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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.

Jack Latvala says he’ll support legislation banning fracking again in 2017 Session

State Sen. Jack Latvala opposed a bill to regulate the use of fracking in the 2016 Session, and in the upcoming Session, he’ll support legislation that would do so again.

“I’m where I was last year,” he said when asked about the controversial practice to extract natural gas and oil out of the ground.

“I helped beat it last year, so … I’m in the same place, and I’ll support a bill to ban it,” the Clearwater Republican said while exiting Sunlake High School in Land O’Lakes after a long afternoon hearing from the public at the Pasco County Legislative Delegation meeting.

Last year, Naples Republican Garett Richter‘s bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would have directed the Department of Environmental Protection to set up a regulatory scheme for onshore oil and gas drilling, provide $1 million to study the impact of fracking on Florida’s aquifer and unique limestone bedrock, as well as pre-empt local government ordinances seeking to ban the practice.

“We saw the issue of banning fracking come up in many races in the past election,” said Michelle Allen, the Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch. “And we believe it’s going to continue to come up until we pass a statewide ban on it.”

Allen addressed the issue Wednesday before the six-person body.

The issue was certainly hot last fall in the three-way Senate District 18 race in Hillsborough County between Republican Dana Young, Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner.

Young was dogged by environmental groups (as well as her two opponents) of being pro-fracking by supporting the Richter bill; she insisted it was, in fact, a vote to ban the practice.

Immediately after winning the race, Young announced she would be proposing a bill in the 2017 Session to ban fracking.

The number of local governments in Florida that passed resolutions or ordinances denouncing fracking in Florida is now up to 89, Allen said.

“Floridians do not want fracking,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director with Environment Florida. “Over 75 percent of Floridians live in a city or county that has passed a resolution or an ordinance opposing fracking. That includes Dade City and Zephyrhills here in Pasco County, and Tampa, St. Pete and Pinellas County as a whole.”

Rubiello added that the Legislature shouldn’t vote for more studies. They were “a waste of time, money and energy, even when they’re attached to a true ban,” she said.

In a report released last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that, in some circumstances, hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water.

The report came just as President-elect Donald Trump vowed to expand fracking and roll back existing regulations on the process.

(An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Latvala was chair of the Appropriations Committee last year. He did not take over those duties until this fall.)

Jeff Brandes’ legislation would reform why state suspends driver’s licenses

Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes is once again filing a bill that would prevent Floridians from having their driver’s licenses suspended for a reason unrelated to a driving violation.

The legislation would reduce the number of offenses for which license suspension is prescribed and prohibit suspensions for those who show in court an inability to pay fines and fees.

Brandes introduced a similar bill during last year’s session that didn’t make its way out of the the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said he did so after reading reports showing that more than 1.2 million driver’s license suspensions occur annually in Florida.

A study conducted in 2014 said that the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles suspended 1.3 million driver’s licenses in fiscal year 2012-13, and 167,000 were for non-driving reasons, such as failure to pay fines or court fees or child support.

An August, 2015 report in the Miami Herald found that 77 percent of all license suspensions in Florida between 2012 and 2015 occurred because of a failure to pay fees.

A similar bill was proposed in the ouse last year by St. Petersburg Democrat Daryl Rouson and was co-sponsored by Republicans Dana Young from Tampa and Sarasota’s Greg Steube. All three of those members have moved on to the Senate this year, presupposing there could be support for the bill there.

The bill will likely have a negative impact on local tax collectors and clerks of court who retain a portion of revenues from certain driver’s license sanctions when issuing reinstatements, in addition to other fees retained by them associated with license suspensions and revocations. That was an issue with the bill last year.

Blaise Ingoglia touts support from state senators in Florida GOP chair re-election bid

Nearly a dozen state senators are throwing their support behind Blaise Ingoglia’s bid to keep his job as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

The Spring Hill Republican announced Wednesday the support of 10 state senators, including former Majority Leader Bill Galvano and former House Majority Leader and newly elected Sen. Dana Young.

“Over this past election cycle, there has been a lot of rhetoric from the Florida Democrat Party, the media and those who wanted the grassroots to fail, by trying to give the appearance that the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Senate have not been unified in our shared goals,” said Ingoglia, the current chairman of the Florida GOP and a state representative “Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that I, as well as the RPOF, have a great working relationship with our Florida Senators and their leadership. Florida Senators have attended all our major events, donated and helped raise money to help us succeed.”

In an email to state executive committee members, Ingoglia said he was committed to working “collaboratively with the Florida Senate, the Florida House, our Congressional delegation, the Governor and the cabinet to advance our shared goals of making Florida the best state in the nation.”

Aside from Galvano and Young, Ingoglia was endorsed by:

— Sen. Kelli Stargel

— Sen. Rob Bradley

— Sen. Frank Artiles

— Sen. Dennis Baxley

— Sen. Travis Hutson

— Sen. Debbie Mayfield

— Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, and

— Sen. Greg Steube.

Ingoglia was elected chairman in 2015, after Republican activists rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked chairman. He previously served as the vice chairman on the state party.

Ingoglia will face Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota Republican committeeman, in the race to serve as the RPOF chair.

Ziegler, 33, announced his candidacy in November.

Dana Young, Chris Sprowls named to GOPAC advisory board

State Sen. Dana Young of Tampa and state Rep. Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor have been named to GOPAC‘s 2017 Legislative Leaders Advisory Board.

“With Republican dominance at the federal and state levels of government, we must deliver solutions to Americans’ top concerns for economic and personal security,” GOPAC Chairman David Avella said in a statement Monday.

Sprowls

“Our Legislative Leaders Advisory Board members are integral to accomplishing this by sharing their ideas and trading best practices with elected leaders throughout the country,” he said. “Further, our Advisory Board is instrumental in our success at building a healthy roster of prepared leaders ready to lead in their state legislatures and/or run for higher office.”

Young, elected to the Senate this year, was most recently House Republican Leader. She chairs the Senate’s Health Policy committee. Sprowls, in the House since 2014, now chairs its Judiciary committee. Young and Sprowls, both lawyers, will serve a one-year term.

The full list of members, as provided, is below:

State Senate Members
Republican Nominee for Lt. Governor & Speaker Randy McNally (TN)
President Jack Whitver (IA)
President Pro Tempore David Shafer (GA)
President Pro Tempore Bob Peterson (OH)
Majority Leader Greg Reed (AL)
Majority Leader Kimberly Yee (AZ)
Majority Leader Brandt Hershman (IN)
Majority Leader Damon Thayer (KY)
Majority Leader Garrett Mason (ME)
Majority Leader Shane Massey (SC)
Majority Leader Ryan Ferns (WV)
Assistant Majority Leader Jeremy Miller (MN)
Assistant Majority Leader Leah Vukmir (WI)
Minority Whip Steve Hershey (MD)
Finance Committee Chair Catharine Young (NY)
Appropriations Committee Chair Kim David (OK)
Health Care Policy Committee Chair Dana Young (FL)
Health and Human Services Committee Chair Charles Schwertner (TX)
Rules Committee Chair Deidre Henderson (UT)
Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee Chair Bryce Reeves (VA)

State House / Assembly Members
Speaker Tom Leonard (MI)
Speaker Philip Gunn (MS)
Speaker Tim Moore (NC)
Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (OH)
Speaker Charles McCall (OK)
Speaker Pro Tempore Tyler August (WI)
Majority Leader Mathew Pitsch (AR)
Majority Whip Jackson Miller (VA)
Assistant Republican Leader Melissa Melendez (CA)
Assistant Majority Whip Wendy McNamara (IN)
Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Sprowls (FL)
Representative Bruce Bannister (SC)

Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission likely doomed after local delegation approves bill to kill it

The troubled Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission received a terminal diagnosis Friday after members of the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted unanimously for a local bill that would eliminate the agency on December 31, 2017.

After that, the County Commission would pick up its regulatory duties.

“The public has lost complete faith in the ability of this agency to regulate credibly, equitably and efficiently,” said bill sponsor James Grant said before the entire delegation vote in support of his bill.

The proposal was similar to a previous bill Grant brought to the local delegation in 2013 that sought to put a stake through the heart of the agency, but with a significant difference.

The local bill approved on Friday gives the county and the PTC a full year to contend with the transition.

“It’s not about moving fast. We want to make sure we avoid any unintended consequences,” Grant said. That was in notable contrast to the 2013 version, which would have killed the agency immediately, making it a bridge too far for other legislators to support, even with noted PTC critics like Dana Young

“I think the plan is to subcontract the regulation out to Uber, isn’t it?” asked Brandon Senator Tom Lee, eliciting the largest round of laughter of the morning.

Although meant for humorous effect, there’s no question that the addition of Uber and Lyft into the county ultimately was the beginning of the end for the PTC, which was already burdened with a toxic reputation well before the emergence of ride-sharing in Hillsborough County.

Among the previous lowlights that had saddled the PTC came in 2010, when Cesar Padilla, then the executive director of the agency, resigned after it was reported that he had been moonlighting as a security guard.

There was also the case of former County Commissioner Kevin White, was busted in 2008 for taking bribes for helping tow company operators to get permits in his role as PTC chair. White ended up serving three years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta.

The PTC caught the attention of lawmakers like Grant and Jeff Brandes after the PTC went after Uber when it introduced its Uber Black limo service during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa. The PTC shut that effort down quickly.

Those lawmakers became incredibly irritated with the PTC and its (now former) chairman Victor Crist over the past few years, as Uber and Lyft refused to comply with PTC regulations. That led to PTC agents citing those drivers, leading to court actions and more than two years of fighting before an agreement bringing both companies into compliance occurred last month.

At Friday’s meeting, County Commission Chairman Stacy White said, “the county stands prepared to take over regulation of this industry and create a meaningful regulatory framework.”

“I think that those types of things would be able to be implemented by the county with relative ease,” White said. “We do stand prepared to create a lean, regulatory framework.”

The PTC has been funded by fees paid by the taxicab and limousine companies, not directly by taxpayers. Plant City Republican Representative Dan Raulerson asked White if the county would continue to fund their regulatory efforts in the same fashion.

“We certainly do have the ability to charge various permitting fees to offset the costs of the regulatory process,” White said.

“It seems like a good move in broadening out transportation options,” added recently elected Commissioner Pat Kemp.  

“I support it, and I realize that there are 66 other counties in the state of Florida that have figured out how to do this,” said Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert. “Let’s get it done.”

TBX critics not surprised by FDOT Secretary’s stance on the project

Following Florida Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Boxold’s comments this week that it’s time for a “reset” on the controversial Tampa Bay Express toll lanes project, an opposition group says it’s time to remove the project from Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization’s five year plan.

“We are not surprised that FDOT has realized how tarnished and damaged the TBX brand is- the project is too costly and does not solve congestion or meet transportation needs,” says Michelle Cookson, a spokesperson for Sunshine Citizens, the citizen activist group formed to oppose the Tampa Bay Express project in 2005.

Cookson was reacting specifically to Boxold’s statements to the Florida Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday, where he said, “We have had some challenges with getting that project to a point where the local communities that are affected are pleased with where it is, and so we have the benefit of some time before we’re ready to move forward with that project,” Boxhold said.“We probably have 2-3 years before that project is what we call ‘production ready,’ ready to turn dirt,” adding, “and so we’re going to sort of hit the reset button, bring in additional staff or different staff to manage that project, and work more intensively with the local communities.”

The comments were the first by the FDOT in months regarding the project, which last came before the public in June, when the Hillsborough MPO board approved including the project in the agency’s five-year transportation improvement plan.

The TBX project is the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay area. The plan would ultimately remake I-275, I-4 and I-75, and bring new toll lanes from Pasco County south to Manatee County and from Pinellas County east to Polk County.

Critics contend that the plan would negatively impact a low-income and minority concentrated area of Tampa, who had little input on what was happening in their neighborhood, something that Boxold said on Tuesday he is well aware of.

Other critics say that the plan is foolhardy and won’t decrease traffic congestion.

However, some of Tampa’s biggest political players, such as Mayor Bob Buckhorn, state Senator Dana Young and much of the business establishment is solidly behind the plan.

Here is the statement in full from Sunshine Citizens:

Upon reading Florida Politics’ coverage of FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold’s comments to a Florida Senate committee, “FDOT Secretary says it’s time to hit reset button on TBX project,” we are not surprised that FDOT has realized how tarnished and damaged the TBX brand is- the project is too costly and does not solve congestion or meet transportation needs.

Sunshine Citizens’ emphasis in our long-term plan has always been on what comprehensive transportation could this region have for $6 billion – instead of $2 per mile tolls on the highways?

The only action FDOT can take to satisfy community concerns about TBX is to remove TBX from the 5-year work plan and commit to funding a Citizen-led regional transportation outreach effort that runs in conjunction with the premium transit study.

It is imperative that FDOT commit to funding Citizen-led participation in shaping a regional transportation plan that serves ALL of the community – because this is $6-9 billion of our taxpayer money they are talking about using. This outreach must be led by the citizens and include large, diverse groups of people from all over the county, with their input first, not a pre- conceived outcome shaping the dialogue.

We have always questioned the rush to fund this project which has been shown to be so tremendously flawed. Our current actions include petitioning FDOT to remove TBX from the 5- year work plan and continued demands of the Hillsborough MPO to remove TBX from the TIP.

In conjunction with our coalition partners, our next major actions include attendance at the Hillsborough Legislative Delegation Meeting*, Friday, December 16, and then action plans in Tallahassee in 2017.
*Event information at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/586138868243288/

Sunshine Citizens remain committed to public education, grassroots activism and growing our coalition of business and community organizations that favor investment in infrastructure, to include multimodal comprehensive transportation, that generates greater return on investment without eviscerating communities.

It’s time to move Beyond TBX and position this region for economic growth and prosperity while meeting the community’s transportation needs.

Report says 24,000 citizens in Florida have suspended drivers license because of drug offenses

Federal law requires drivers license suspensions for non-payment of child support and drug offenses. However, according to a new report, the majority of states have used a provision in that law that allows them to “opt-out” of these automatic license suspensions while still keeping their highway funding.

Twelve states – including Florida – have not.

A report released this week by the Prison Policy Initiative finds more than 190,000 drivers’ licenses are suspended nationally, including more than 24,000 in Florida alone, because of non-driving drug offenses.

The report finds that low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of these suspension laws, with many of those impacted living in areas with poor public transit. The report specifically mentions Palm Bay, where it claims that 93 percent of jobs are not reasonably accessible via public transit for people living in low-income areas.

In the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, only 16 percent of low-income people can “reasonably access” a job with the area’s public transit, the report says, and only 18 percent of middle-income can.

In order to get back on the road, there are reinstatement costs layered on top of other court fines and fees. In Florida, that amounts to $45.

In the past year, Florida legislators have worked to help out those who have lost their license for a variety of transgressions – but not related to drug offenses.

In the 2016 Legislative Session in Tallahassee, St. Petersburg Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes filed legislation (SB 706) that would remove the suspension of drivers licenses for a series of crimes unrelated to driving – such as graffiti by a minor, truancy and failure to pay court fees. However, it died in the Senate Appropriations Committee on the last day of the session.

In January, Tampa Bay area lawmakers Darryl Rouson and Dana Young hosted a “Driver’s License Reinstatement Day,” where applicants who had were guilty of the following violations could be eligible to get their license reinstated: for not driving with a valid driver’s license, collections, failure to appear and outstanding civil traffic citations.

In neither of those cases could a motorist who had his license suspended because of a drug offense get it reinstated.

In fiscal year 2013, there were 1.3 million driver’s license suspensions in Florida. Just over 1 million were for non-payment of fines or process violations related to driving, according to a report by the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Governmental Accountability.

Earlier this year, both Ohio and Massachusetts passed bipartisan legislation repealing their laws. In Ohio, license suspensions for drug offenses are now discretionary rather than mandatory. And in Massachusetts, the Legislature eliminated automatic driver’s license suspensions for all drug offenses with the exception of the trafficking of specified substances. They also repealed the $500 reinstatement fee. Judges now have discretion when adjudicating driving-related drug offenses.

Treat medical marijuana “like medicine,” advocates say

The right way to put the new constitutional amendment on medical marijuana into effect is to “treat (it) like medicine,” supporters said Tuesday. 

The Senate Health Policy committee held its first workshop for the 2017 Legislative Session on medical cannabis implementation.

“The states that have done it poorly, with a lack of regulation, allowed folks to market and advertise the notion of getting high,” said Ben Pollara, who leads Florida for Care, the organization advocating for “a strong, well-regulated medical marijuana system.”

“The average recreational marijuana user is not what this is about,” he told lawmakers. “It has to be treated, at every step of the way, with the seriousness that we treat medicine and other health care decisions. There needs to be clear restrictions put in place.”

Pollara is in favor of childproof packaging for medicinal marijuana, for instance.

Lawmakers now are faced with creating a regulatory system for the dispensing of marijuana to thousands of patients who now qualify for it in Florida. The amendment technically goes into effect on Jan. 3 but the Legislature first must create that structure.

“We’ll continue having conversations with the stakeholders,” said committee chair Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, after the workshop. “No decisions have been made yet regarding specific legislation … but this is a topic we’re taking very seriously.”

Voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent.

In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version already has been approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms and is regulated by the Department of Health.

The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days.

The amendment now grants a state constitutional right to marijuana to people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician. It defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.

Those in law enforcement and addiction treatment, while saying they respected the “will of the voters,” warned lawmakers to allow for a good amount of local control.

“We are not here to be obstructionist; we want to be honest brokers,” said Walton County Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson Jr. “But we want to address the concerns that will come up … This is a herculean task.”

He suggested prohibiting selling marijuana as candy or cookies, likely to entice children, and to require tamper-proof ID cards for marijuana users. Adkinson also said the state should give leeway to towns and cities to zone for marijuana dispensaries.

But state Sen. Bobby Powell, a Riviera Beach Democrat, said he was concerned some areas would “zone out” medical marijuana entirely from their communities.

Ellen Snelling, chairwoman of the Tampa Alcohol Coalition and member of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance, added that marijuana isn’t harmless, telling the panel of her teenage daughter’s decline into drug use after trying pot.

Snelling argued for strict rules and regulations: “Don’t let Florida become California, where anyone can get a medical pot card.”

But Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, one of the state’s first medical marijuana dispensing organizations, said she and others in the business in Florida are “all about product quality and patient safety.” Trulieve operates a retail marijuana store in northeast Tallahassee.

And Rivers said she expects business to only grow.

Her company now can serve 72,500 patients, she said. After an upcoming expansion, Trulieve will be able to accommodate up to 650,000 patients with 20 milligrams of cannabis a day.

Dr. Mark Hashim, a pain specialist in Hudson, disagreed with the Health Department’s proposed rule banning telemedicine to prescribe marijuana. It’s been described as “allowing doctors and patients to connect virtually, rather than face-to-face.”

He said it would help those in rural areas or simply too sick to get to a doctor: “I don’t see a reason why we are disallowing this.”

Implementation of medical marijuana amendment brings together unlikely allies

With establishment lobbyists now representing it, the medical marijuana cause appears to have become—grab your pearls—respectable.

Florida for Care, the nonprofit organization that is advocating for “well-regulated” medicinal pot in the state, has hired Brecht Heuchan and The Mayernick Group to advocate for its interests.

Heuchan, who says he voted against the medical marijuana constitutional amendment this November, has worked for Gov. Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work PAC. He’ll lobby the executive agencies.

“I didn’t want Florida to be like California but my vote was an ignorant one, as it turns out,” he said. “The amendment … will change thousands and thousands of Floridians’ lives and this can be done in a responsible way.”

The Mayernicks, GOP loyalists and experts in appropriations, have the legislative end.

Florida voters approved the initiative by 71 percent, well over the required 60 percent needed. That was two years after it missed passage by roughly 2 ½ percent.

“It’s rare you get to work on an issue that helps people cope with their medical condition and is supported by an overwhelming mandate of the voters,” Frank Mayernick said.

Now the work lies in how the amendment will work in practice.

State Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, will hold a workshop next Tuesday in her Senate Health Policy committee on “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions,” a Senate schedule shows.

“There are many competing interests on the implementation (of medical marijuana),” lobbyist Tracy Mayernick said.

“We will be advocating for reasonable implementation that allows for adequate access, patient safety and affordability to the expanded patient population as well as a strong regulatory structure that meets the needs of law enforcement and communities across Florida.”

Just as important, cannabis as medicine is about to become big, even huge, business. 

A recent report says Florida will rack up over $1 billion in medical marijuana sales in the next three years. Soon, the Sunshine State could be behind only California in the size of its medical pot revenues.

It’s used as a “critical therapy by millions of patients to alleviate symptoms of epilepsy, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and more,” according to Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access.

Here, the amendment grants a right to people with debilitating medical conditions, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment defines a debilitating condition as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other things.

In Florida, the “non-euphoric” version is already approved for children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. The state later passed a law allowing terminally ill patients to use a stronger form of marijuana during their final days.

Florida and other states have operated under a kind of salutary neglect when it comes to marijuana, the sale of which is still a federal crime.

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

President-elect Donald Trump “has said he supports medical marijuana and that states should handle the question of whether to legalize,” according to TIME magazine.

“I think there’s an axis between the message the voters sent, the desire of the legislature to regulate this law in a lowercase ‘c’-conservative way, and the wants of the nascent medical marijuana industry,” Heuchan said.

“I agreed to join Florida for Care because they’re taking an approach to implementation that acknowledges this balancing act, and are seeking to be productive and reasonable in the process.”


Ed. Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that John Morgan chairs Florida for Care. Morgan chairs United for Care, a separate entity.

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