Rob Bradley Archives - Page 6 of 33 - Florida Politics

State to miss deadline for marijuana licenses

Health officials won’t be able to meet a legislatively mandated Tuesday deadline to hand out five new medical-marijuana licenses, the head of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use said Friday.

Christian Bax, the marijuana office’s executive director, blamed the delay on Hurricane Irma and a pending challenge to a recently passed law that ordered the Department of Health to expand the number of medical marijuana licenses.

The law, passed during a June special session, was designed to carry out a November constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida. A key part of the law was increasing the number of operators in what could turn into a highly lucrative industry.

The law called for an overall increase of 10 licenses, some of which have already been awarded, by Oct. 3. It also specified that one license go to a black farmer who had been part of settled lawsuits about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers.

A lawsuit filed this month challenges the constitutionality of that part of the law, alleging that the statute is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The lawsuit, filed by Panama City farmer Columbus Smith, contends that the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law.”

In a letter to legislative leaders signed Friday, Bax wrote that his office has “worked diligently to implement” the new law, but that the issuance of five new medical marijuana licenses by Tuesday posed an “extraordinarily challenging deadline.”

In addition, response and recovery efforts related to Hurricane Irma “necessitated the mobilization of all available department assets for nearly two weeks,” Bax wrote.

Bax also blamed his office’s inability to meet the deadline on Smith’s lawsuit.

“The OMMU (Office of Medical Marijuana Use) is aware of its important role in continuing to move this process forward to provide patient access as quickly and safely as possible. However, recent history has emphasized the importance of getting the MMTC (medical marijuana treatment center) licensure process right the first time,” he wrote.

Marijuana industry insiders have long believed that the agency would not meet the deadline, but Bax’s Friday letter informing lawmakers of the delay made it official. As late as last week, a Department of Health spokeswoman said that the deadline remained “the goal.”

The evolution of the medical-marijuana industry in Florida has been fraught with legal and administrative challenges since its inception after a 2014 law legalized low-THC treatments for a limited number of patients.

Bax pointed out that 13 administrative challenges were filed after the agency issued the first medical-marijuana licenses in 2015. The agency is still in litigation over two of the challenges, he said.

The upcoming licenses will be the first time the state has opened the application process to businesses that did not participate in the first selection process in 2015, creating intense interest in what could be one of the biggest medical-marijuana markets in the nation.

Bax’s office developed a new system to evaluate the applications, relying on an outside vendor to supply “subject matter experts” to use a “blind-testing” process to grade the submissions. Requests for quotations from potential contractors were due a week ago — just seven days before Tuesday’s deadline.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has been instrumental in the development and passage of the state’s medical marijuana laws, praised Bax’s office for the revised selection system but called the delay a letdown.

“I’m pleased with the rule that set up the process for reviewing and approving applications. It’s a much better process than the low-THC process, and I think it will produce better results,” he told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview Friday. “I’m disappointed that they didn’t complete their work in a timely manner with regard to the approval of the five licenses that are subject to competitive applications. They need to finish their work by the end of the year and before session starts (in January).”

Still, Bradley said: “I’d rather have them right than do it quick.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

DEP seeks $50M for Florida Forever

A request is on the desk of Gov. Rick Scott to replenish the state’s most prominent land-preservation fund.

The Department of Environmental Protection‘s wish list for the 2018-2019 fiscal year—presented to Scott last week as the governor’s office crafts budget recommendations for the Legislature—includes $50 million for the Florida Forever program.

“It’s a bigger number, it’s a different focus than what we’ve had from DEP for six or seven years,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida and a prominent environmental lobbyist.

The department’s proposals also include $50 million for programs to improve water quality and drinking water quantity. Another $50 million would go to support state parks.

Department spokeswoman Lauren Engel said the Florida Forever funding is expected to help the state “acquire rare and sensitive lands that will benefit our communities and environment.”

“We are proud of our recent successful acquisitions, including the Blue Spring and Horn Spring parcels, among others,” Engel said, referring to deals in Gilchrist County and in Leon and Jefferson counties.

Engel also noted that the proposed amount for water projects typically will go up as legislators pitch individual projects.

Already Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed a measure for 2018 (SB 204) that would lead to the state spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

Scott will recommend his proposed 2018-2019 budget later this year, with the 60-day regular session beginning in January. His office hasn’t given a date for the budget release.

Environmentalists called the proposed Florida Forever funding a “welcome sign” the state agency has a renewed commitment to buying important conservation lands.

But they would like to see a more long-term commitment from lawmakers under a 2014 voter-approved constitutional amendment that requires setting aside a portion of documentary-stamp taxes for land and water conservation. Environmental groups contend that lawmakers have improperly used part of the money for staff salaries and agency expenses rather than conservation, a contention that Republican legislative leaders dispute.

“It is good to see DEP step back into an advocacy role when it comes to Florida Forever. But $50 million isn’t nearly what voters expected when they approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment in 2014,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters. “I hope the governor and Legislature take this recommendation as a starting point and commit to a comprehensive and dedicated funding stream for the remainder of the amendment.”

Florida Forever in the past offered up to $300 million annually for land preservation but has been scaled back in recent years.

Initially, that occurred during the recession. Later, as the economy recovered and without renewed funding from the Legislature, Scott and the Cabinet opted more often to use a preservation method, known as acquiring conservation easements, preferred by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Under conservation easements, land is protected from development, but farmers and ranchers typically can continue to use the property. Putnam has backed using the state’s Rural and Family Lands Protection Program in acquiring easements.

While the 2014 conservation ballot initiative was successful, some influential legislators continue to question the need for Florida to acquire more land, noting struggles to manage the property already in the state’s inventory.

However, in the past year, Scott and the Cabinet have started to dip into money that has sat for years in the Florida Forever program.

In June, $15 million was used to buy 407 acres in Gilchrist County, preserving a cluster of natural springs, and to protect 6,071 acres of agricultural land in Polk and Hardee counties.

The state also used Florida Forever for a $4.5 million purchase in March of more 465 acres to help protect Silver Springs in Marion County and a $16.1 million deal in October to acquire 11,027 acres of land known as the Horn Spring property in Leon and Jefferson counties.

About $60 million is currently in the fund, and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, appointed to the position May 23, has expressed a desire to continue using the money.

With Scott expected to run for U.S. Senate in 2018, Valenstein was an architect of Scott’s conservation platform during the 2014 gubernatorial election. The platform called for a 10-year, $1 billion environmental blueprint that lined up in places with the constitutional amendment approved that year.

Draper said conservationists have been lobbying Valenstein to increase funding levels for land maintenance and preservation.

The 2017-2018 state budget, crafted before Valenstein moved to the Department of Environmental Protection from the Suwannee River Water Management District, includes $10 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and nothing for Florida Forever.

©2017 The News Service of Florida. Reprinted with permission. 

Rob Bradley: People will be ‘stunned’ by rural impacts of Irma

In its perilous path north across the Florida peninsula, Hurricane Irma certainly wreaked havoc in major cities. However, Sen. Rob Bradley knows better than most how hard hit rural counties were by the storm.

Many of those counties are in his district, which includes swaths of Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Marion, Suwannee, and Union Counties.

“There has been understandable focus on the Keys and south Florida, and then Tampa and Orlando as the hurricane moved north. People are going to be surprised, even stunned, when the storm leaves our state and everyone sees what has happened to parts of northeast Florida,” Bradley noted Monday.

Some impacts — such as those on north central Florida and the Big Bend — Bradley has yet to assess.

Others are known, including major impacts for Clay County, which Bradley said is “significantly impacted.”

“Black Creek, Swimming Pen Creek, Doctors Lake and other tributaries of the St. John’s River are experiencing record flooding events,” Bradley noted.

“Clay County went from 30,000 to 200,000 people over the past 40 years,” Bradley added. “It’s fair to say that all of these new residents haven’t experienced anything like this.”

As in major cities, the “focus remains 100 percent on protection of lives.”

“Emergency management teams and law enforcement are literally walking the neighborhoods, making sure that there aren’t any immediate life safety events to address,” Bradley noted.


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.

Top Senate Republicans holding Big Apple fundraiser Thursday

If you’ve ever dreamed of slurping spaghetti with state senators, top Florida Republicans have an offer you can’t refuse, so long as you can snag a flight to the Big Apple pronto.

Senate President Joe Negron will make a fundraising trip to New York Thursday with the two senators set to succeed him in his role, Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson. Also attending are Senate budget chief and gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala as well as Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rob Bradley and Anitere Flores.

Don’t worry about accommodations, either – the last minute invitation to the fundraiser says the powerful cadre of politicians has organized a discounted rate at the Ritz Carlton. It’s not home, but it’ll do for a night.

Whoever manages to get to New York by 6:30 p.m. Thursday will have the opportunity to sit down with the Tallahassee elite at the city’s “Quality Italian” restaurant which, for whatever reason, is a steakhouse. Don’t worry, the menu includes a handful of classics from the old country.

Those fortunate enough to be able to spend a Friday evening in the city can also drop by a cocktail hour at the posh Ascent Lounge. A drink will set you back about $20, and you better be a fan of vodka.

To RSVP, call Kelly Schmidt at 407-415-2879. You might need to call her from the plane.

The invitation is below:

June fundraising in Northeast Florida told many stories

As those in the political game are acutely aware, fundraising is the oxygen that sustains campaigns.

June for Northeast Florida legislators and committees was no exception — virtually everyone in the region did some fundraising, and all of that was in a certain context — one that makes it possible to ascertain the success or failure of their efforts.

In that context, here’s how the money is shaping up for Northeast Florida politicians.


Jay Fant is in trouble: It took Rep. Jay Fant until late Monday — hours before the deadline — to file his numbers. And that’s usually not a great sign, as his campaign for the GOP nomination for Attorney General seems to lack the buy-in from the donor class that opponent Ashley Moody has.

Between her political committee and her campaign account, Moody raised $603,000 in her first month in the race — a number that puts her way ahead of Fant, who brought in just under $70,000 in June.

Just $1,000 of that went to his committee account, yet Fant did a bit better in hard money — bringing in $68,240 of new money in June, giving him just over $145,000 on hand.

All told, Moody holds nearly a 3-to-1 cash on hand advantage, and enjoys quiet support from Northeast Florida heavyweights, none of whom are inclined to come out for Fant.

The question most are asking: when does Fant declare victory, get out, and file for re-election to the Florida House? And if he does this, will he face a challenge anyway?


Jason Fischer, Clay Yarborough show strength: First-term Jacksonville Republican State Reps. Jason Fischer and Clay Yarborough were best-in-class when it came to fundraising in June.

Between Fischer’s campaign account and the account for his political committee, “Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville,” Fischer brought in almost $55,000 for his 2018 re-election effort.

Of that new money, a full $32,700 went into Fischer’s campaign account — pushing it over $51,000 on hand.

Fischer’s committee, after $22,700 of new money in June, now has just over $29,000 on hand.

He likely won’t face a primary challenge; if he did, however, he’d have whatever resources he needed to hold his seat.

Yarborough, noted for a grassroots approach to campaigning, has continued his successful outreach to the business community and the donor class — which wasn’t a sure thing a year ago.

Yarborough brought in $22,375 in June — by far, his biggest haul since filing for re-election months back.

All told, Yarborough has roughly $35,000 on hand.


Most Northeast Florida incumbents took it easy: One of the great things about gerrymandering and the Jacksonville area’s State Senate and House seats is that, once you win the invariably cutthroat primary, the hard part is over.

So there weren’t a lot of eyepopping June totals.

Sen. Aaron Bean brought in $9,250 in June, spending more than half of it, and giving himself just under $24,000 on hand.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, slated to face a write-in candidate next November, brought in $7,450, pushing herself over $51,000 on hand.

In HD 11, Rep. Cord Byrd brought in $1,500, bringing cash on hand to just over $17,000. But it won’t matter — he won last November with 98 percent of the vote.

HD 13 Democrat Tracie Davis brought in $4,750 in June, with $3,000 of it coming from Jacksonville dog tracks; the new money pushes Davis over $16,000 on hand.

Davis’ colleague in HD 14, Kim Daniels, seeded her account with $100 — and so far, that’s it for Daniels, who has no real worries, given her charisma, name ID, unique ability to work across party lines, and willingness to self-finance what are largely billboards and grassroots campaigns.

South of Jacksonville, the story was the same. HD 17 Republican Cyndi Stevenson raised $1,000, bringing her total on hand to roughly $34,000. HD 18 Republican Travis Cummings brought in $2,000, giving him $54,000 on hand. And HD 19 Republican Bobby Payne‘s $500 of new money in June gave him nearly $17,000 on hand.

Again: safe seats, all of these, and no real urgency to raise money to defend them.


Committee action: A look at Northeast Florida committees showed typical strength for two powerhouses.

“Build Something That Lasts,” the committee of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, brought in $110,000 in June.

With less than $9,000 in expenditures over the June period, Curry’s committee now has $242,456 on hand.

And “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, brought in $59,500 — with the big donor being REI, the Winston-Salem tobacco company, at $25,000. That committee now has $390,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised about what one Jacksonville consultant calls the “weak launch” of Sheriff Mike Williams‘ ” A Safe Jacksonville” committee, after a second lackluster month of fundraising.

The committee raised $9,600 in June, and has roughly $20,000 banked.


Locals only: Perhaps the most impressive month of any Jacksonville-area candidate came from former Florida Ethics Commission head Matt Carlucci, who kicked off his 2019 campaign for the Jacksonville City Council in June.

Carlucci, a former Jacksonville City Council President who seeks a return to the legislative body, hauled in $60,000 in June.

To put that number in perspective: even the strongest fundraisers in the 2015 races for City Council couldn’t get appreciably past a quarter-million dollars raised.

While it’s unrealistic to expect Carlucci to string together $60,000 months, the bankroll is a warning to anyone who decides to get in the race to replace Greg Anderson  — the incumbent in that seat, who himself cut a check to Carlucci.

Medical marijuana implementation bill signed into law

As expected, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Friday announced he had signed into law two closely-watched medical marijuana bills.

Scott approved both the bill (SB 8-A) that implements the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters last year, and a companion measure (SB 6-A) that exempts caregivers’ personal information from public disclosure.

With Scott’s signature, the 78-page bill is effective immediately. That means personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment, could file suit as early as next week. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.

“I’ll be filing my lawsuit for smoke as soon as it goes into law,” Morgan tweeted on Wednesday. Vaping and edibles are acceptable under the measure, however.

On Friday night, Morgan followed up, also on Twitter: “Thank you @FLGovScott for doing your part! I’ll be in Tally soon to file my suit. #NoSmokeIsAJoke.”

“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues said earlier this month. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”

The legislation also grandfathers in seven existing providers, now called medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), with ten more online by October to serve those with qualifying medical conditions.

Until 2020, when these limits sunset, here are the rules: With each additional 100,000 patients, four more MMTCs will be added. Each MMTC will be allowed 25 retail shops, capped at a regional level. MMTCs can add five more for each 100,000 new patients.

The bill allows for caretaker certification, and makes the cannabis and attendant paraphernalia tax-exempt—a key consideration for the Florida House.

The bills, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, were definitely going to be signed; Scott had confirmed as much to news media.


Northeast Florida fundraising roundup: Paul Renner’s committee leads field

Though Rep. Paul Renner’s political committee was the clubhouse leader in Northeast Florida fundraising in May with $261,500, donors didn’t shy away from other committees and candidates.

Below are those who have reported thus far with May numbers.

Among committees of note: Lenny Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” brought in $27,000. Sen. Rob Bradley‘s “Working for Florida’s Families” brought in $20,000 (keeping it over $400,000 on hand). And “Pledge This Day,” Rep. Jay Fant‘s committee devoted now to his run for Attorney General, brought in just $9,000 in May.

On the hard money front, Fant did better, with $79,575 of new money; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant, and $3,000 came from his political committee, “Pledge This Day“.


Leading local Senators by default, Sen. Aaron Bean brought in $3,500 of new money, bringing him to just over $20,000 on hand. Sen. Audrey Gibson took a W.

Lots of W’s in the House: Rep. Cord Byrd, of deep-red, Beaches-and-Nassau House District 11, took one. As did Rep. Tracie Davis and Rep. Kim Daniels, Democrats from HD 13 and 14. And Rep. Jason Fischer of Southside Jacksonville’s HD 16. And Putnam County Rep. Bobby Payne in HD 19.

Rep. Clay Yarborough‘s $6,100 of May money gives him over $14,000 on hand to defend a safe Republican seat in House District 12. on Jacksonville’s Southside.

In HD 17, St. Johns’ Rep. Cyndi Stevenson saw $750 of new money. In HD 24, Rep. Renner saw $2,500 in hard money, with all the action on the committee level.


In Duval local elections, a few numbers worthy of reporting.

School Board incumbent Scott Shine is up to $13,000 banked in his 2018 re-election bid.

Running to replace termed out John Crescimbeni in At Large District 2, GOP insider Ron Salem is now over $90,000 on hand after a $13,475 May.

Other candidates in local races thus far have not demonstrated fundraising traction.

John Morgan plans lawsuit to allow for smoking of medical pot

The Florida Legislature’s passage of a bill to enact the state’s constitutional amendment expanding the use of medical marijuana has ended one chapter in the battle over setting up regulations for the nascent industry. But pro-pot supporters say it doesn’t go far enough.

Once Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill, the principal backer of getting the amendment on last year’s ballot said he intends to sue over the law’s ban on smoking. John Morgan has been steadfast in saying that the 71 percent who voted for the amendment expected smoking as one of the ways to consume cannabis.

“I don’t know why they would object to anyone on their death bed wanting to use what they wanted to relieve pain and suffering,” Morgan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Friday night. “If they were really concerned about smoking, why don’t they heavily tax cigarettes?”

Morgan said he plans to file the suit in Leon County and has enlisted constitutional law expert Jon L. Mills, the dean emeritus of the University of Florida’s Levin School of Law, to help in the coming legal battle.

Senate Democrats made a last-ditch attempt to get smoking added, citing that nearly 90 percent of people who use it smoke it, but it was voted down.

The legislation passed Friday allows patients who suffer chronic pain related to 10 qualifying conditions to receive either low-THC cannabis or full-strength medical marijuana.

The bill sponsors in both chambers have said there aren’t any scientific studies to show that smoking pot is more effective than other ways of ingesting the drug.

State Sen. Rob Bradley said during Special Session that if he spent his time responding to Morgan’s statements and tweets “then I’d be a congressman dealing with Trump.”

Rep. Ray Rodrigues said that “If he wants to sue us, that it is his prerogative. I am confident it can be defended in front of a judge.”

Vaping is allowed in the bill, but Rodrigues and Bradley could repeatedly not answer what the difference is between smoking and vaping.

Morgan, nonetheless, said he was pleased to see the Legislature pass a bill, instead of the rules-making process being left solely up to the Department of Health. But he said that in the end, the bill came down to special interests and not patients.

“At the very end we saw what most of the Legislature was about which was profits and not patient care or access,” he said.

Morgan though did laud House Speaker Richard Corcoran for advocating for a special session and for negotiating to craft a deal. Morgan called Corcoran the real winner of the session and said he will hold a fund-raiser for Corcoran next week in Orlando.

Besides smoking, one or more of the seven currently licensed distributing organizations could challenge the caps of 25 retail dispensary locations per licensee. The caps are due to sunset in 2020 and more can be added per 100,000 patients added to the medical marijuana registry.

According to the Department of Health, the state registry now has 16,614 patients. A recent state revenue impact study projects that by 2022 there will be 472,000 medical cannabis patients and $542 million in sales.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Whodunit? or, How did citrus get into Special Session medical marijuana bill?

Everyone loves a mystery, so how did a provision to help concerns with underused or shuttered citrus factories get into this year’s medical marijuana legislation?

Language in both bills (SB 8-AHB 5A) would give preferential treatment for up to two growing licenses to applicants who can show “they own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses, and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”

The Senate bill was approved by the Health Policy Committee on Thursday morning. Bill sponsor Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said he didn’t know where the verbiage came from.

“Im not aware of any specific companies,” he told reporters after the meeting. “It’s consistent with Florida-based businesses being central to how we deal with the burgeoning medical marijuana industry.”

No argument there, but who brought the idea forward, he was asked. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s office, for instance?

Bradley nearly blanched: “Mentioning Adam Putnam and marijuana in the same sentence, that is the first time that has ever been done in my presence. So, no.”

Putnam, now a candidate for governor in 2018, opposed the medical marijuana amendment when it first went to voters in 2014, but recently agreed that lawmakers needed to add marijuana implementation to the Special Session “call.”

That led former state Rep. and now northwest Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz to tweet: “As Agriculture commish he had no interest in helping w cannabis reform when I asked. Now he’s running for gov and is full of opinions #weird.”

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero on Wednesday night also said he was unaware where the language originated. The House bill also cleared its committee there.

A number of lobbyists who work for medical marijuana concerns said they, as well, didn’t know the source of the provision.

One thing’s for sure: The recession and the citrus greening epidemic hit the citrus industry hard, leaving many commercial plants around the state dormant or dead.

“I think it’s good public policy,” Bradley said. “If you travel parts of the state, it breaks your heart to see these old orange juice factories, jobs lost. Transitioning some of those facilities to something new is good.”

Later on Thursday, Sen. Jeff Brandes tried to remove the citrus provision from the bill through a floor amendment.

“This is a carve-in for a special interest,” the St. Petersburg Republican told fellow senators. “It doesn’t look right, it doesn’t feel right.”

Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, added: “This is a giveaway … we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Even Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who rose to support the language, still said, “Enough’s enough. This is to support one business and we’ll soon find out who it is.”

The amendment failed on a 16-20 vote. The bill now goes to a final vote Friday.

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