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Joe Reedy

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.

Deceased FSU player’s brother says bill provides closure

Devard Darling said his family can finally feel closure after the Florida Legislature passed a bill on Tuesday to compensate his parents $1.8 million for the death of his twin brother, Devaughn Darling, a Florida State football player who died during team drills.

The bill’s passage comes more than 16 years after Devaughn Darling’s death. It’s been nearly 13 years since Florida State agreed to the cash settlement, but Florida law prohibits the university from paying more than $200,000 without legislative authorization.

“It is something we have been looking forward to for a long time,” Devard Darling said. “My mom has wanted to see this all the way through. Finally, we can move on.”

The House approved the bill 112-4 on April 26, and it passed the Senate by a 34-2 vote Tuesday. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

Devaughn Darling died on Feb. 27, 2001, after doing indoor drills during offseason training. He had the sickle-cell trait, which can make people vulnerable to illness from exertion.

His parents, Wendy Smith and Dennis Darling Sr., filed a lawsuit against Florida State in October 2002, alleging negligence by trainers. The university agreed to settle in June 2004, for $2 million.

This was the 13th consecutive legislative session in which a claims bill was filed on behalf of the family. From 2005-14, it was not heard in a committee in either chamber. In 2015, it was heard in one committee in the House and Senate. Last year, the family and Darling’s former teammates held a press conference in front of the Senate chamber to bring more attention to the bill. Coincidentally, it was held on Florida State Day at the Capitol.

The bill got through two of three Senate committees but was heard in just one in the House. Devard Darling said they decided against another press conference this year because of the emotional strain it caused the family last year.

He said he started to feel hopeful the bill would pass this year when it got through all three House and Senate committees to reach the chamber floors.

Senate Democrat leader Oscar Braynon, who was one of the sponsors of the bill, is a Florida State graduate and said getting the claims bill passed has been a long time coming.

“The whole time I’ve been in the Legislature we’ve been pushing for it. When it comes down to school claims bills, it can be tricky, but it’s about time we finally passed it,” he said.

The $1.8 million will come from FSU, which has denied any negligent conduct but supported passage of a claim bill. After attorney and lobbying fees, the family will receive at least $1.3 million.

Devard Darling also had the sickle-cell trait and was not cleared by FSU trainers to return following Devaughn’s death. He subsequently transferred to Washington State University before being drafted as a wide receiver by Baltimore in 2004. He played six seasons in the NFL for the Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs.

Devard Darling said he hopes his family can have better relations with Florida State. Devaughn Darling was buried in his FSU uniform, and there is a plaque honoring him near the practice fields.

“The university is a huge part of our lives. Everything is always bittersweet when I return to Tallahassee. Hopefully, we can mend our relationship,” Devard Darling said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Legislature makes slow progress on medical pot rules

Florida’s voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in November that formally legalized medical marijuana for chronic pain and other ailments, but with less than a month to go in their session, Florida legislators remain far apart on how to implement it.

Bills in the Senate and House don’t agree on the details of expanding access to the drug, from adding pot distributors to deciding whether doctors can prescribe marijuana to people who haven’t been their patients for at least three months.

The Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley (SB 406) is seen as more permissive and has drawn support from medical marijuana advocates, while the House bill sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues (HB 1397) is widely considered more restrictive and is backed by the Drug Free America Foundation.

The Senate measure would eliminate a current requirement that a patient be under a doctor’s care for more than 90 days before being able to get a prescription for marijuana — a restriction that would be kept in place under the House version. The Senate bill would immediately expand the number of licenses issued for marijuana distributors in the state, while the House version would require that 150,000 patients sign up for medical marijuana use before expanding the existing pool of distributors.

Taylor Patrick Biehl, who help runs the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said Bradley’s Senate bill is more in line with what voters approved.

“He’s turned out to be a true champion for patients,” Biehl said.

Disabled veteran Bill Cody called the House bill an “abomination” and said even Bradley’s bill doesn’t provide doctors with enough leeway to determine what ailments could qualify for marijuana prescriptions.

The amendment passed by voters would expand its use beyond the limited prescriptions for low-strength marijuana allowed under a 2014 law. It also would expand the eligible ailments beyond the current list of cancer, epilepsy and chronic muscle spasms, to include HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other similar conditions.

The state Health Department would issue regulations defining the additional conditions, but Cody said that could be too restrictive. He thinks doctors should be explicitly authorized to decide what conditions should qualify.

“There are many cases of chronic pain that are not covered currently,” he said.

The amendment stipulates that new rules must be adopted by July 3. If lawmakers cannot agree on them by their May 5 end of session, the Health Department would issue regulations on its own, but those would be more vulnerable to legal challenges, essentially leaving the issue up to the courts.

Doctors and patients remain in limbo. Sunai Edwards, a lawyer at GrayRobinson in Tampa, has received plenty of calls from doctors and has given them all the same advice: Wait until the new rules are implemented.

The bills in each chamber have gone through only one of three scheduled committees. Still, the campaign manager for medical marijuana advocates United for Care, Ben Pollara, remains optimistic a bill will be passed.

“Hopefully all issues can be resolved. We want something done. It’s about getting something in place,” Pollara said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press

No. 15 Florida State earns second seed in ACC Tournament

Florida State’s 66-57 victory over No. 25 Miami on Saturday gives the 15th-ranked Seminoles a double-bye in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and their first unbeaten home season in 41 years.

But coach Leonard Hamilton wasn’t about to get philosophical.

“We have to keep things in perspective,” Hamilton said. “We’re not done yet. We have a ways to go. We want to get as much out of this season that we can. Let’s go do some other things that will give us fonder memories.”

Florida State (24-7, 12-6) will be the second seed for the tournament, which begins Tuesday at Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York. It is their highest seeding since they were second in 1993. Florida State, Louisville and Notre Dame are tied for second but the Seminoles have the higher seed based on a better combined record over the Irish and Cardinals.

Since the conference expanded beyond nine teams in 2004-05, FSU’s highest tournament seeding was third in 2012, which it won in Atlanta. That is also the last year the Seminoles made the NCAA Tournament.

“I know how hard it was last year playing on the first day, so now we get to rest a lot and get to see who we will face (on Thursday),” said Dwayne Bacon, who led Florida State with 23 points.

The win also wrapped up the Seminoles’ first unbeaten home season since 1975-76. They are 18-0 at the Tucker Center this season, with six wins against ranked teams. They have won 21 straight at home dating to last season.

The first half saw five ties and nine lead changes as Florida State led 37-34 at halftime.

Miami’s Davon Reed, who had 22 points, started the second half with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 37 before FSU went on a 12-3 run to take control. Jarquez Smith, who was one of two seniors playing his final home game, had five of his 11 points during the run.

A dunk by Bacon with 4:19 remaining gave the Seminoles a 59-48 lead but the Hurricanes (20-10, 10-8) went on a 9-2 run to close within 61-57 with 19 seconds remaining. FSU closed it out by scoring the final six points.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga said that it wasn’t a good sign for his team that they shot 11 of 21 from the field, including 5 of 8 on 3-pointers, in the first half and was trailing. The Hurricanes shot 31.8 from the field (7 of 22) in the second half and were 6 of 11 at the line.

“In the second half we came up empty,” Larranaga said. “Another key was our inability to score in transition while they could. When another team has a 17-7 edge in points off turnovers that is a big difference.”

BIG PICTURE

Miami: The Hurricanes are still looking for their first March win over a ranked team in Larranaga’s six years as coach. The loss to FSU dropped them to 0-7.

Florida State: The Seminoles have won both regular-season games against Miami for the fifth time in ACC play and first time since 2011.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Seminoles are 7-3 against ranked teams and should remain among the top 15 despite the loss earlier in the week against Duke. The Hurricanes, who are 3-6 against ranked teams, made their first foray into the poll last week and are likely to drop out with two straight losses.

TIP-INS

This was the first time in 79 meetings between the teams that both were ranked when facing each other. … Michael Ojo, who was also playing his final home game, had no points and four rebounds in 13 minutes. … Miami’s Bruce Brown, who had 15 points in the first meeting on Feb. 1, was the Hurricanes’ only other player in double figures with 10. … Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, who had 15 points in the first game, was held to two points and was 0 of 3 from the field.

HE SAID IT

“We feel like we have two more seasons left — ACC Tournament season and NCAA Tournament season. We have to keep playing the way we have been playing,” — Bacon.

UP NEXT

Miami: The Hurricanes are the ninth seed in the ACC Tournament and will face eighth-seeded Syracuse on Wednesday.

Florida State: The Seminoles’ first game in the ACC Tournament will be on Thursday against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest or Boston College.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

FSU’s Mike Martin seeking wins record and elusive baseball title

The numbers have a way of running together for Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin — at least when it comes to counting victories.

Martin is two wins shy of becoming the second coach in NCAA baseball history to reach 1,900. He could get the milestone this weekend during the Seminoles’ three-game series against VCU.

“The numbers now in my career I can honestly say are just that,” he said. “Right now, I am focused on this team and our goal, and that is to get to Omaha.”

And winning. Getting to Omaha, Nebraska, hasn’t been the issue, but Martin is in his 38th season and the Seminoles are still chasing their first College World Series championship.

Martin’s teams have been to the CWS 15 times, but have only reached the finals twice (1986 and ’99). Their last appearance was in 2012, which is only the third time in Martin’s tenure the Seminoles have had a CWS drought of four or more seasons.

“I would never minimize winning a national championship because it would mean Florida State is at the top when it is all said and done,” said Martin, who turned 73 last Sunday. “If we never win a national championship, I want to be able to look at myself in retirement and say it wasn’t for lack of effort or preparation, it was just baseball.”

Martin’s program, which has an impressive .738 winning percentage, has been among the most consistent. They have won 40 or more games each year and have not missed the NCAA Tournament.

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, one of 49 players coached by Martin to reach the major leagues, said the biggest thing he learned from Martin was attention to detail.

“Once you got it right, you do it again, do it 10 more times. He was very driven to get us to play very clean, fundamentally sound baseball,” Cash said.

Many believe this is one of Martin’s best teams. The Seminoles are ranked in the top five of most major polls and Baseball America has them second. They were also the preseason pick to win the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Martin also continues to be someone that young coaches look up to. Clemson’s Monte Lee said Martin’s ability to develop players at the collegiate level is unmatched.

“Not only has he been able to recruit, but you know that if you go there, you are going to be a better player,” said Lee, who turned 40 on Feb. 9. “They may not always have the most talented teams, but they always overachieve. When they have talent, and they certainly do this year, it is scary to see what they can do.”

Scott Stricklin hopes to have Martin’s longevity. He took over Kent State’s program in 2005 when he was 32 before being hired by Georgia. Now in his fourth season with the Bulldogs, Stricklin knows longevity is more difficult.

“It is going to be tough to be a 30-year guy, especially in a Power Five conference, because of the grind and pressure,” Stricklin said. “Every game for most schools is televised, and recruiting never stops.”

Martin, whose contract runs through next season, might not be eyeing 1,900 but knows he needs 78 wins to become the winningest coach. Augie Garrido pushed the all-time mark to 1,975 before he stepped down at Texas last year.

“I may not be focused on 1,900 wins but for me to say I don’t care about the record I would be lying. That’s a different story,” he said.

Martin said he will discuss his future with athletic director Stan Wilcox next year. Martin has said he has no aspirations of managing his grandson in college. Tyler Martin, who is the son of FSU assistant Mike Martin Jr., is a freshman in high school.

Martin’s future has become a topic of discussion as other long-tenured coaches are retiring.

Mark Marquess, who is second in active wins with 1,585, is in his 41st and final season at Stanford. Jim Morris, a former Martin assistant, is third at 1,535 and has told Miami he is stepping down at the end of next season, which will be 37 years with the Hurricanes and Georgia Tech.

Morris, who took over Georgia Tech in 1992 when he was 32, believes it is unlikely anyone other than Martin will come close to 2,000 wins again.

“If Mike gets the record, it might never be broken,” he said. “It is harder to get hired at a young age to lead programs. It takes longer to work your way up.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida officials, voters clash over medical marijuana rules

Three months after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, state health officials and prospective pot-seeking patients are at odds over proposed rules that would spell out who could get marijuana.

State officials have recommended restrictions on what type of patients can qualify for medical marijuana, and where they can obtain it. Their suggestions, however, have prompted a wave of opposition across the state, with nearly 1,300 residents attending what are normally low-key bureaucratic hearings to press for less restricted access to marijuana.

“Patients, doctors, caregivers and activists all had a unified message which is rare,” said Ben Pollara, who is the campaign manager for United for Care. “They want impediments removed and a free market place.”

Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of voters last November, was enacted on Jan. 3. It allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than what was currently allowed in state law. The rules have become a flashpoint because the amendment requires the state to adopt them by July 3 and have them in place by September.

The state held hearings in several locations and Thursday’s two hours of public testimony in Tallahassee mirrored what happened earlier this week in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando. Most who spoke statewide are also concerned about high prices and limited availability so far of marijuana products. Only five of the seven organizations approved to dispense cannabis are up and running.

Activists want a requirement eliminated that a patient must be under a prescribing physician’s care for at least 90 days. They also believe it should be up to doctors to deem when medical marijuana is necessary and not be confined by the conditions enumerated in the amendment or by the Board of Medicine.

Doug Bench, a former judge who testified in Tallahassee, said that people often delay seeing a doctor until they urgently need treatment.

“When you are ill you, you put it off. You don’t want to hear what the doctor says and by the time you finally go you need it now,” Bench said.

The current law – which was approved by the state legislature in 2014 – allows for non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. It was expanded last March to allow patients with terminal conditions to gain access to higher strength cannabis.

The department will review all comments it has received and agency officials will then publish another proposed rule. How quickly that rule gets published depends on subsequent public comments or any legal challenges.

The Florida Legislature will also get a chance to weigh in. There are two bills in the Senate with the House of Representatives expected to release its version before session opens on March 7.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

A crucible for the Seminoles: No. 12 Florida State in midst of 6 straight vs. Top 25 teams

Florida State is in a stretch that has happened only twice during Atlantic Coast Conference regular season play.

The 12th-ranked Seminoles have six straight games against ranked teams. The last team to face that kind of stretch was Maryland in 1992-93 and the Terrapins lost all six games. North Carolina State also had that kind of run was in 1979-80 and the Wolfpack went 2-4. Duke also faced the gantlet that same season, but the final three games were in the conference tournament.

FSU coach Leonard Hamilton was somewhat understated when he described it as a unique experience for his Seminoles.

“Every one of these teams poses a unique challenge but it is an opportunity to be in a situation that few teams in college basketball have done,” Hamilton said. “We have accepted it for what it is and understand we can’t have a bad night.”

With last Saturday’s 60-58 win at then-No. 12 Virginia, the Seminoles have won their first two conference games for only the third time since joining the ACC in 1991. Their 14-1 mark also ties the 1988-89 team for the best start in school history.

Saturday’s game against No. 21 Virginia Tech starts a stretch of three games in eight days. FSU hosts No. 8 Duke on Tuesday and then travels to 14th-ranked North Carolina on Jan. 14.

In a check of schedules on College Basketball Reference, only 25 times in ACC play since 1965 teams have faced ranked opponents in four straight games or more. FSU once had a stretch where it played five straight Top 25 foes in 2000-01 and won only one game.

Hamilton’s teams the past couple seasons might have wilted under such a challenging schedule, but this unit may be the best Seminoles squad since their last NCAA Tournament appearance five years ago.

Even though the Seminoles’ average college playing experience is 1.25 years, which makes them the second-youngest team in the conference and 46th nationally, FSU returned four starters from last year’s team.

A switch to a more up-tempo offense is a major reason why the Seminoles have their highest ranking since March, 1993. According to KenPom’s offensive efficiency rankings, FSU is averaging only 14.8 seconds per possession, which is second in the conference and 16th nationally.

The past four seasons, their possessions averaged anywhere from 16.1-17.4 seconds. Florida State is also second in the ACC and 15th nationally in scoring at 86.2 points per game.

The Seminoles, however, have shown they also can play a half-court game if needed. Last Saturday’s game against Virginia was at a slower pace but Florida State rallied in the second half and won on a Dwayne Bacon 3-pointer with 4 seconds remaining.

Bacon, sixth in the conference in scoring at 18.1 points per game, believes Saturday’s game against the Hokies will be more to their style.

Virginia Tech is “more like us,” he said. “They like to spread the game out, get out in transition and make the extra pass. They also shoot 3-pointers very well.”

With home games against No. 23 Notre Dame and No. 9 Louisville rounding out the ranked gantlet, Hamilton is trying not to get too far ahead. He pointed out before the regular season this could be the deepest the conference has ever been. With seven ACC teams ranked, which is the most it has ever had in January, he is being proven right.

“It’s the best league in the history of college basketball and it’s getting better. I think a lot of the traditional fans aren’t used to it because it is a new ACC,” he said. “You have to be cautious, optimistic and focused about the situation you are in. You have to be on point because it is a dogfight every game.”

What to know as Amendment 2 goes into effect on Tuesday

Dr. Joseph Dorn has had a unique vantage point when it comes to the burgeoning medical marijuana industry in Florida.

Dorn was the medical director of Surterra Therapeutics, which is one of the six dispensing organizations licensed to grow and distribute medical cannabis in the state. He resigned from that position two months ago and has opened a medical marijuana treatment center as Amendment 2 takes effect on Tuesday.

The constitutional amendment, which was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters, allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments. However, the true measure of what the amendment means won’t be immediately seen until a new set of rules are adopted and implemented by the Florida Legislature and the Department of Health.

“I think the expectations for most people is it is going to be a free-for-all, and all people have to do is get their cards to receive it,” Dorn said. “I think there is going to be a lot of chaos initially because there is still a lot of work to be done.”

The upcoming year will be important, considering the health and economic factors at play.

A study recently released by Arcview Market Research and New Frontier Data showed that Florida is on track to log more than $1 billion in medical marijuana sales by 2019 and surpass Colorado within four years.

WHAT THE AMENDMENT DOES

It allows the use of medical marijuana for people with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed physician. In 2014, the Florida Legislature approved the use of low-THC and non-smoked cannabis for patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms. It was expanded last year to include patients with terminal conditions under the Right to Try Act and allowed them to use higher strains.

Patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other similar conditions will now be covered.

HOW PATIENTS CAN OBTAIN MARIJUANA

Patients must be under the care of a licensed physician who has completed the required eight-hour course and examination for at least three months. Dorn, who is one of three approved physicians in Tallahassee, said he is nearly booked with appointments for the upcoming week.

According to the Department of Health, 340 physicians are registered. Christian Bax, who runs the Office of Compassionate Use, which is tasked with regulating medical marijuana, said last month he expects for there to be a significant increase in registered physicians during the first quarter of the year.

There are currently 1,495 patients in the state registry but that number will steadily increase.

DISTRIBUTING ORGANIZATIONS

Five of the seven licensed organizations have received authorization to distribute medical marijuana. CHT Medical, which was approved two weeks ago, will begin in-home delivery this month. At least one more additional license will likely be granted after a recent settlement between the Department of Health and two Southwest Florida nurseries.

Once the patient registry reaches 250,000, an additional three licenses will be made available, one of which will be designated for black farmers.

Dispensaries are open in Tallahassee, Clearwater and Tampa but according to the Florida League of Cities, 55 cities statewide have zoning moratoriums in place either banning or restricting dispensaries. Eight additional cities are considering moratoriums.

Most moratoriums are temporary as cities and counties await new regulations from Amendment 2’s passage.

NEXT STEPS

Five more legislative committee weeks are scheduled before the start of the Florida Legislature on March 7. The Florida Senate’s Health Policy committee held a workshop in early December to hear concerns from all parties. The House’s Health Policy committee has not met yet.

The amendment allows the Department of Health and Legislature to come up with the regulatory framework.

Those who opposed the amendment are urging lawmakers to uphold the tenants of the amendment, especially when it comes to putting laws in place to ban pot candy.

Whatever path the Legislature and Department of Health decide to go down, only one thing is certain – the clock is ticking to get it done.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Second-half run powers No. 20 Florida St. over Wake Forest

Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored 23 points apiece as No. 20 Florida State opened Atlantic Coast Conference play with an 88-72 victory over Wake Forest on Wednesday.

Florida State trailed most of the game and was down 66-61 before it went on a run of 17 straight points over a 4:02 span. The Seminoles made seven straight shots from the field during the run while the Demon Deacons committed four turnovers.

Jonathan Isaac added 13 points and CJ Walker had 12 for Florida State (12-1, 1-0), which has won nine straight for the first time since 2003-04 and is off to its best start since going 16-1 in 1988-89.

Keyshawn Woods and Bryant Crawford led the Demon Deacons (9-3, 0-1) with 16 each.

2nd try at medical pot amendment gains support in Florida

A proposed amendment to the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana has gained widespread support in Florida two years after falling just shy of passing.

Most state polls have support for Amendment 2 above the 60 percent threshold needed for approval. A similar measure was on the 2014 general election ballot and received 58 percent.

Supporters say they have listened to concerns from two years ago and changed the amendment’s wording to tighten oversight over the industry and protect children from harm.

In the meantime, the Florida Legislature has passed two measures allowing limited use of medical marijuana, though delays in implementing them have fed support for an amendment that would make it more broadly available.

Opponents say there still isn’t enough research proving the benefits in medical treatment. They also warn that the state will be overrun with pot shops and that children could illegally gain access to the drug.

If approved, Florida would be the 26th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize the marijuana plant for medical use. Florida is one of 16 states where only part of the marijuana plant is used.

“The legislature has failed to expand and open up the entire plant to use and only a narrow scope,” said Dennis Deckerhoff of Tallahassee, who says he will vote yes. “If the Legislature doesn’t want to do it, now it will be up to the voters.”

CURRENT STATUTE

The Florida Legislature approved the use of medical marijuana for patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms in 2014 along with five distributing organizations. It was expanded earlier this year to include patients with terminal conditions under the Right to Try Act, and three more licenses were authorized once the patient registry reaches 125,000.

The amendment would widen the list of illnesses eligible for marijuana prescriptions, adding such ailments as post-traumatic stress disorder, AIDS and glaucoma.

So far, only three organizations have received distribution authorization. Two dispensaries are open in Tallahassee and Clearwater but home delivery is available statewide. Some counties and cities have passed zoning moratoriums on allowing dispensaries to open until they can do further research.

The state registry now has authorized 129 doctors and 470 patients, Department of Health spokesman Brad Dalton said.

SUPPORTERS SAY LOOPHOLES HAVE BEEN CLOSED

John Morgan, who leads United for Care, notes that the latest amendment allows marijuana to be prescribed only for debilitating medical conditions. It also adds provisions that require parental written consent for patients who are minors, and requires caregivers to register with the Department of Health.

The measure mandates identification cards for caregivers and patients and puts the department in charge of regulating medical marijuana – as the state law also has done.

A lot of the rules and regulations – from how the marijuana is grown to regulations on how it can be transported for in-home delivery – were passed by the Legislature this past March would also apply under the constitutional amendment.

Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, said that the state’s two-year delay in getting low-THC cannabis to consumers has pushed support for the amendment.

“If anything the benefit of the past two years is that public opinion has moved forward a lot,” he said.

OPPONENTS: “THIS IS A LEGISLATIVE MATTER”

Dr. Jessica Spencer, who is the Policy Director for No on 2, says there is no evidence that marijuana works as medicine and that the industry would be more difficult to manage if it is endorsed under the Florida Constitution.

“We need to be careful when we’re looking at constitutional amendments that they are perfect. This is not perfect,” Spencer said during a recent debate in Orlando.

Anti-amendment literature by opponents depict medical marijuana as candy and note that pot shops could be set up near schools.

Kenneth Bell, a former Florida Supreme Court justice, said he is not opposed to medical marijuana but that it should be handled by the legislative branch.

“The Legislature has already acted a couple times and this does not take into account some unintended consequences that could take place,” he said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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