A.G. Gancarski - SaintPetersBlog

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written a weekly column for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly since 2003. His writings on politics, culture, and sport have appeared in the Washington Times, the Daily Caller, and the American Conservative. His radio and TV appearances include frequent contributions to WJCT-FM (Jacksonville’s Public Radio station); additionally, he has been a guest on Huff Post Live and the Savage Nation radio show. Gancarski can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

Florida Senate to consider Amendment 2 implementation bill

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate, if passed, would expand the medical marijuana system in the Sunshine State, complying with 2016’s Amendment 2.

However, some critics — inside the Senate and outside as well — have raised concerns, suggesting the bill will not have the smoothest glide path.

Senate Bill 406, filed by Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley, would codify Amendment 2, establishing parameters for prescribing physicians, the treatment of minors, mandated yearly examinations for medical marijuana patients, and a requirement of a caregiver registry.

“In 2014, the Florida Legislature legalized low-THC medical marijuana, and in 2016 expanded the medical marijuana system to provide legal access to marijuana for terminally ill Floridians,” said Bradley in a press release Thursday.

“Floridians want even more options, speaking loud and clear at the polls in November by passing Amendment Two. This bill significantly expands the current medical marijuana system to give Floridians the relief they have demanded, and it does so safely and quickly,” Bradley added.

Sen. Dana Young, chair of the Senate Health Policy committee, is a co-introducer of the legislation. She also worked closely with Bradley on the bill.

“This bill faithfully honors our solemn obligation to the people of Florida to implement Amendment Two,” Young said. “Suffering Floridians will have now real options with no unreasonable delays.” The Health Policy Committee heard testimony from numerous Floridians at a recent committee meeting in Tallahassee.

The bill would amend language in Section 381.986 of Florida statute, changing the title to “Compassionate use of low-THC cannabis and marijuana.”

A definition of “medical cannabis” is stricken from the bill, replaced instead with a statement that “marijuana” means what it says in the Florida Constitution.”

“Medical use” of marijuana, in the language of the bill, does not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana that was not purchased or acquired from an MMTC registered with the Department of Health.”

Qualifying doctors are allowed to prescribe medical cannabis and “a delivery device,” if they ascertain that a patient has a qualifying condition, and that the health benefits of cannabis use outweigh the risks.

To qualify, they will have to take a four hour course from the Florida Medical Association, or the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association.

Patients will be allowed a 90 day supply of marijuana, up from 45 in the previous statutory language.

Prescribing cannabis to non-qualified patients will be a misdemeanor of the first degree for prescribing doctors. That same penalty would be imposed on anyone who “fraudulently” claims the kind of debilitating condition that qualifies.

As well, qualified patients who smoke in public, on school grounds, in school buses or other vehicles also will be found guilty of that first degree misdemeanor.

The bill also has provisions for caregivers, who may help administer the cannabis to patients. Caregivers must be over 21 years of age, and must pass a level 2 screening unless related to the caregiver.

Additionally, a patient may have one caregiver at a time, outside of a hospice or nursing home setting.

The department, meanwhile, will register caregivers, physicians, and patients, and have rules set up by July 3, and a system up and running by Oct. 3. By that date, patient and caregiver identification cards will have been issued.

The bill also has provisions for expanding the industry.

Six months after the threshold of 250,000 patients is hit, five more Medical Marijuan Treatment Centers will be brought on line. The same will happen after 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients, and for every 100,000 patients thereafter.

Rules for processing and dispensing cannabis are also established in this bill.

Among them, that dosage info should be labeled with the recommended dose, and that no recreational-style delivery devices, such as bongs and rolling papers and the like, will be made available by the dispensing organization.

All transactions are to be cataloged and recorded, and MMTCs will have 24 hour video recording with archives kept for 45 days in controlled areas, ranging from grow and storage rooms to point of sale locations.

While the Bradley/Young nexus will be formidable, Sen. Jeff Brandes — an advocate of opening up the MMTC market to more providers — doesn’t think this bill goes far enough.

“I am encouraged that Senator Bradley’s proposal expands access to medical marijuana for more patients, and I am further encouraged that his proposal begins to chip away at the unnecessary regulatory hurdles burdening Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers. However, I believe the voters of Florida voiced their overwhelming support for a new approach to the regulation of medical marijuana in this state, not a revision to the existing framework,” Brandes said in a statement Thursday.

“I am continuing to work on what I believe is the most free-market option to address the implementation of Amendment 2. I look forward to releasing my proposal in the coming weeks and working with Senator Bradley as well as my fellow colleagues to implement the will of the Florida voters,” Brandes added.

Ben Pollara of United for Care also had some thoughts on the legislation.

“Senator Bradley’s bill is an encouraging start to the legislative process of implementing the medical marijuana amendment. His approach certainly stands in stark contrast to the proposed rule issued earlier this week by DOH by respecting the basic elements and language of the constitution,” Pollara noted.

“The two most important elements of implementation are respecting the sanctity and primacy of the doctor-patient relationship under the law,” Pollara added, “and diversifying and expanding the marketplace to best serve patient access.”

The caveats were inevitable, of course.

“Bradley’s bill does a mostly excellent job respecting the doctor-patient relationship. However, the bill doesn’t sufficiently expand the licensing of medical marijuana treatment centers to serve the estimated patient population, nor does the proposed expansion occur quickly enough to keep up with a patient population that will quickly boom across the state. It also leaves in place the current requirement of vertical integration that stifles innovation, diversity and ultimately patient access,” Pollara added.

Long story short? The future of medical marijuana in Florida is going to be robustly contested at least through this session.

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Florida House will again consider ‘conversion therapy’ ban for minors

A bill banning “conversion therapy” for LGBT teens was filed Tuesday in the Florida House, surfacing for the second consecutive year.

HB 273, filed by Miami Beach Democrat David Richardson, defines “conversion therapy,” and prohibits such therapy for minors.

The bill defines conversion therapy as a “practice or treatment” designed to change a person’s sexual orientation — a phrase that includes gender identity and gender expression in this context.

Richardson’s measure does include a qualifier — counseling as part of gender transition is not considered to be conversion therapy.

It also includes a broad spectrum of disciplines barred from this practice with minors: “medical practitioners, osteopathic practitioners, psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and licensed counselors, may not engage in conversion therapy with a person younger than 18 years of age.”

It would be up to the regulatory boards of these practitioners’ disciplines to impose sanctions.

The bill faces an uphill battle in the Florida House.

In 2016, Richardson’s bill died in a House subcommittee.

Five states and six Florida cities have banned conversion therapy for minors already, reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

However, most of those Florida cities are in South Florida, which augurs poorly for support of this measure in other regions of the state.

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‘Judicial accountability’ bills filed in House, Senate

Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Kionne McGhee, two Florida Democrats, announced Monday they filed “judicial accountability” bills in both chambers.

Each proposal calls for sentencing data to be compiled annually, according to a news release.

(The bills, filed this morning, have not appeared public database; when they do, more detail will be forthcoming.)

Once compiled, data will be “presented to trial and sentencing judges, the Legislature, Governor, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and posted for the public on Florida Legislature’s research arm, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability website,” according to a news release.

Sen. Gibson said: “Faced with the reality that even using a point-scoring system and other factors added to our criminal justice system, to get control over sentencing disparities, the components still are not working.

“It is imperative that we find a better solution to a continuing grave situation, particularly for people of color,” she added.

Rep. McGhee said the bill “seeks to analyze and address judicial patterns in sentencing.”

“Bias on the bench perpetuates inequality in the courtroom,” McGhee noted.


Updated Tuesday: McGhee’s bill is now here. Gibson’s bill is here.

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Marco Rubio backs James Mattis for Defense Secretary

While Sen. Marco Rubio has been a tough sell for some of Donald Trump‘s Cabinet nominees, he’s all in behind James Mattis as Defense Secretary.

A Friday statement from Rubio’s office made a strong case for Mattis at the Pentagon, saying he would serve “honorably and effectively as our next secretary of defense” and “will bring an unparalleled level of real-world experience, a pragmatic and clear-eyed view of the world and America’s unique role in it, and a principled commitment to America’s values.”

Rubio, noting that we live in a “dangerous world,” sees Mattis as the right man to confront global geopolitical challenges.

“As General Mattis clearly and unequivocally articulated in his confirmation hearing this week, the United States is ‘under the biggest attack since World War II,’ and ‘that’s from Russia, from terrorist groups and with what China is doing in the South China Sea.’ He understands these prime threats, and the many others he will encounter as defense secretary, including the need to rebuild our nation’s military after years of devastating defense cuts,” Rubio said.

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Rick Scott savages Barack Obama’s Cuba policy one last time

The ongoing war of words between Florida Gov. Rick Scott and President Barack Obama is continuing until Obama’s last day.

Friday’s installment: a gubernatorial excoriation of Obama’s overtures to the Communist island nation, including this week’s cessation of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy.

Scott, predictably, sees this as yet another example of Obama’s failings.

“President Obama’s Cuba policy can be summed up this way: he has legitimized and coddled a bloodthirsty dictator and in the process, he has turned his back on those who have fought so hard for a free Cuba,” Scott said in a statement.

The governor notes that “people in Cuba are being persecuted and killed for their faith, for supporting democracy, for expressing their political views, and for simply desiring freedom.”

“With the President’s latest move,” Scott added, “it appears that he has consulted and negotiated with a foreign tyrant while completely ignoring the United States Congress. We have a number of great members of Congress in our Florida delegation of Cuban descent, but of course the President did not involve them in his decision-making.”

Scott went on to say that Obama’s reforms came at the expense of human rights.

“Obama’s polices have not improved human rights in Cuba. In fact, things may be getting worse. We believe that the murderous regime made about 10,000 political arrests last year. Just this week, pro-democracy leader Dr. Oscar Biscet was arrested. Obama has betrayed America’s long-standing commitment to human rights and freedom in Cuba. We need a Cuba policy that respects the fundamental desire of the Cuban people to be free.”

Scott’s excoriation of the Obama era Cuba policy is well-timed, as the governor is rumored to be mulling a Senate run next year.

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John Rutherford recovering from ‘acute digestive flare-up’, not cardiac episode

Congressman John Rutherford, the first-term Jacksonville Republican who had a medical emergency in Washington Wednesday, is “on his way to a full and swift recovery,” his chief of staff said.

Notably: contrary to much reporting, Rutherford did not suffer a heart attack.

Kelly Simpson, Congressman Rutherford’s Chief of Staff, said, “Congressman Rutherford is recuperating at a local hospital on his way to a full and swift recovery.”

“On Wednesday evening, Congressman Rutherford experienced significant discomfort while just outside the House Chamber.  Mr. Rutherford received medical attention and treatment in the Capitol before being transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.  After ruling out more serious concerns, testing showed that he is experiencing an acute digestive flare up that is generating the discomfort,” Simpson said.

“He did not suffer a heart attack as widely reported.  In fact,” Simpson added, “doctors are happy to report that all of his vitals look great.  While he will briefly remain in the hospital to treat the inflammation, the Congressman’s care providers expect that he will be back to full strength in little time.  John and his family are so grateful for the outpouring of prayers and support from friends and neighbors in Northeast Florida and colleagues here in Washington, and they salute the physicians, EMTs, and staff for their exceptional response.”

The 64-year-old, elected in November, had collapsed in the House of Representatives, according to reports.

The former Jacksonville sheriff was then “wheeled out of the House chamber on a stretcher to a nearby elevator and taken to the hospital. He appeared to be receiving oxygen through a mask,” The Hill reported.

Rutherford’s north Florida colleague, Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, offered a statement.

“My thought and prayers are with John and Patricia Rutherford during this time, as he deals with this very difficult health challenge,” Lawson said. “John is a good friend and colleague.

“During the past few weeks, we had been discussing issues we could work on together for our community,” he added. “I ask the people of Florida to join me in praying for John and his full recovery.”

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Kristin Jacobs: Kratom lobby ‘just like Hitler’

On Friday, Florida Politics brought you the first look at a House bill that would add Kratom to the state’s controlled substance list.

House Bill 183 would add Mitragynine and Hydroxymitragynine, constituents of Kratom, to the schedule of controlled substances, offering an exception for any FDA approved substance containing these chemicals.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat who has filed anti-Kratom legislation in three straight sessions, framed this bill as a “fall on the sword issue” for her, while framing the Kratom lobby in the harshest possible terms.

“They have a story,” Jacobs told us Monday via phone. “Just like Hitler believed if you tell a lie over and over again, it becomes the truth.”

For Jacobs, the issue is personal: a legislative quest against a “lie machine … a powerful lobby with a lot of money,” undertaken by one representative who isn’t being backed financially to fight this issue.

“It’s not just what they’re doing here,” Jacobs said. “They’re doing [the same thing] around the country.”

Jacobs, who believes Kratom is a “scourge on society,” expects the DEA to temporarily schedule Kratom as Schedule 1 now that its period for public comment has elapsed; that would leave it up to state legislators to move toward rulemaking in the session.

Jacobs also stresses that her legislation is intended to punish the industry, not the “unfortunate people who [are] addicted.”

That said, she sees no functional difference between the use of Kratom and opiate addiction. Jacobs is comfortable talking about Kratom in the same breath as heroin and the late and unlamented pill mills.

Kratom, said the representative, “is an opiate.” And Jacobs believes it’s used because it’s legal, and “people turn to something.”

Jacobs paints nightmare scenarios: babies born with withdrawal symptoms to pregnant mothers who enjoyed kava tea during their pregnancy; emergency room physicians treating Kratom addicts who are in the throes of withdrawal symptoms.

And, implies Jacobs, it is that dependency on a drug that leads activists to mobilize in Kratom fights outside of their home areas.

“Why do addicts in Michigan care about what’s happening in Florida?”

Meanwhile, says Jacobs, “the Kratom Association stands to lose a lot of money if they aren’t able to continue profiting off the misery of addicts.”

Those “addicts with glassy eyes and shaky hands,” claims Jacobs, are having to go to the same places that sell “bongs and gasoline” for their fixes.

“How come pharmacies don’t sell it? How come GNC doesn’t sell it?”

Jacobs is girding up for a presence of Kratom advocates in Tallahassee this session, complete with “cute little t-shirts.”

Those are the tactics, the representative says, that are being used across the country.

But to her, the fight is worth it.

“How many more are going to die?”

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‘Repeal and replace Obamacare,’ Rick Scott urges the U.S. House

On Monday, Florida Governor Rick Scott sent a letter to the United States Congress Majority Leader calling for the body to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.

Scott’s position on what he calls the “excessive overreach” of Obamacare is not necessarily a surprise, given his historic opposition to the president’s approach to the Affordable Care Act.

However, it is newly salient in light of Republican control of the executive and legislative branches.

“For far too long, it has been fashionable in Washington to say Obamacare can only be tweaked. We have seen debate after debate in Washington about this bad law but nothing has been changed. It has to be completely overhauled and now is the time to do it. We cannot let the usual political games or partisan gridlock of Washington get in the way of immediately repealing and replacing Obamacare with a plan that actually works,” Scott noted.

“The impact of Obamacare has been devastating in Florida and our nation. Obamacare was sold on a lie from the very start. Costs are skyrocketing, people have not been able to keep their doctors and many people have fewer doctors to choose from. The increases in health care costs are at a 32-year high and are expected to continue increasing in the coming months. Recent news of Obamacare rates rising 25 percent is absurd and families simply cannot afford it. We can do better and the families and businesses footing the bill deserve better,” Scott added.

In the five-page letter, Scott advocated for “state flexibility,” rather than a “one size fits all” approach to the replacement.

“Specifically,” Scott wrote, “our state needs the greatest possible amount of flexibility from Washington … without creating a massive government program that makes promises to patients that we could never afford to keep.”

Scott’s letter laid out the governor’s suggestions for replacement.

One suggestion: to repeal the individual and employer mandates, allowing people to choose to deposit funds into a health savings account instead of giving the money to an insurance company.

Scott also urged the allowance of insurance companies to sell across state lines, which currently isn’t an option.

Scott also backs greater flexibility in packages sold, and allowing families to opt for a single plan for the entire family, rather than one plan for children and another for adults.

Regarding the state’s needs, Scott told the House Majority Leader that he’d like Florida to have “flexibility to run our own Medicaid program that uses the state’s successful managed care model.”

Scott would also like to see the elimination of “burdensome” Obama regulations, such as the Managed Care Rule, the Access Rule, and the Outpatient Drug Rule, examples of “intensive but often purposeless federal micromanagement” that privileges federal bureaucracy at the expense of the state process.

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Bill filed in Florida House to make Kratom a controlled substance

Florida State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat, filed legislation on Friday to add Kratom to the controlled substance list.

House Bill 183 would add Mitragynine and Hydroxymitragynine, constituents of Kratom, to the schedule of controlled substances, offering an exception for any FDA approved substance containing these chemicals.

Selling, delivering, manufacturing, or importing these Kratom chemical constituents into Florida would be considered a misdemeanor of the first degree, should the law go into effect.

Kratom has been used as herbal medicine in Southeast Asia for centuries, serving as a palliative and an alternative to opiates, though it only recently has become popular in the United States.

As we noted in 2016: “Traditionally, kratom leaves are chewed to treat a variety of ailments: in reducing pain, as an anti-diarrheal, and to reduce dependence on opiates. Kratom is also thought to provide energy, as well as decrease symptoms of opiate withdrawal and extend the duration of sexual intercourse.”

Concomitant with that surge in popularity: interest of the enforcement state.

President Barack Obama’s Drug Enforcement Administration issued an “emergency” ban on Kratom in Aug. 2016, then repealed it due to a popular backlash the DEA did not anticipate.

Reason, the libertarian website, notes that reports of Kratom’s danger to the general public may very well be exaggerated.

“As further proof of kratom’s dangers, the DEA noted that “U.S. poison centers received 660 calls related to kratom exposure” from 2010 through 2015, an average of 110 a year. By comparison, exposures involving analgesics accounted for nearly 300,000 calls in 2014, while antidepressants and antihistamines each accounted for more than 100,000,” observed Jacob Sullum.

The bill as of yet lacks a Senate companion. However, when first filed by Rep. Jacobs in 2015, the Senate version was filed by Greg Evers.

On the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration has been agitating against Kratom for three years and counting.

Among the FDA actions: seizing shipments of the herb.

On the state level, Kratom has had what may seem like unlikely defenders.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement contended in late 2015 that “a review of information currently available through identified law enforcement and laboratory sources in Florida indicates that Kratom does not constitute a significant risk to the safety or welfare of Florida residents. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) reports no pervasive health issues attributed to the ingestion of Kratom products in Florida.”

We have reached out to Rep. Jacobs for comment; this piece will be updated when we hear back.

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Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz push bill to move American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

The United States has had an embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, for over a half century. But that may change if a new bill co-sponsored by Marco Rubio and a rival from his presidential campaign gets through Congress.

The Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act, filed Tuesday in the Senate and co-sponsored by Rubio, former 2016 presidential primary rival Ted Cruz, and Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller, would relocate the embassy to Jerusalem.

All three senators offered quotes along those lines, via a news release sent out from Rubio’s office.

“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel, and that’s where America’s embassy belongs,” said Rubio. “It’s time for Congress and the president-elect to eliminate the loophole that has allowed presidents in both parties to ignore U.S. law and delay our embassy’s rightful relocation to Jerusalem for over two decades.”

Cruz noted that “the Obama administration’s vendetta against the Jewish state has been so vicious that to even utter this simple truth — let alone the reality that Jerusalem is the appropriate venue for the American embassy in Israel — is shocking in some circles. But it is finally time to cut through the doublespeak and broken promises and do what Congress said we should do in 1995: formally move our embassy to the capital of our great ally Israel.”

Heller framed the legislation as a way for America to “reaffirm its support for one of our nation’s strongest allies by recognizing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. It honors an important promise America made more than two decades ago but has yet to fulfill.”

With indications being that President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have a solid working relationship, this legislation provides an opportunity to affirm ties between the incoming administration and America’s most stalwart ally in the Middle East.

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