First medical pot dispensary opens its doors

For medical marijuana in Florida, the future is finally now.

Trulieve, the approved provider in northwest Florida, on Tuesday officially opened the first medical cannabis store in the state, in a strip mall in northeast Tallahassee.

“This is an historic day for the state of Florida,” CEO Kim Rivers told a roomful of reporters and medical cannabis advocates. The company was recently granted dispensing authorization by Florida’s Department of Health.

Trulieve is now the first medical marijuana provider to offer statewide delivery and make an in-store sale in Florida.

It will offer both the low-THC, or non-euphoric, strain previously OK’d by the state and the higher-THC strain allowed for terminally ill patients, Rivers said. Its marijuana is grown indoors to avoid using pesticides and other chemicals.

The store’s opening caps off an often frustrating journey for patients and their caregivers who had clamored for medical cannabis in the Sunshine State.

In 2014, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing low-THC marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

That same version is high in cannabidiol, or CBD, the active ingredient that helps control spasms and seizures. It is processed into an oil to be taken by mouth.

A three-member panel of state officials was tasked with selecting five approved pot providers for each part of the state. But that process got bogged down as officials struggled through the rulemaking process and fielded legal challenges from providers who weren’t selected.

Tuesday’s grand opening also was attended by the co-founders of the CannaMoms, a group of Florida mothers who have been advocating for medical cannabis for their kids.

“The will of the people does change the world,” said Moriah Barnhart of Tampa, the organization’s CEO. Her daughter was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer at two years of age.

“We’re being able to relinquish the title of criminal we were forced to embrace in order to save our children’s lives,” she added. “We now know our neighbors are standing beside us.”

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but selling marijuana is still a federal crime.

The Obama administration, however, has given guidance to federal prosecutors to not charge those, particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

Also, a proposed state constitutional amendment is planned for the 2016 election, backed by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, that would create a right to medical marijuana. A 2014 attempt failed at the ballot boxes.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission

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Fundraising for solar-energy amendment slows in July

Contributions to Consumers for Smart Solar fizzled out in July.

State records show the fundraising committee — which is backing the solar-energy ballot initiative — received no contributions between July 2 and July 15. The two-week period marks the two most recent fundraising periods. The group has raised more than $16 million since July 2015.

The group spent $615 between July 9 and July 15. All told, the committee has spent more than $13.8 million.

Consumers for Smart Solar ended the most recent fundraising period with nearly $2.2 million cash on hand.

The amendment, which is supported by the state’s major electric companies, is on the November ballot. It needs 60 percent support to become law.

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TV station sets Alan Grayson vs. Patrick Murphy debate

Get ready for a debate.

Channel 9 Eyewitness News announced Monday it will host a debate between Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson on Aug. 12. The two men are the leading Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, and the debate comes about two weeks before the Aug. 30 primary.

The debate will be moderated by Channel 9 anchor Greg Warmoth. According to the station, the debate will touch on national security, economic issues at the state and national level, and the environment.

In a statement on the station’s website Paul Curran, vice president and general manager of WFTV Channel 9 and WRDQ TV-27, called the debate an “important opportunity for our viewers to hear directly from the leading Democratic candidates on where they stand” on key issues.

The debate will be a special edition of Central Florida Spotlight, and will take place inside the WFTV studios. It airs at 7 p.m. on Aug. 12. Viewers can watch on WFTV Channel 9, or watch online on wftv.com.

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First medical pot dispensary to open in Tallahassee

The first medical marijuana dispensary in Florida is slated to open.

Trulieve, the approved organization in northwest Florida, is set to open a dispensary in Tallahassee on Tuesday, one week after being given dispensing authorization by Florida’s health department.

The state’s Office of Compassionate Use, which was formed to oversee state regulation of medical marijuana, projects that there will be dispensing locations in 19 cities by the time all six organizations are up and running.

The legislature gave limited approval to medical marijuana in 2014, with many expecting it to be available early in 2015. The process was beset by administrative delays.

Patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, chronic seizures and chronic muscle spasms can order medical marijuana by contacting their physician, as long as both are in a state registry.

Trulieve, which will offer in-store sales in Tallahassee, is the first dispensary to open its doors in the state, according to a press release. The company plans to host a press conference in its store Tuesday afternoon

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Straight, white, male dynasties falling in Central Florida congressional districts

This year, Central Florida voters have an unprecedented diversity of candidates to pick from for the region’s five congressional districts, and at least one, probably two, and possibly more heterosexual-white-male dynasties will fall.

Straight, white, male members of Congress have always held the congressional seats in Florida’s 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Congressional Districts. But that racial-ethnic-gender-sexual-orientation dynasty is certain to change in at least one of those districts, highly likely to change in at least one other, and at least remotely possible to change in any of the five.

In those congressional races that include parts of the Orlando market, white, heterosexual men are a distinct minority of the 23 Republican or Democratic candidates who qualified last month for the Aug. 30 primary. Black, Latino, Asian or women candidates have qualified to run in all five districts.

Ten candidates are women. Three are African-Americans. Two are Vietnamese Americans. Two are Puerto Ricans. One is Brazilian-American. Two are openly gay, which in itself breaks new ground, twice over, for Central Florida.

“Some of that is because of the changes in the district, because of the Fair Districts Amendment. This is creating a number of new opportunities where incumbents are not necessarily as entrenched as they normally would be,’ said University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett. “Also, you have seen, particularly in 9 and 10, the creation of Democratic districts, where gay candidates, or people of color, or women, particularly progressive women, are expected to do better. If they can win the primary, they have a good chance of winning the election.”

It’s not as if Central Florida voters have not had female or minority representation. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has represented Florida’s 5th Congressional district for the 22 years it stretched from Jacksonville’s black neighborhoods to Orlando’s. But redistricting has pushed that area out of the Orlando market, and brought CD 6 back into the Central Florida market. Also, Florida’s 24th Congressional District once stuck a leg into Central Florida, and Republican U.S. Rep. Sandy Adams and then-Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, both women, were elected to one term each from the Orlando area. But it’s long gone.

— CD 10, redrawn for this year to replace CD 5 as the likely minority-representation district for Central Florida, is guaranteed not to have a straight, white man in Congress next year, since none is running.

The district, which covers west Orange County and west and central Orlando, now has a majority of voters who are black or Latino, and Orlando’s largest LGBT communities. It’s also heavily Democratic now, so four Democrats are fighting for it.

Former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, who has the money, endorsements, campaign structure, resume, and personality to be the front-runner; and state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, who has the proven record of winning elections and a strong record for voters there, both are black women. Former Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe is a white man, but he could be the first openly gay congressman from Florida if elected, and he has more campaign money than Demings and at least as many political connections. Lawyer Fatima Rita Fahmy is a Brazilian-American woman.

The Republican nominee, Thuy Lowe, is a Vietnamese-American woman.

— In CD 9, covering south-central Orange County, Osceola County and eastern Polk County, only Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky is a straight, white man. His Republican rival, Kissimmee Vice Mayor Wanda Rentas, is a Puerto Rican woman in a district that has a large Puerto Rican population.

But CD 9 also has a heavy Democratic lean, so, as in CD 10, the winner of the Democratic primary will be heavily favored to win in November.

The Democrats fighting for the nomination include state Sen. Darren Soto, who [along with Rentas] wants to be the first Puerto Rican congressman from Florida, and three white women, Susannah Randolph, Valleri Crabtree, and Dena Grayson. Crabtree, like Poe, could become Florida’s first openly gay member of Congress.

— In CD 8, straight, white, male incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Posey may have little to worry about seeking re-election in a district that is solidly Republican, covering east Orange County and all of Brevard and Indian River counties. Democrat Corry Westbrook, a white woman, may be his toughest opponent yet.

— The same may be true in CD 7, which covers north-central Orange and Seminole County. Straight, white, male U.S. Rep. John Mica may be heavily favored, first against his primary opponent, straight, white, male Mark Busch, and then in the general election. But national Democrats are investing heavily in Democratic nominee Stephanie Murphy, a Vietnamese-American woman, in a district they see trending their way.

— The majority of the ten straight, white, male congressional candidates running in Central Florida this year — six of them — are found in CD 6.

That district traditionally had been a Jacksonville-oriented, First Coast district, but was redrawn for this year to stretch through Volusia County into Lake County, giving it more voters in Central Florida than on the First Coast.

Even there, with incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and five other straight, white males running, Democrat Dwayne Taylor, a former Daytona Beach vice mayor who is African-American, may offer a serious challenge.

The other Republican candidates are state Rep. Fred Costello and businessman G.G. Galloway, who both are convinced the redrawn, Volusia County-centric district will eliminate much of DeSantis’s advantages of incumbency, money, and endorsements. The other Democrats are Bill McCullough, Jay McGovern, and George Pappas.

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Heckled offstage, Debbie Wasserman Schultz now faces tough re-election

The furor over leaked emails not only got U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz heckled out of her speaking role Monday at the Democratic National Convention; it’s also providing fodder for her congressional primary opponent.

Wasserman Schultz announced her resignation as Democratic National Committee chair for the sake of party unity after the e-mails indicated that under her leadership, the committee sought to undermine Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ campaign before Hillary Clinton became the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee.

Her opponent in Florida’s Aug. 30 congressional primary is Tim Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor who tweeted Monday that “DWS must be defeated in this election and removed from Congress. It’s time to end her political career for good.”

Canova calls Wasserman Schultz a politician who bends to the interests of big donors and no longer votes as a progressive. That message – and the endorsement of Sanders – has helped the political upstart raise a surprising $2.2 million through June 30, mostly through small donations, after refusing to take money from political action committees.

It’s clear there is a lot of disdain for Wasserman Schultz, even among her home state’s contingent.

“To not be fair during this entire process, it’s kind of shameful,” delegate Sanjay Patel, a Sanders supporter from Brevard County said before she spoke at Florida delegation breakfast. He said he hoped she would be stripped of her speaking role at the convention.

That wish was granted after she was booed and heckled by her fellow Floridians. Sanders’ supporters nearly drowned out her remarks with screams of “Shame!” and “You’re ruining our democracy!” Her own supporters yelled back, standing on chairs and waving T-shirts bearing her name.

“We have to make sure that we move together in a unified way. We know that the voices in this room that are standing up and being disruptive, we know that’s not the Florida that we know,” Wasserman Schultz shouted over the crowd. “The Florida that we know is united.”

Then she left the room, refusing to speak to reporters.

But Sanders had his own troubles when he tried to rally his own supporters toward party unity.

He got loud, prolonged applause when he mentioned Wasserman Shultz’s resignation as party chair, saying it “opens up the possibility of new leadership at the top of the Democratic Party that will stand with working people and that will open the doors to the party to those people who want real change.”

But Sanders also was heckled and booed when he said voting for Clinton is key to defeating Donald Trump.

And while he was speaking, Wasserman Schultz announced she would not gavel in the convention, an embarrassing acknowledgment that her presence onstage would only showcase deep party divisions.

Wasserman Schultz is such a fixture in Florida politics that Canova is the first primary opponent she’s faced since being elected to the U.S. House in 2004.

“We know Debbie. No one has been more of a fighter and a champion for our values than Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She has shown time and time again her resilience and she is not scared to stand up to the right and defend our platform and defend our values,” said Ana Cruz, a delegate from Tampa.

Still, there’s no telling how the email leak will hurt her re-election campaign, said Florida delegate Mitch Ceasar, who has known her for 24 years in Broward County politics.

“We live in odd times and the only thing we can be sure of is that the unpredictable will happen,” Ceasar said. “Florida loves to be the center of attention, regardless of the context.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust gives $800K to Drug Free Florida

Drug-Free Florida saw another big fundraising period, raising more than $800,000 in about a week.

State records show the organization raised $805,000 between July 9 and July 15, the most recent fundraising period. That sum includes a single $800,000 donation from the Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust and brings its total fundraising haul to more than $8.1 million

Carol Jenkins Barnett is the daughter of George Jenkins, the founder of Publix Super Markets. She is a longtime supporter of programs benefiting children, and, according to Forbes, has served as chair and president of the Publix Super Market Charities, which donates millions each to nonprofit organizations that support education and the homeless.

Records show the family trust gave $540,000 in 2014 to Drug-Free Florida. The group ran a successful campaign against the 2014 medical marijuana ballot initiative and is ramping up its efforts ahead of the 2016 election.

The committee also received a $5,000 contribution from Neal Communities of Southwest Florida in the most recent fundraising period.

The committee spent $31,517 between July 9 and July 15.

Drug-Free Florida has raised more than $1.8 million since January. The vast majority of that sum comes from two sources — the Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust and prominent St. Petersburg fundraiser Mel Sembler, who, since May, has given $1 million to the effort.

Drug-Free Florida ended the fundraising period with more than $1.6 million cash on hand.

The opposition campaign outraised and outspent the group backing the 2016 ballot initiative during the one-week fundraising period.

Records show People United for Medical Marijuana raised $6,567 between July 9 and July 15, bringing its total fundraising haul to nearly $9.7 million. The group spent $53,343 between July 8 and July 15.

The 2016 ballot initiative allows individuals with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines a debilitating condition like cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

A survey released Monday found 77 percent of likely Florida voters supported the amendment.

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In Orlando, Surgeon General says precaution best method to fight Zika virus

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy toured a mosquito control facility in Orlando on Monday and said now is the time to start taking precautions to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

The top federal health officials’ visit to Florida comes just days after investigations were launched into whether two people in the state got the Zika virus through mosquitoes.

“What (we) should be worried about is some sort of local transmission will occur this summer,” Burwell said. “That is our expectation. We don’t know when or where.”

Murthy said several precautions that should be taken, especially for those who have recently visited an area like Puerto Rico or parts of South America where there are known transmissions by mosquito.

He suggested using insect repellent, staying in air-conditioned spaces, wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and getting rid of unnatural standing water in neighborhoods and around homes such as bird baths, water in old tires or even a small bottle cap of water. If you have visited recently an area known for transmission of Zika, you should avoid unprotected sex because that is a known way of transferring the virus, he said.

Although mosquitoes have been widely identified as the primary way the virus moves, both Burwell and Murthy reiterated that people are the biggest transmitters. Because mosquitoes do not travel far, the transmission from mosquito to a human will likely take place after mosquitoes have bitten a person already infected with the Zika virus.

“It’s a serious issue,” Burwell said, “So we want to make sure everyone has the right tools to be able to do everything they can to protect themselves in terms of travel, in terms of sexual relations, in terms of making sure when you are in places you are taking the steps you should take.”

To date there have been 12 births affected by the Zika virus in the United States.

An estimated 80 percent of Zika cases show zero symptoms. There is no known treatment or vaccine for the virus at this point.

Earlier this month, Congress left on a seven-week summer break without approving funding to help fight the virus.

President Obama requested $1.9 billion from Congress in February but Congress has yet to take action. In the meantime, the federal government has made $27 million available to Florida in public health emergency funding and last week President Obama promised Gov. Rick Scott $5.6 million to help as the push for a vaccine continues.

“We have moved all of the money that we can at this point in terms of moving our money around to try and cover,” Burwell said. “As we said before Congress went out, we are at a point in time where we need the resources. Very clearly we will run out of money in our vaccine efforts.”

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DEO wins amended judgment in loan program lawsuit

A Tallahassee judge has awarded another judgment in a case over a legislatively created loan program to help companies rebound from the recession.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis on Friday granted the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) the new sum of $1.26 million against the Black Business Investment Fund of Central Florida (BBIF)

The department won before, but wanted its final judgment against the investment fund changed to add prejudgment interest of almost $202,000.

That request follows an appellate decision that added the prejudgment interest, money that accrues on a monetary award from the time of the plaintiff’s injury or damage to when a judge orders the award.

The department had first sued the BBIF in 2013, saying it had overcharged participants in the Economic Gardening Business Loan Pilot Program and should have returned the money.

The $8.5 million program in question, a low-interest loan program for the state’s small businesses, was created by lawmakers in 2009 as a response to the then-ongoing recession.

DEO coordinated the loan program; BBIF was picked as a loan administrator.

The program allowed administrators to get a loan origination fee, payable at closing, of 1 percent of each loan and to take a yearly “servicing fee” of 0.625 percent of a loan’s outstanding principal balance.

But DEO soon told BBIF that it had misunderstood the calculations and demanded it return fees and money not yet loaned. That’s because BBIF incorrectly charged a monthly fee of 0.625 percent, the suit said, rather than an annual fee of the same rate.

But the investment fund didn’t comply, DEO said, and the agency sued for breach of contract and conversion claims. Conversion is broadly defined as a civil-law form of theft, or wrongly taking someone else’s property or money for one’s own use.

Another court granted summary judgment, awarding $1.1 million in damages to DEO. The appellate panel later agreed.

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PETA wins round in public records fight over monkeys

A judge has allowed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to intervene in a public records lawsuit involving an animal research lab.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis of Tallahassee issued his order in the case Friday.

“…PETA shall be considered for all purposes a party defendant in this action, and all pleadings and papers shall be served upon PETA’s counsel of record,” the order says.

The group’s public records request “triggered” the suit, court records show. Primate Products, Inc. wants a court order to prevent the state’s Department of Agriculture from releasing records it says contain “trade secrets.”

Lewis also denied the company’s motion for summary judgment, which allows a party in a suit to win a case without a trial.

PETA, which says it is the largest animal-rights organization in the world, asked for copies of veterinary certificates for animals the company ships to researchers.

Florida’s agriculture department regulates the movement of research animals into and out of the state. It kept copies of Primate Products animals’ vet certificates.

But the company has said that the paperwork had “customer and supplier information,” and that since the “primate supply business is very competitive, with only a handful of companies in the market, and disclosure of such information to (our) competitors would cause harm to (our) business.”

Primate Products breeds and sells “nonhuman primates for use in biomedical research,” the suit says.

Its Hendry County facility came under fire last year after undercover animal-rights activists filmed “thin, wounded monkeys and workers manhandling them,” according to a Fort Myers News-Press story.

That “triggered a federal investigation of the farm, where more than 3,000 monkeys destined for biomedical research live,” the paper reported.

Federal investigators later declared the facility in “compliance with animal welfare guidelines after admitting ‘weaknesses’ in some of its practices,” the Naples Daily News reported.

A subsequent hearing in the case has not yet been set, court dockets show.

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