three years he has led the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce. That group’s board voted unanimously to allow him to run for the state representative post.

His volunteer service includes numerous charities such as Give Kids the World, as well as a leader for business and industry at the Osceola County Emergency Operations Center. Newstreet currently attends Holy Family Catholic Church.

“Serving community, lending a helping hand and doing what’s right is what we were taught growing up,” Newstreet said. “Those are the same values I will take with me to Tallahassee as West Orange’s next State Representative.”

Adam Putnam brings ‘Florida First’ tour to Altamonte Springs

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam brought his “Florida First” campaign to the Orlando area for the first time Tuesday afternoon, promising conservative, pro-growth values and belittling liberals he expects to go after him.

The fifth-generation Floridian and former state and U.S. lawmaker continued the opening themes of his brand new campaign, declaring “Florida exceptionalism” is why people want to visit and move here and vowing to promote that as Florida’s governor, and to prevent it from turning into a liberal and high-tax bastion like California, Illinois and New York.

“I believe there is a special obligation to be a Floridian, to keep Florida special, knowing that people from all over the world want to visit or move here. I want to Florida to be more than a prize for a life well-lived someplace else. I want Florida to be the launch pad for the American dream!” Putnam said to a warm reception of more than 100 people at the Eastmonte Civic Center in Altamonte Springs.

“And it can be that if we put Florida first!” he declared.

In his speech Putnam broke little new ground compared with what he’s been saying since he kicked off his campaign before 2,000 people in his hometown of Bartow last month.

In a press availability afterwards, Putnam said there is plenty in the 2017-18 budget just passed by the Florida Legislature that he would veto, though he was not specific; he criticized the Legislature for not reaching a deal on a medical marijuana enactment bill; said he would vote as a member of the Florida Cabinet to pardon the “Groveland Four,” as requested by the Legislature.

He also deflected a question about whether he would, as governor, invoke a states’ waiver included in the American Health Care Act to opt Florida out of having to cover pre-existing conditions. As a former member of Congress, Putnam expressed skepticism that the waiver will still be in the bill when it leaves the U.S. Senate, and said he hopes the final bill includes coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Putnam begins his campaign with a 10-day, 22-stop tour that’s hitting both big cities and small towns.

So far he has no real competition for the Republican primary, and his independent political committee, armed with almost $8 million to start, may intimidate away all but the most courageous. The Democrats, meanwhile, are heading for a primary brawl, with three major candidates so far, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King, and others mulling the race.

Putnam spoke of conservative leadership over the past six years fueling the Florida economy, painting images of hotel maids opening their own bed-and-breakfasts, and of the Space Coast being even better with private space industry emerging there than it ever was when it relied on NASA.

“American exceptionalism, Florida exceptionalism, is still very much alive and well in the Sunshine State in 2017 and it will be even stronger when I get elected,” he said.

“Florida, with limited government, a focus on Constitutional freedom, liberty, law and order, Florida is the destination of choice for people to come here to find their piece of the American dream,” he added.

He called for protection of gun rights and boasted that the state’s number of concealed weapons permits dramatically increased under his commission, and argued that is a key reason why Florida’s crime rate has fallen.

Putnam also called for the state to not only push technical and vocational education more, but said the state needs to do a better job of advising students of the high-wage jobs they can pursue with vocational education.

He also vowed great support and homage to be paid to service members, veterans, police and other first responders.

“And our men and women in law enforcement, the military, and those who serve our nation and their families will know that Florida is the most veteran and military and law enforcement friendly state in the entire country, hands down,” Putnam said.

Val Demings, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spend Mother’s Day with women troops in Iraq, Afghanistan

Orlando’s U.S. Rep. Val Demings and Miami’s U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen made a week-long visit to visit troops in Afghanistan and Iraq this week, including a Mother’s Day visit at which Demings was able to deliver cards from students in her Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

Demings, a Democrat, and Ros-Lehtinen were part of a bipartisan group of members of Congress to make the tour to conduct oversight of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq with a focus on the contribution, efforts, and concerns of women in the United States Armed Forces and local women.

“This was my first trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, and it was such an honor to meet with our female troops and commanders, and see firsthand the difference they are making in Afghanistan and Iraq all while protecting our homeland,” Demings stated in a news release issued by her office.

The delegation met with U.S. female service members, toured local businesses, participated in roundtables with Afghan Female Police and Soldiers, met with Iraqi women leaders, and humanitarian leaders. Others in the group in clouded U.S. Reps. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican; Susan Davis, a California Democrat; Susan Brooks, an Indiana Republican; and members of the House Armed Services Committee.

“I’m encouraged by the work being done through USAID to enhance and further the lives of women in Afghanistan and Iraq. We must continue to invest in these important programs, that help to enrich the lives of families and give them hope for the future,” Demings stated.

The Mother’s Day cards were delivered to women in the service.

“We just wanted to show them how much we appreciate the sacrifices they make to serve us, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day,” Demings said.

Knox Medical opening marijuana shop in Gainesville, planning statewide

Winter Garden-based Knox Medical, one of Florida’s seven licensed distributors of marijuana medicines, announced it is opening its first dispensary, in Gainesville with plans to go statewide soon.

In keeping with its strategy of locating dispensaries near hospitals and medical centers, Knox will open its first shop at  3400 SW 34th St., in Gainesville, not far from Shands Hospital, Shands Cancer Hospital at the University of Florida, and the Veterans Administration’s Malcom Randall Medical Center.

A press preview of the dispensary is set for Wednesday, with a public opening on Friday.

After that, an Orlando dispensary is set to open soon, and the company announced it has immediate plans to open marijuana medicine dispensaries in  in Jacksonville, Lake Worth, Tallahassee, and St. Petersburg, “followed by a large statewide expansion throughout 2017 and 2018,” the company announced Monday.

Knox also released artist’s renderings of a prototype, with a staid interior looking more like an optometrist’s shop than a pot shop, and an exterior with a sign declaring, “KNOX Cannabis Dispensary.”

“Knox Medical is working with Florida’s top architects and designers to create an unrivaled dispensary experience that puts the needs and interests of our patients first,” Jose J. Hidalgo, Founder and CEO of Knox Medical and Bruce Knox, Co-Founder and COO of Knox Medical, jointly stated in a news release.

The Gainesville opening comes with approval from the Florida Department of Health under guidelines established from a 2014 law opening up sales of limited marijuana products. It also comes less than two weeks after the Florida Legislature failed to agree on enabling legislation to set guidelines for medical marijuana, based on Amendment 2, the Florida Constitution amendment voters overwhelmingly passed last fall, opening up much broader sales of marijuana products.

“At every stage in this process, from cultivation to processing superior quality medicine, and now to dispensing at these state-of-the-art facilities, our objective at Knox Medical is to redefine excellence in the medicinal cannabis field at every level. We are privileged to serve our fellow Floridians in need who will receive compassionate medical care at Knox Medical’s cannabis dispensaries,” Hidalgo and Knox added in the release.

Judge dismisses suit challenging All Aboard Florida; both sides see victory

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a federal decision supporting All Aboard Florida for its high-speed passenger train project, and both the train company and its opponents hailed the ruling as a victory.

U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper dismissed as moot Wednesday the law suit that Indian River and Martin counties brought against the U.S. Department of Transportation alleging that the federal agency should not have allocated up to $1.75 billion in non-taxable private activity bonds to help finance a railroad project from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

The company, now known as Brightline, intends to start private passenger trains from West Palm Beach to Miami this year, and plans to extend the line northward, then westward to Orlando some day.

But after the lawsuit was filed, the company withdrew its request for the $1.75 billion in bonds and filed for and received a new allocation for $600 million, largely to finance the West Palm Beach to Miami route. Because the U.S. Department of Transportation’s award of $1.75 billion is gone, the challenge is moot, Brightline argued, and Cooper agreed.

This is the third suit against All Aboard Florida that has been dismissed on such grounds. In a statement released Thursday, the company said:

“All Aboard Florida believes Judge Cooper properly dismissed the case, and we appreciate his thoughtful review and articulation of the facts and the law. This is another loss in a series of lawsuits that has cost Treasure Coast residents almost $6 million. We look forward to working with the Treasure Coast in a cooperative and more productive fashion as we advance this important infrastructure project.”

But opponents said the wording of Cooper’s decision should send a warning to All Aboard Florida/Brightline about any future attempts to raise money for the northern route.

The two counties had argued that federal officials failed to fully assess environmental impact of the proposed train route through their counties on the northern route, which they contended was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Cooper appeared to agree with that concern, according to an interpretation issued by the All Aboard Florida opposition group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida.

“For these reasons, the Court’s earlier ruling casts considerable doubt on whether DOT would adhere to any previous suggestions that PAB allocations are categorically excluded from NEPA’s coverage,” Cooper wrote. “And even if DOT were to do so, Plaintiffs could readily call it to the carpet by renewing their lawsuits in this Court.”

And citing the different policies under former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, Cooper predicted that it would be unlikely the U.S. Department of Transportation would take the same action.

“Any decision on a future application by AAF will be made by entirely different officials in the new administration. While the new administration has not publicly opined on the AAF project (as far as the Court is aware) its early actions with respect to publicly-funded rail transp01iation in general suggest that it might take a different track,” he wrote.

Declared CARE Florida:

“CARE FL congratulates Martin and Indian River Counties for their legal efforts and considers this lawsuit a resounding win for the residents of the Treasure Coast and North Palm Beach regions. AAF’s insatiable need for public subsidies continues and the decision in this matter doesn’t advance their quest.”

Barbara Poma, foundation, to develop national memorial, museum at Pulse site

The owner of the Pulse nightclub announced Thursday her newly formed foundation will seek to develop a national-caliber memorial and museum campus on the site of America’s worst recorded mass shooting.

Barbara Poma pushed through the pain of last year’s tragedy to declare her new foundation’s motto, “We will not let hate win,” and announced the creation of the OnePulse Foundation, which will raise money and work with the community to plan, develop, build, operate, and maintain the memorial in Orlando.

“We have come so far in these 11 months. I can say finally that I am finding hope and inspiration by being back here at Pulse,” Poma said. “Pulse has become part of you, and you a part of Pulse. What was once our little corner at Kaley [Street] and Orange [Avenue] is now shared with the world. Together, we are all part of Pulse’s future, right here on this property.

“I know that my goal is to ensure that Pulse becomes a place of healing, It’s time for Pulse to contribute to the community in a permanent way, a healing way,” she added.

She and other key members of the effort, including foundation board chair Earl Crittenden and early organizer Jason Felts offered no details on what might be built, when it might be opened, how much it might cost or how much money they expect to raise. All of that went into the to-be-determined category, for the site the city of Orlando nearly purchased last year before Poma decided she wanted to take the memorial effort in another direction.

That will be “an iconic, meaningful, national memorial to the victims, the survivors, first responders and medical professionals,” Crittenden said.

Poma founded and owns the popular gay nightclub where Omar Mateen, the gay-hating, ISIS-pledging madman, murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others during the horrific morning hours of June 12.

The effort will be overseen by a board of trustees including entertainer Lance Bass, retired NBA player Jason Collins, Virgin Produced CEO Felts, Walt Disney World President George Kalogridis, DeVos Sport Business Management Program Chair Richard Lapchick, former U.S. Ambassador Robert Mandell, and a number of business, law, arts, and community leaders throughout the Central Florida area.

Their mission, Poma and Crittenden said, is to have the community develop the vision for the memorial and museum, which would house artifacts and tell the stories of Pulse’s patrons, including those who died.

That will begin with collecting the thoughts and wishes of the families and survivors, and of the first responders and medical teams who were involved in saving lives after the shooting, Crittenden said. “We will also capture the community’s thoughts which of course are of critical importance,” he added.

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