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Bill Nelson files bill to get veterans access to medical cannabis

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat facing a tough battle for re-election, filed a bill Wednesday that could help him with a key demographic: veterans seeking relief through medical cannabis.

The “Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Act” would offer five years of “safe harbor” protection for veterans who use cannabis or its derivatives. Additionally, the bill compels the VA to conduct research on how medical cannabis alleviates pain and battles opioid abuse (an all-too-frequent cause of death for veterans.

“Chronic pain affects … almost 60 percent of veterans returning from the Middle East,” along with “more than 50 percent of older veterans,” the bill asserts.

“Federal law prohibits VA doctors from prescribing or recommending medical marijuana to veterans,” Nelson noted. “This legislation will allow veterans in Florida and elsewhere the same access to legitimately prescribed medication, just as any other patient in those 31 states would have.”

A wide variety of advocacy groups for veterans and cannabis policy reform support the bill. Among them: American Academy of Pain Medicine, Veterans Cannabis Project, Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Americans for Safe Access, NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, Veterans Cannabis Coalition and National Cannabis Industry Association.

Nelson has evolved on the issue of medical cannabis this year, though he has yet to advocate for rescheduling the plant or its derivatives.

In June, he launched sharp criticism of Gov. Rick Scott for “trying to torpedo the constitutional amendment for medical marijuana prescribed by a doctor. Scott and Nelson diverge on the utility of smokable medical cannabis.

Polling suggests that voters are with the Senator, not his challenger, on the issue of cannabis.

A survey from St. Pete Polls shows 74 percent of likely voters favor medical cannabis under a doctor’s prescription, with 20 percent in opposition to that course of treatment.

The same survey shows that 66 percent of voters agree with Nelson that cannabis should be smokable, a position Scott resists.

The survey also revealed that Scott is underwater with voters regarding implementation of the state’s medical cannabis legislation, with 45 percent disapproving and just 30 percent in support.

Orange County Republicans call for Kathy Gibson to resign RPOF post

The Orange County Republican Executive Committee called Wednesday for Kathy Gibson to resign as the county’s state committeewoman to the Republican Party of Florida.

The Republican panel made that decision Wednesday afternoon shortly after Republican congressional candidates Wayne Liebnitzky and Mike Miller made similar demands, joining gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis in calling for Gibson to step aside.

The calls for her immediate resignation developed from outrage over a social media meme that appeared under Gibson’s Facebook account, falsely claiming that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum was going to make Florida pay for its part in slavery. The meme, widely denounced as racist, appeared Monday night, and has since been deleted. Gov. Rick Scott also condemned any statements that would seek to “divide the people of Florida by race or ethnicity,” though he stopped short of calling for Gibson’s resignation.

She later claimed, in another Facebook post, that it was not hers and that her account had been hacked.

Republicans apparently are not buying that.

The controversy grew Wednesday in advance of the big Republican unity rally that Orange County is set to host Thursday.

It is to feature Scott, DeSantis, Liebnitzky, Miller, and almost all other top Republican statewide and Central Florida candidates and officials. It is supposed to be the Republicans’ big celebration and kickoff to a 2018 election campaign.
In addition, Vice President Mike Pence is coming to Orange County Thursday for a fundraiser, but apparently is not arriving in time to attend the rally.

“We need people with a moral compass,” Liebnitzky said after calling for Gibson to resign.

“Kathy Gibson’s insensitive comments on Facebook have no place in politics. She should resign immediately,” Miller, a state representative from Orange County, said in a news release.

Earlier, both DeSantis, the congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, and Scott denounced the post. In a statement to POLITICO, DeSantis called the thinking behind the meme “disgusting” and called for her to resign.

Orange County Republican Chair Charles Hart said Wednesday afternoon the county party’s board called for her resignation.

Gibson could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

However, on her Facebook page, around midnight going into Wednesday Gibson wrote, “To All Family & Friends Please be Advised that my Facebook Page was Hacked today. All Passwords & Codes have been Changed. If you saw anything today that didn’t sound like me, please let me Thank You.”

The response comments on that post were mostly not sympathetic. “Nice try,” one person commented. “God shall not be mocked. He knows you posted untrue information and are now lying about it,” wrote another. “Grow up and own it,” said a third. Others used foul language to say the same things.

If Gibson resigns, she would be the second state official to the Republican Party of Florida from Orange County to resign this summer. Earlier, State Committeeman Paul Paulson resigned over scandalous reports involving a fraudulent charity he was running. He was replaced by Rich Crotty.

Gibson is an elected official, so she would have to submit a resignation to RPOF Chairman Blaise Ingoglia. However, the Orange County Executive Committee would have to select a replacement, as it did in Paulson’s situation.

Poll: Rick Scott, Bill Nelson tied in U.S. Senate race

It’s been close all along, but now Florida’s U.S. Senate race is officially a dead heat.

Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott are tied, according to the newest Quinnipiac University poll.

Released Wednesday, the survey gives each 49 percent, with an astonishingly low two percent of voters surveyed telling pollsters they don’t know (or don’t want to say) whom they’re voting for in the Nov. 6 election.

“The campaign is a prototype of our nation’s political environment: Democrat Nelson carries women and black voters, while Republican Scott wins among men and white voters. The key in close elections like this one often lies with independent voters. So far, Sen. Nelson has the edge with this swing group. The candidate who holds those voters in November is likely to win,” says Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a news release.

Indeed, 56 percent of independent voters told Quinnipiac pollsters they prefer Nelson, and 43 percent said they prefer Scott. Otherwise, Nelson took 89 percent of the Democratic support, and Scott, 92 percent of the Republican support in the survey.

And the poll suggests, there is precious little margin for change: 92 percent of the voters say their minds are made up. That was true regardless of their current choice.

The poll was conducted from last Thursday through Monday, with live telephone surveys of 785 likely Florida voters, using both landline and cellphones. Quinnipiac puts the margin of error at 4.3 percent.

Just as Quinnipiac reported Tuesday with its poll of the Florida Governor’s race, President Donald Trump is not a significant factor in the race for U.S. Senator in Florida, at least with 46 percent of those polled. Another 26 percent say their Senate vote is mainly to support the President, while 25 percent say their vote is mainly in opposition to Trump.

Nelson received a “favorable” rating from 48 percent of those surveyed, and an “unfavorable” rating from 42 percent. Scott’s was favorable with 49 percent; with 47 percent unfavorable.

While not on the ballot in 2018, 44 percent of Florida likely voters approve of Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio; 47 percent disapprove.

Rick Scott scolds Bill Nelson for not meeting with SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh

With confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh already proving contentious on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott again slammed Sen. Bill Nelson for not meeting with the SCOTUS nominee (which Nelson’s team spotlighted in August as a schedule conflict).

And, as has been the case when messaging on this subject before, Scott depicted Nelson as a tool of the D.C. Democratic establishment.

“I have taken the time to learn about Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s record and it is clear he has the experience and objectivity to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Scott said. “Judge Kavanaugh has the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association and will work to uphold our Constitution – not legislate from the bench.

“Unfortunately, Bill Nelson has failed to do his job, pledging to vote against the nominee without knowing who it was and refusing to even meet with Judge Kavanaugh – choosing instead to ask rhetorical questions to reporters when he could have reviewed the judge’s record face to face,” Scott added.

Per Scott, “Nelson does not have the independence or courage to oppose his party bosses, and with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi controlling his vote, it’s like Nelson doesn’t even have one — which must be why he hasn’t bothered to schedule a meeting.”

“Either way, this failure is a dereliction of Bill Nelson‘s duty as a U.S. Senator and he should be ashamed for siding with party bosses in Washington over the people of Florida.”

If this messaging seems familiar, it’s because it is.

On Aug. 20, Scott’s camp released a statewide ad, “Fair Hearing,” which dinged Nelson for not meeting with Kavanaugh.

Nelson, per Fox News, is one of a few Senators whose votes up or down could be especially pivotal. But it is ultimately a thankless vote, according to the analysis: “Something to keep in mind: it’s not as though a yea vote on Kavanaugh necessarily helps … Republicans will not call off the dogs, simply because they voted to confirm Anthony Kennedy’s successor. Going along with Kavanaugh simply inoculates …  from criticism that they opposed Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

Meanwhile, it’s uncertain if there is a populist groundswell for the nominee. The Washington Post reports that Kavanaugh is underwater in its latest poll, with 38 percent supporting confirmation and 39 percent opposing.

Rain, storm surge biggest dangers from Gordon

Update – 11 a.m. – The head of the U.S. National Hurricane Center says he isn’t just worried about flooding from the ocean but also flooding from heavy rain from Tropical Storm Gordon.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says water will be the main story with the storm, currently forecast to make landfall in or near the Mississippi coast late Tuesday.

Graham says a life-threatening storm surge of 3 of 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters) is predicted along the western Alabama, Mississippi and extreme eastern Louisiana coasts.

Graham says heavy rain could also threaten lives. Up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain is expected on the storm’s track into southern Arkansas, with some areas seeing up to 12 inches (30 centimeters).

Graham said Tuesday in a Facebook Live video that even if the storm doesn’t reach its forecast of hurricane strength its effect would be about the same.

Coastal residents from Florida to Louisiana hustled to prepare for a deluge as Tropical Storm Gordon grew stronger on a path to hit the central U.S. Gulf Coast as a hurricane Tuesday night.

Boaters evacuated to safe harbors, motorists left barrier islands and homeowners looked over yards that could soon be submerged in seawater. A number of schools called off classes, people rushed to fill bags with sand and red no-swimming flags flew along the shore as waves kicked up from the approaching storm.

Pensacola Water Safety Capt. Jake Wilson tells WEAR-TV that the strong wind is bringing a lateral current “where it’s just going to push you down the beach.”

A hurricane warning was put into effect for the mouth of the Pearl River in Mississippi to the Alabama-Florida border. The National Hurricane Center is predicting a “life-threatening” storm surge along parts of the central Gulf Coast, and as much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain could fall in some parts of the Gulf states through late Thursday as the tropical weather moves over the lower Mississippi Valley.

By Tuesday morning, the storm was centered 190 miles (305 kilometers) east-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, with top sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph), forecasters said. It was moving relatively quickly, at about 15 mph (25 kph).

A storm surge warning has been issued for the area stretching from Shell Beach, Louisiana, to Dauphin Island, Alabama. The warning means there is danger of life-threatening inundation. The region could see rising waters of 3 to 5 feet (0.9 to 1.5 meters).

“The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast near and to the east of the landfall location, where the surge will be accompanied by large waves,” the center said.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Monday and said 200 National Guard troops will be deployed to southeastern Louisiana. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency as well, and said state resources are being mobilized.

Pat Landry, who owns the Landry House bed & breakfast on Louisiana’s Grand Isle, said late Monday night that he was trying to pick up everything low in the yard in preparation for the storm surge expected with Gordon’s arrival.

Grand Isle Mayor David Campardelle called for a voluntary evacuation of the barrier island. The mayor noted the ongoing construction on Highway 1, the lone road that connects Grand Isle to the rest of the state, and said it could cause “severe problems” for people evacuating.

“If you leave, you have to leave before the road floods,” Landry said.

At Jo Bobs Gas and Grill on Grand Isle, cashier Emily Dorathy said they made sure the generator was ready to provide power if the electricity goes out. She said many of the locals, herself included, were planning to stay through the storm but many visitors who’d come in for the Labor Day weekend were heading out of town.

“Everybody is just waiting it out to see what is going to happen,” she said.

Gordon formed into a tropical storm near the Florida Keys early Monday, lashing the southern part of the state with heavy rains and high winds before moving into the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm’s predicted track had shifted slightly east as of Monday evening, meaning Louisiana is currently just outside the area under the hurricane warning. Still, the southeastern part of the state remains under a tropical storm warning and residents need to be prepared for the storm to shift west, Edwards said.

“This storm has every possibility to track further in our direction,” Edwards said during a news conference Monday evening.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city has “the pumps and the power” needed to protect residents. But authorities issued a voluntary evacuation order for areas outside the city’s levee protection system, including the Venetian Isles, Lake Saint Catherine and Irish Bayou areas.

Cantrell urged residents within the levee protection area to stock up on supplies and shelter in place.

Miami Beach Police said via Twitter that the Labor Day holiday was “NOT a beach day,” with rough surf and potential rip currents. Red flags flew over Pensacola-area beaches in Florida’s Panhandle, where swimming and wading in the Gulf of Mexico was prohibited. More than 4,000 Florida Power & Light customers lost power Monday due to weather conditions.

The National Weather Service said conditions were “possible” for tornadoes in the affected parts of South Florida on Monday night.

The storm left many businesses on Florida’s Gulf Coast feeling shortchanged by the holiday weekend. The area has already been heavily impacted by this summer’s so-called “red tide”— massive algae blooms that have caused waves of dead marine life to wash up along the coast.

Jenna Wright, owner of a coffee shop in Naples, Florida, told the Naples Daily News that she had expected higher numbers for the Labor Day weekend.

“This is normally a decent weekend, but the storm and red tide aren’t helping,” Wright said. “We’re a beach coffee shop, and if people can’t go to the beach, then we won’t get any customers.”

Separately, Tropical Storm Florence continues to hold steady over the eastern Atlantic. Forecasters say little change in strength is expected in coming days and no coastal watches or warnings are in effect.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Rick Scott won’t tell colleges how to handle controversial Nike deals

The University of Florida and Florida State University are bitter rivals, but their jerseys in this weekend’s football games both bore the same logo: the iconic Nike swoosh.

Nike was not a controversial manufacturer for most fans until this weekend, when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took center stage in the athletic gear giant’s latest ad campaign.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” reads the slogan.

The former franchise quarterback seems to have scuttled his athletic prime by choosing to kneel during the national anthem (hence, “sacrificing everything.”)

Many on the right have excoriated Nike for the sponsorship deal. However, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday took a more pragmatic approach, noting that in-state universities will have to decide how to address the issue on their own.

While Scott “believe[s] everybody ought to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance,” he doesn’t “know much about what Nike is doing.”

“It just happened,” Scott noted. “The schools will look at that on their own.”

Rick Scott, stumping for Senate, again addresses racial politics in Governor’s race

In Green Cove Springs Monday morning, Gov. Rick Scott introduced supporters under the banner “Veterans for Scott,” a group that will likely include hundreds of veterans across the state who support his Senate bid, with staging opportunities for local markets.

However, a week after the primaries, talk hasn’t been so much about the race for Senate as it has the race to replace Scott in Tallahassee.

Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum has benefited from a week of coverage including controversies spawned by Republican opponent Ron DeSantis (the “monkey it up” statement), and at least one corollary controversy to the out-of-state racist robocalls disawowed already by a DeSantis spox.

DeSantis has defended his use of the questionable phrase, and left it to a spokesman to issue an official regret for the robocalls’ existence. And Gillum, a frequent Scott critic over the last eight years, was in the unique position of lauding Scott Sunday in Jacksonville.

“Gov. Scott, on his Twitter feed, in his own voice,” Gillum noted, “decried that tactic and that tool. I would expect Mr. DeSantis to do the same in his own voice.”

We asked Scott to address the racial controversy that has thus far occluded the race to replace him.

“First off, it was a poor choice of words,” Scott said regarding DeSantis’ use of “monkey this up.”

[Scott had called the choice of words “inartful” last week.]

“I talked to Ron DeSantis. I know he doesn’t mean any ill will toward anybody. It’s wrong that people did the robocalls,” Scott said. “I don’t want any division in this state.”

Scott began to extol the success story narrative of the last eight years; we then asked the Governor if he was worried that the campaign devolving into racial politics could compromise said narrative.

“I’m going to talk about my message,” Scott said. “I don’t want division. I tell every child ‘you could be the Governor. You could be the President. You could be anything’.”

“That’s what my mom told me growing up,” Scott said.

Whether Scott believes DeSantis can deliver that message of inclusivity is, as yet, an open question.

Bill Nelson, Rick Scott deadlocked at 47% according to latest poll of race for Florida’s U.S Senate seat

New polling verifies Florida’s U.S. Senate fight as one of the tightest in the nation, with Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott virtually tied.

But even in a politically divided state, a substantial majority still favors legal medical marijuana use.

A survey by St. Pete Polls commissioned for Florida Politics finds both candidates at about 47 percent; in fact, it shows Nelson with just a tenth of a percentage point edge — well within the 2.3 percent margin of error.

And there’s little space for either side to grow, with just 5 percent of voters surveyed still undecided.

Nelson, a three-term U.S. Senator, faces the toughest fight since his 2000 election to the Senate in a challenge from two-term Gov. Scott, who so far has spent almost $28 million campaigning, while the incumbent spent a little more than $6 million.

But there is one issue where voters feel more aligned: The legal use of marijuana for medical purposes.

And that could spell problems down the road for Scott.

Florida Politics this week launches a collaboration with the medical marijuana advocacy group Empowering Wellness and will roll out a week’s worth of exclusive polling, data and analysis. That includes asking the same voters surveyed in the Senate race their thoughts on medicinal cannabis.

St. Pete Polls found 74 percent of likely voters in the survey favor allowing the use of medical marijuana if approved by a doctor, with 20 percent in disagreement and another 5 percent unsure

Additionally, 66 percent believe patients should be allowed to smoke the product, with 24 percent opposed to the practice and 11 percent unsure.

As for Scott, 45 percent of the voters in the poll disapprove of the way the governor has handled the implementation of Florida’s medical marijuana law, while just 30 percent approve. Another 26 percent were unsure.

And when pollsters informed those surveyed that Scott had opposed medical marijuana and his administration delayed its implementation significantly, the results got worse, with 49 percent of voters saying they were less likely to support his Senate run.

Another 37 percent said the news made them more likely to vote for Scott while another 15 percent said they were uncertain how they felt.

Some 71 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical cannabis in 2016.

Jimmy Patronis gets Marco Rubio’s endorsement for CFO

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has now added his support to another statewide race, announcing he’s backing Jimmy Patronis for re-election as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer.

Rubio previously stepped into the race for Agriculture Commissioner as well, backing Matt Caldwell in the primary, even hitting the campaign trail on his behalf.

Caldwell went on to win the Republican nomination. Now, Rubio hopes he can do the same for Patronis in November’s general election.

“Today, I am pleased to announce my support and strong endorsement for Jimmy Patronis to remain Florida’s Chief Financial Officer,” Rubio said in a statement released Tuesday.

“Jimmy Patronis is someone voters can trust to effectively manage our state’s finances. Through his unwavering dedication to protecting Florida consumers and instrumental advocacy on behalf of our first responders, he has earned our vote this November.”

Patronis is taking on Democratic nominee Jeremy Ring for the job. Patronis, a longtime Rick Scott supporter, was appointed to the position last year after former CFO Jeff Atwater resigned.

“It is an absolute honor to receive the backing of Senator Marco Rubio in my bid to continue serving as the CFO of Florida,” Patronis said of the endorsement.

“His leadership as both Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and now in the U.S. Senate has been invaluable to our state.”

The battle between Patronis and Ring has already gotten heated. Patronis’ campaign released a report last week from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showing a Democratic researcher attempted to pose as Patronis to access his personal information.

Ring responded with an ad calling Patronis the state’s “Chief Fraud Officer,” about a previous incident where Patronis crashed a state vehicle en route to his political consultant. Patronis reportedly only reimbursed the state after his agency faced questioning from POLITICO.

Nonetheless, Patronis feels confident of his chances on Nov. 6. He’s already gathered a substantial lead over Ring in the fundraising race, and says Rubio’s endorsement will only help his chances of earning a full term in the CFO spot.

“Because of the hard work of Florida’s conservative leaders, we have an economy that is prospering. Together, Senator Rubio and I will continue this momentum.”

Andrew Gillum calls on Ron DeSantis to disavow racist robocalls ‘in his own voice’

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum appeared on a number of talk shows Sunday morning, and the questions ranged from controversies spawned by Republican opponent Ron DeSantis (the “monkey it up” statement) to the out-of-state racist robocalls disawowed already by a DeSantis spox.

His Jacksonville stop Monday revealed that those questions were far from retired.

Gillum addressed the “tone” of the DeSantis campaign, saying “we try to limit our back to his forth.”

“I have encouraged not just our supporters but also Mr. DeSantis to keep this race above board,” Gillum said. “It is extremely dangerous in today’s day and time to weaponize race.”

“I am not ashamed of who I am,” Gillum added. “I think when you make race a pejorative, it can be a dangerously divisive tool.”

As he did on Sunday shows, Gillum mentioned what happened in Charlottesville last year as an example of what happens when the fires of racial controversy are stoked.

“I was surprised how quickly … after we both secured our nominations that things kind of went south,” Gillum added.

The “monkey it up” statement, per Gillum, “was the beginning of a deep dive into the swamp” by DeSantis.

Gillum clearly was upset by the robocalls.

“I turned it off before I could complete it,” Gillum said, urging DeSantis to keep the discourse “high.”

“Because on day one, if folks already here ‘don’t monkey it up’ kind of talk,” Gillum said, “license” is created for “even more aggressive [language] in a darker direction.”

Gillum noted that DeSantis hasn’t personally spoken up against the robocalls, though a spox has.

“I assume that he opposes [them],” Gillum said, noting that DeSantis could actually learn from Gov. Rick Scott  in this regard.

“Gov. Scott, on his Twitter feed, in his own voice,” Gillum noted, “decried that tactic and that tool. I would expect Mr. DeSantis to do the same in his own voice.”

“It has not happened yet,” Gillum said.

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