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Sun Sentinel: Resolve medical marijuana law this week, too

For a moment on Friday, as Florida leaders announced plans for this week's special legislative session, it was believed medical marijuana would be added to the list of contentious issues on tap for resolution.

After all, if cooler heads could compromise on the year's biggest fight — money for economic development under Enterprise Florida — surely they could agree on the rules that will guide the growth of Florida's budding medical marijuana industry.

Unfortunately, it didn't happen.

Rather, the Florida House and Senate remain deadlocked over how to regulate what's expected to become the nation's largest medical marijuana marketplace.

It shouldn't be so difficult to implement the will of 71 percent of Florida voters, who last November approved a state constitutional amendment that legalizes the use of medical marijuana by people with debilitating conditions. The amendment says the implementing rules must be written by July 3. If lawmakers fail to do their job, the state Department of Health will take over. And history says we don't want that.

To be clear, medical marijuana needs government regulation, despite the bad name given government regulations. This is a medicine, after all. It is either ingested or inhaled. It affects behavior and body chemistry. It is more like alcohol and tobacco than retail consumer goods, and should be regulated as such. On this, everyone agrees.

But as always, the devil is in the details.

Here's our take on the differences, and how to bridge the divide:

Caps on dispensaries: Seven companies currently hold licenses to cultivate, distribute and dispense medical marijuana in Florida. They were chosen a couple years back after lawmakers legalized a non-euphoric strain of marijuana, called Charlotte's Web.

The state health department wrote the implementing rules and gave the licenses to five nurseries — one in each of five regions of Florida. To be considered, a nursery had to have been in business for 30 years and have an inventory of 400,000 plants. Later, two other licenses were awarded to companies that successfully challenged the process. A recent court ruling might mean two more companies get licensed, too.

Incredibly, these licenses aren't limited to cultivating marijuana, a new product for growers who previously specialized in trees, shrubs and house plants. Rather, they give these nurseries exclusive control of the supply chain — from "seed to store" — no matter their lack of experience in manufacturing, prescribing or dispensing drugs.

The winning nurseries quickly teamed up with companies that filled in the gaps. Still, the health department's monopolistic rules created the foundation for today's standoff.

When the legislative session ended on May 8, the House — under Speaker Richard Corcoran — wanted to award another 10 licenses by next July and cap at 100 the number of dispensaries a company could open around the state.

The Senate — under President Joe Negron — also wanted another 10 licenses awarded, but by October, reducing the head-start of the first seven companies, which are busy scooping up investors and securing prime storefront locations. More importantly, the Senate wanted to cap at 15 the number of dispensaries each company could own.

"The House version, with the caps and the timing of new licenses, would give a gigantic advantage to the existing license-holders," says Ben Pollara, who along with Orlando trial attorney John Morgan, led the constitutional amendment drive. By capping a company's retail outlets and giving more companies access to the marketplace, he believes the Senate took the more free-market approach, a value trumpeted by the Republicans who control Tallahassee.

Morgan holds the opposite view. "To me, Negron is the problem. He's the most un-free-market Republican I have ever met. … It's like telling Walgreens you can have five stores in Florida. There's how many counties in Florida? 67?"

Morgan agrees the House proposal "would keep monopolies. It would. But do we care about that? There would be 17 to begin with and other licenses would come with demand. Isn't 17 better than seven?"

Negotiations fell apart on the session's last day after the Senate proposed capping dispensaries at 15, up from 10, but far beyond its starting point of three, then five. The House countered with 50, down from 100. When the counteroffer was quickly rejected, the House amended its bill back to 100. And that was that.

Absent the legalization of recreational marijuana, no one expects today's patient pool — estimated at about 500,000 — will support 17 license-holders with 100 stores. And in the 27 states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana, no company has more than 25 outlets.

But money-wise, the cap means a great deal to the value of these nursery conglomerates. The Miami Herald recently discovered one company's pitch to investors. It said it expects to gross $138 million in sales by 2021— based on the premise of opening 55 retail outlets. The brochure also said Florida's medical marijuana marketplace is forecast to generate $2 billion a year.

We don't know where the cap should be set, though somewhere around 25 sounds like middle ground — not a free market, but not a closed monopoly, either.

We also agree that 17 is better than seven, and awarding these licenses sooner than later would better allow more companies to compete on product, price and service, which best serves patients.

A few other issues:

Franchises: Both chambers would preserve the "vertical integration" that gives nursery conglomerates control of the supply chain from seed to store. However, the Senate would let these companies subcontract or franchise opportunities. The House would ban subcontracting for any part of the business that touches marijuana, leaving only things like janitorial, security and professional services.

Morgan suggests franchises are the future and companies will make their real money by selling product to them. At issue is who would approve potential franchisees — the company or the state? This doesn't seem an insurmountable obstacle. If franchises help mom-and-pops open businesses and grow jobs, unshackle the chains.

No Smoking: Both the House and Senate would ban people from smoking medical marijuana, a position sure to draw a lawsuit from Morgan. Given that the constitutional amendment says smoking medical marijuana in public places doesn't have to be accommodated, voters clearly anticipated that patients would be able to smoke medical marijuana. Plus, cancer patients have reported greater relief from smoking marijuana than the pill derivative. Lawmakers should avoid committing taxpayers to a lawsuit they're sure to lose. Kill the "no smoking" provision. Let doctors decide the best administration method.

90-day rule: The House proposed making patients wait 90 days before they could get treatment. It's an arbitrary timeframe with no business in law. Again, let doctors decide how best to treat their patients.

Debilitating conditions, including pain: The amendment says doctors may prescribe medical marijuana for patients with debilitating conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and "other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class."

That last clause is the door-opener. The House proposed that to treat any patient with an unlisted condition, doctors must submit a great deal of justification to the Florida Board of Medicine, a step too far.

However, the House would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for chronic pain. The Senate would not. Rather, the upper chamber said pain must be tied to one of the listed conditions.

Experience elsewhere suggests medical marijuana could help curb the opioid epidemic, which is largely fueled by people taking prescription or illicit drugs for chronic pain. More research is clearly needed. Again, in the interim, lawmakers should trust doctors to do what's best.

Will some doctors violate standards and will some patients misrepresent their conditions? Yes, they will. But by allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for chronic pain, researchers will get a better handle on whether it works. And if it doesn't, changes can be made.

Research: Both chambers want Florida to be a leader in data, analysis and research on medical marijuana. As in other states, patient names will be entered into a registry accessible only to doctors, dispensaries and law enforcement. The research that comes from this registry should help policymakers better understand the landscape and whether changes are needed.

In the final analysis, the two chambers aren't light years apart.

Rather than let bureaucrats write more flawed rules, legislative leaders should commit this week to passing a law that provides proper direction to Florida's new medical marijuana industry.

Award the 10 new licenses this fall. Meet in the lower middle on dispensary caps, maybe 25. And implement the will of the people, who seem to have gotten lost in the debate.

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Andrew Abramson, Elana Simms, Gary Stein and Editor-in-Chief Howard Saltz.

Read more: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/editorials/fl-editorial-medical-marijuana-florida-20170603-story.html

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What happened in Tallahassee and where we go from here.

Friends,

Medical marijuana implementing legislation died on Friday in Tallahassee. The House and Senate couldn't come to a reasonable negotiation on the last day of session. As a result, implementation will have to operate under rules soon to be finalized by the Department of Health—at least until lawsuits are filed and the courts rule on behalf of patients.

When we wrote Amendment 2, we were all very aware that the legislature—which deliberately ignored the needs of patients year after year—would not immediately do an about face and live up to the access now codified in the constitution. We knew that this was likely to go to court at some point. It felt like a given.

However, when we won with 71% of the vote, I think there was great (and perhaps naive) optimism that they would see the light, and make some kind of good faith effort to comply with the overwhelmingly strong wishes of the electorate. There were a number of legislators that did just that and pushed very hard on patients' behalf.

The initial bill out of the House was horrendous. Partially drafted by Mel Sembler and Drug Free America, it was severely restrictive and not only banned smokable, edible, and vapable forms of marijuana, but it also added onerous restrictions on patients, such as a 90-day waiting period and recertification period. It limited treatment to the very specific, enumerated diseases in the constitution, and required insanely detailed justifications from doctors to issue certifications for non-enumerated conditions. It also reinforced the cartel system of marijuana businesses, giving a few big corporate special interests control of the entire market. I believe strongly that this cartel system will ultimately harm patient access through high prices, a lack of diverse products, and no true competition.

The Florida House took a position that maintained and strengthened the cartel-system by allowing them to open unlimited store fronts around the state. The Senate took a position to restrict the number retail facilities a single MMTC (Medical Marijuana Treatment Center) could operate, so that a more diverse, freer market could emerge to serve patients. I advocated strongly for the Senate position, believing—as I still do—that it would result in better access for patients.

Naturally, the cartels didn’t like that and this one industry-oriented detail set off a very intense lobbying battle on both sides.

My mission was to push for—and pass—the best bill we could get. We were one of a number of players engaged on implementation, and unfortunately, this push for greater competition became an intractable sticking point between the House and the Senate, wrapped up in the in-fighting that occurred between the chambers all session.

Our mission—to pass a bill that would guarantee at least some kind of reasonable patient access—failed. For that I am truly sorry to all of you.

John Morgan is livid over this and blames me entirely for the failure to pass legislation this session. I accept that I deserve some of that blame.

However, the choices we faced were "bad", "worse" and "the worst” (which is what happened).

Both bills banned smoking marijuana. Both placed onerous restrictions on the doctor-patient relationship. Both contained numerous new criminal penalties for patients and caregivers. Both would have resulted in litigation.

For nearly five years, I have been an advocate for patient access in Florida. I believed that these details would ultimately matter to patients, and that I was representing their interests.

Those interests tended to align with businesses that wanted entry into the Florida market, and were kept from doing so by an incredibly flawed and politically influenced licensee bidding process three years ago; a process that resulted from the legislature passing a low-THC medical marijuana law in 2014, at least in part in an attempt to thwart the campaign to pass Amendment 2 that year. It is no secret that individuals and businesses in the marijuana industry contributed to both United for Care and Florida for Care.

Florida for Care always advocated for a free market that allowed businesses to grow, because that means better patient access. Period.

I am deeply saddened, not just by the failure in Tallahassee, but about how John views what happened and why.

I love and respect John, without whom we would have never passed Amendment 2. We’ve had very heated arguments in private over policy and strategy in the past, but in the end we recovered and kept our eyes on the goal.

Here’s the thing: Though I’m devastated by his anger, I understand it. He’s a passionate guy, and if he wasn’t, we wouldn’t be this far. If our relationship never heals, it will not erase the many years of fighting together on an incredibly important cause. I have a deep respect and affection for John Morgan and I wish him well. Whether he believes it or not, our interests are largely still the same.

In the meantime, we now have a new mission.

This isn't over.

DOH has implementing authority and Florida for Care will continue to push for the two principles which we advocated for throughout the legislative session:

1. Respect for the doctor-patient relationship as written in the Florida Constitution.
2. An expanded, free market for medical marijuana in Florida, that provides affordable, diverse, patient access through competition.

I will continue to fight for those principles until the will of 71% of Floridians is finally realized in this state.

Florida for Care will continue to fight.

We will be sending more updates soon as to where we go next, but I promise you we aren't going away.

We can’t go away. We have to follow this through.

Once again, I'm sorry to all those who I let down. And I want to—from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of everyone at Florida for Care—thank you for everything you've done and continue to do to advance this cause.

With love and sorrow,

Ben Pollara

Florida for Care

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Saint Peters Blog: New wrinkles in Florida’s medical marijuana implementation raise doubts, concerns

I’ve not been shy about expressing my concerns about the implementation of Amendment 2, many of which stem from the fact that I’m the father of a young daughter. From that perspective, it’s imperative to me that Florida exercises necessary prudence and caution while putting in place the mandate from voters on medical marijuana.

I’m not ashamed to say: “Surely, not in my backyard!”

Call me NIMBY. Call me old fashioned. Just don’t call me Shirley.

The existing seven licenses to grow marijuana in Florida have, for the most part, taken a similar stance as I have on a responsible roll out of the new law. They have good reason to do so: a cautious, slowly phased-in, expansion of medical marijuana in Florida is good for their bottom lines.

That may seem greedy or cynical to some, but I don’t think it is. The intersection of philosophy and self-interest tends to be a strong impetus for the creation of public policy, and that’s a good thing.

But self-interest being self-interest you also can’t expect that intersection to remain static on a big piece of public policy, with big dollars at stake, like medical marijuana.

Certain recent events have given me a reason to take a step back on some of these issues and evaluate the philosophical honesty of the approach of Florida’s current Dispensing Organizations, soon to be reregistered as MMTCs under Amendment 2.

Let me start by saying that I accept the basic premise put forward by these DO’s and legislators that they’ve built businesses by a foregone conclusion that our nascent medical marijuana system would expand dramatically – either under Amendment 2’s passage or legislative action. And they have done so at significant expense, without much in the way of return, thus far.

Now, that investment alone doesn’t necessarily justify a policy of abject protectionism in implementing the constitution, but again, as it intersects with the notion of caution and public safety, the case gets stronger to do so.

Except for some new wrinkles.

This week, Canadian mega-marijuana corporation, Aphria Inc., announced a deal to essentially buy CHT Medical outright, one of the seven licensed DOs. They’re doing so with $25 million cash, while launching a $35 million raise, valuing the company at $177 million (!!!). CHT only began selling low-THC marijuana to patients in January, mind you.

As I outlined in my last piece on this subject, there was an intense and rigorous application process to select those current license holders. Particularly in the case of CHT’s apparent wholesale unloading of their license to Aphria, would essentially circumvent that entire vetting process. These investors could be great news for Florida, we just don’t know, since they didn’t go through the process like everyone else.

Second, it strikes me as a tad intellectually inconsistent to argue for sympathy over their investment in the Florida market in one breath, while raising big foreign investment dollars in the next. (And CHT isn’t alone in its fundraising, just the most public. As the Miami Herald has reported, almost all of the licensees are currently raising capital from investors.)

Finally, let’s think about the pitch these companies naturally would have to make to secure these sorts of massive capital infusions. Legal marijuana is big business, to be sure, but it’s also an industry in its infancy that is handcuffed in many ways by the glaring conflicts between state laws and federal law, where marijuana remains a DEA Schedule 1 substance. That’s why you still don’t see traditional money players like Goldman and Citi and their ilk playing in this space.

So why the big investments and insane valuations? The answer lies more in the licenses granted by Florida, and less in the P&Ls of the companies in question.

Under current law, after having gone through the rigorous application process, posting a $5 million bond, building growing, processing and retail facilities, and receiving DOH approvals to cultivate and then distribute medical marijuana, licensees can pretty much do whatever they want.

Most states with some form of legal marijuana require separate applications and licenses for each individual business operation. A grow has its own license, retail dispensaries are individually licensed, etc. Other states with vertical integration, like Florida, allow multiple operations under a single license. In those states, the maximum number of retail facilities that can be operated under a license is limited to 3 or less (except for New York, which allows 4).

In Florida? There is no limit.

That’s right, folks.

What the press corps and I have likewise been derelict in reporting on, is that our present cohort of marijuana growers in Florida can open unlimited retail facilities – “pot shops” in the parlance of this issue – across the state. And that’s precisely what they are planning to do with all of this new capital they are raising by the truckload.

A pot shop on every corner? Without action to fix this glaring loophole (heh), that’s where we’re headed.

Not in my backyard.

By Peter Schorsch

Read more:http://saintpetersblog.com/new-wrinkles-floridas-medical-marijuana-implementation-raise-doubts-concerns/

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Tampa Bay: Editorial: Legislators should follow voters' wishes on medical marijuana

After voters overwhelmingly approved expanding medical marijuana in Florida, lawmakers should be smoothing the way for a statewide market to get established. Instead, proposed legislation would strangle growth and access by inserting bureaucrats into medical decisions, hindering competition in the industry and needlessly monitoring doctors and patients. It's a stubborn and suspicious approach that insults the will of voters, and it should be scrapped in favor of legislation that makes medical cannabis a truly accessible option.

The bill, HB 1397, by House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Fort Myers, outlines rules for implementing Amendment 2, which expands the limited medical uses of pot allowed in Florida. But instead of letting doctors determine when patients are candidates for medical marijuana, the bill defines a limited number of qualifying conditions, including cancer or multiple sclerosis. And it does not make eligible patients suffering from chronic pain — such as from a car accident, surgery or condition like arthritis. Instead of letting doctors alone make treatment and dosage decisions, the bill puts a 90-day limit on the supply a patient can obtain and prohibits numerous forms of cannabis, including vaporizers and smokable and edible products except for terminally ill patients. It also forces patients to wait three months after registering with the state before they can obtain marijuana, a cruel and unnecessary restriction.

The House bill lays bare how disconnected legislators are from the 71 percent of voters who approved the amendment in November. It keeps in place the monopoly on suppliers and authorizes more only when the patient registry reaches 150,000. It preserves an existing requirement that suppliers be equipped to service the entire supply chain from seed to sale, which stymies competition and growth. A bill moving through the Senate, SB 406 sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, allows more new licenses to be granted faster but also keeps vertical integration in place. The free-market enthusiasts in Tallahassee seem to have abandoned that ideal when it comes to an industry they aren't keen to see grow.

The legislation contains numerous other barriers and oversight provisions, suggesting that legislators are more worried about recreational users getting their hands on marijuana than ensuring that suffering patients have reasonable access. But the Department of Health is not a law enforcement agency, and implementing Amendment 2 should not be an exercise in how little the law can allow. Doctors and patients should not be subject to nanny state-style rules that don't apply in other medical decisions.

Florida should not turn into California when it comes to the availability of marijuana. But voters delivered a mandate that they want reasonable access to this long-stigmatized drug for limited medical purposes. Legislation implementing Amendment 2 should allow chronic pain sufferers to use the drug, leave treatment decisions to doctors, abandon unnecessary oversight and get out of the way of a competitive, thriving market.

Read more: http://web.tampabay.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-legislators-should-follow-voters-wishes-on-medical-marijuana/2320367

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Miami Herald: Voters OKd medical marijuana; Florida lawmakers should simply comply

The devastation of the opiate epidemic cannot be understated, nor can the urgency of doing something — anything — to alleviate its effects.

Gov. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi understand the gravity of this crisis, working with law enforcement, the Legislature and other stakeholders to attack the insidious threat to public health and safety from multiple fronts.

Freshman Rep. Nick Duran gets it as well, filing a bill to modernize our prescription drug monitoring program to stave off abuses. Duran’s comprehension of this issue is sadly borne from the tragic death of his brother-in-law, David.

David was a friend of mine, too. He ran the statewide grassroots campaign for the 2014 medical marijuana initiative, and managed efforts to collect thousands of petitions to put medical marijuana back on the ballot in 2016. He had been clean and sober for years when he relapsed last year. Fentanyl took his life.

Opiate overdose deaths rose by 72.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, the most recent two years for which data is available. There is no one who believes that 2016 — the year David died — will be any improvement.

Addiction is a disease, like cancer, or AIDS, or influenza. It cannot be eliminated wholesale, but we can and must take steps to obviate its human impacts.

This sorrowful state of affairs begs the question of why the Legislature — and Gov. Scott — are not acting more swiftly and forcefully to implement the medical marijuana law that 71 percent of Floridians approved last fall?

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research found that in states that had enacted medical marijuana laws from 1999-2010, opiate overdose deaths fell by an average of 25 percent vs. states where medical marijuana remained illegal. On that basis, more than 800 lives could have been spared in 2015.

Authors of the Johns Hopkins study point out they haven’t established a direct link between medical marijuana laws and the decrease in deaths. But the correlation is too strong to ignore. It also tracks with anecdotal reports.

I’ve been a medical marijuana advocate for more than four years. Throughout that time, I’ve spoken with innumerable people throughout Florida who give medical marijuana the primary credit for saving their lives: People who clawed their way back from an addiction to prescription painkillers by using marijuana. Others who must still take narcotics to manage their suffering, but who take far less as a result of having access to marijuana. Still others who chose to never swallow that first OxyContin or Percocet, relying on marijuana at the outset, fearing even a flirtation with opiate dependence.

During last year’s campaign for medical marijuana, which I managed, we ran a television ad featuring Miami Beach physician Dr. Jeffrey Kamlet. A specialist in pain management and addiction medicine, and twice past president of the Florida Society of Addiction Medicine, Kamlet pleaded with viewers to approve Amendment 2 so that he could have the option of recommending marijuana, instead of narcotics with addictive and lethal potentials, to his patients.

It is such an established cliché that the Chinese word for “crisis” is the same as the word for “opportunity.” With medical marijuana, though, the opportunity isn’t being presented as a result of the opiate crisis, but because of the popular will of 71 percent of Florida voters.

Legislators should seize it nonetheless.

Here is what we know: Opiate overdoses claimed 3,228 lives in Florida in 2015; marijuana has never taken a life by overdose, in thousands of years of human use; data suggests — but does not prove a direct link — that medical marijuana might save countless lives from opiate overdose.

Acting swiftly to implement medical marijuana doesn’t even necessitate political courage — it’s mandated by the state Constitution. All state lawmakers have to do to save lives is to do their jobs.

By Ben Pollara

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article145384034.html

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Tallahassee Democrat: Moore: Florida is losing millions in medical marijuana license fees

Open the licensure process in Florida for medical marijuana under Amendment 2. There are 10,000 new businesses waiting to start.

It has been said that “an island cannot rule a continent.” Yet right now in Florida, that is predicted to happen with Amendment 2. Journalists report that an island of powerful lobbyists represents the seven licensees for the medical cannabis industry in Florida. Their goal: to bar the doors, rather than open the market to new licensees as allowed by Amendment 2.

Florida taxpayers missed out on an estimated $740 million of revenue from our law’s discriminatory language and lack of licensure in medical marijuana. An open market of licensure would have created a thriving industry and significant revenue through licensing applications and renewal fees.

Consider that most state’s grower licenses are $100,000 to $200,000 and dispensary licenses are $5,000 to $10,000 each. Renewal fees have similar rates and are a wellspring of new funds for state budgets.

This figure is real lost taxpayers dollars, as applications and licensing fees are paid in full before a company makes or sells its first product. To date, the only license fees collected were from seven dispensaries organizations, totaling approximately $1 million. But this was neutralized by the cost of defense for the state of Florida in litigation by challenges to the law. Losses to taxpayers and the state will continue to mount until the status quo is changed and the market is fully open to licensure.

If you’re still not clear how low and out-of-line Florida’s licensure figures are, let’s compare Florida to other legal medical cannabis states:

  • Florida has 7 licensees for a population of 20 million
  • Washington has 1,050 licensees for a population of 7 million
  • Colorado has 3,000 licensees for a population of 5 million
  • Oregon has 540 business and 65,000 individual licenses for a 4 million population

Florida lost $740 million of revenue over three years, because Florida closed the door to licensure except for a hand-picked few. That lost revenue could have been a $3,800 bonus for Florida’s 190,000 public school teachers or a $9,300 annual raise for 40,000 sworn sheriff’s deputies and police officers.

Let's use Amendment 2 as it was written. Florida can license 10,000 new businesses and create up to 200,000 new jobs for our citizens in their own towns – good jobs with the economic freedom to live in a place where you want to live, work in a profession you enjoy, and earn a living-wage to feed your children and support your family.

Tvo do anything but implement Amendment 2 with an open and horizontal market is to literally take food off the table of the citizens of Florida and out of the mouths of the children of our counties.

Open the licensure process in Florida. Ten thousand new businesses are waiting to start.

By Mark Moore, M.D.

Read more: http://www.tallahassee.com/story/opinion/2017/04/21/moore-florida-losing-millions-medical-marijuana-license-fees/100745372/

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Tampa Bay: Romano: Florida loves its booze, but not its medical marijuana

Glad to see your dedication to the free market, Rep. Larry Ahern.

You too, Reps. Wengay Newton, Chris Sprowls, Sean Shaw and James Grant.

In fact, there were a dozen state representatives from the Tampa Bay area who decided Wednesday it would be good public policy to allow hard liquor to be sold next to the Pop-Tarts at your neighborhood Walmart or Target.

So can I assume you will show the same free market fervor when it comes to implementing the medical marijuana amendment this week?

Because, I've got to tell you, the Florida House of Representatives is currently looking like the silliest bunch of hypocrites in the land. They are poised to pass a bill that would make it absurdly difficult for patients to get access to medical marijuana just days after making it easier for alcoholics to buy their hooch.

So, if you follow the logic, we need to monitor the heck out of medical doctors treating patients with debilitating or terminal diseases, and yet we'll sell rum and vodka in stores with teenage clerks.

No mixed messaging there, huh?

This is the kind of nonsense that makes it impossible to take state legislators seriously. This isn't a difference of opinion, this is a lack of integrity.

You cannot honestly champion the idea of free market ideals to sell liquor, and then interfere with the availability and cost of medical marijuana by limiting sales to a small group of handpicked farmers.

No one in Florida — other than big-box stores and alcohol manufacturers — was clamoring to change the law that required package stores to operate separately from retailers.

And yet the Legislature made it a priority.

On the other hand, more than 70 percent of Florida voters passed an amendment intended to make medical marijuana available to patients in need.

And yet the Legislature is eager to place restrictions on that amendment.

"Alcohol kills thousands of people every year in Florida, whether that's through traffic fatalities, direct overdoses or repercussions from chronic abuse,'' said Ben Pollara, who engineered the medical marijuana amendment last fall. "Marijuana, meanwhile, has proven medicinal purposes and has the potential to decrease opiate overdose deaths, which are at epidemic levels in Florida."

There is still a chance that Florida will come to its senses on this issue. The Senate has a proposal, with great influence from Sen. Jeff Brandes, that will allow for greater flexibility in the growing, distributing and acquisition of medical marijuana. The hope is that the Senate and House will negotiate a plan that will not make it too difficult or expensive for patients to get the appropriate medicine.

If that compromise does not happen, then the Department of Health will likely establish rules that will more closely follow the House model. And those rules will also likely be challenged in court.

Not every local House member voted for the alcohol expansion on Wednesday. Reps. Chris Latvala, Kathleen Peters, Dan Raulerson, Ross Spano and Jackie Toledo, in particular, defied GOP leadership on the issue. I may eventually disagree with them if they vote for more restrictive laws on medical marijuana on Friday, but it will be an honest disagreement.

At least they're standing on an established principle.

The rest seem to stand where they're told.

By John Romano

Read more:http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/romano-florida-loves-its-booze-but-not-its-medical-marijuana/2321740

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PRESS RELEASE: Statement from Ben Pollara on HB 1397

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, March 7, 2017
Contact: Vanessa Satterfield
Email: Press@floridaforcare.org

Statement from Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care, on HB 1397:

"I believe Leader Rodrigues was sincere and thoughtful in his approach and authorship of this law, but I can't help but be dismayed by the House proposal. The bill begins by moving backwards in many ways critical to the letter and spirit of the constitution, and in some cases, the existing low-THC Cannabis statute.

In addition to banning smokable and edible marijuana products, HB 1397 bans the vaporization of marijuana oils, except for terminal patients. That is a further restriction than what even the current law allows.

HB 1397 also offers only a modest expansion of the marketplace for medical marijuana treatment centers and again takes a step backwards in doing so. Forget about government not being in the business of picking winners and losers, HB 1397 literally picks losers in the issuance of the first tranche of new licenses proposed in the legislation. The bill calls for the first five licenses issued to be awarded to applicants who previously applied for, but failed to win, a license under the current law.

Today is the start of session and I hope this bill is the start of a meaningful debate in the House over the merits of this approach and that as the bill moves through the process, it applies more free market principals."

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FLORIDA POLITICS: Jeff Brandes files medical marijuana implementing bill

Bt Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster - Sen. Jeff Brandes wants a total overhaul of the state’s medical marijuana laws, filing legislation to repeal current law dealing with low-THC cannabis and replace it with a new regulatory system.

The St. Petersburg Republican filed the legislation (SB 614) Wednesday. A long-time critic of the current medical marijuana system, Brandes’ bill has the potential to open up the market beyond the seven dispensing organizations under law.

“The overwhelming support of Amendment 2 was a strong mandate that Floridians demand fundamental change to the way we regulate medical marijuana,” said Brandes in a statement. “The laws on the books today promote a state-sanctioned cartel system that limits competition, inhibits access, and results in higher prices for patients. This legislation outright repeals Florida’s defective law.”

Under the proposal, vertical integration of medical marijuana treatment centers is not required. Instead, the bill creates four different function licenses — cultivation, processing, transportation, and retail — that a medical marijuana treatment center can obtain. The bill allows treatment centers to get any combination of licenses. That’s a departure from current law, which requires dispensing organizations, similar to a medical marijuana treatment center, to grow, process and sell their own product.

“Florida should focus on what is best for patients,” he said. “The state today artificially limits the number of marijuana providers, promoting regional monopolies and standing in the way of the physician-patient relationship. This legislation removes those barriers, and will provide expanded access to Floridians who could benefit from the use of these products.”

The cultivation license would allow a license holder to grow and harvest marijuana; while a processing license would allow the permit holder to convert marijuana into a medical marijuana product, like oils, creams and food products, for qualifying patients.

Medical marijuana treatment centers with a transportation license would be allowed to deliver products to other treatment centers. It also allows centers to deliver the product directly to qualified patients, which the proposal states may not be restricted by local jurisdictions.

The proposal restricts retail facilities to 1 license per 25,000 residents. It allows local governments to regulate zoning and safety standards, and allows local governments to prohibit stores from opening up in their community. More than 50 cities across the state already have a zoning moratorium in place banning or restricting dispensaries.

Beyond getting rid of vertical integration, Brandes’ bill opens the door for future growth by removing current requirements, like how long a company needs to be in business or how much of the product they can grow.

“Senator Brandes’ implementing bill does an excellent job of establishing a comprehensive, tightly regulated medical marijuana system in Florida. SB 614 respects both the language of the constitution and the mandate that voters delivered on this issue,” said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for the United for Care campaign, which backed the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. “The two most essential pieces of implementation are maintaining the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship, and expanding the marketplace to serve patient access. SB 614 does both in a well regulated, well thought out manner.”

Brandes is the second Senate Republican in recent weeks to file a bill focused on implementing Amendment 2, the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.Last month, Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill that would, among other things, allow for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

Under his proposal, the Department of Health is required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry. It then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

The Department of Health also initiated the process of creating rules and regulations governing Amendment 2 in January. The department has until July to put rules in place to implement Amendment 2, which passed with overwhelming support in November.

Under preliminary rules, medical marijuana treatment centers — which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email last month that agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

Brandes’ bill also:

— Adds paraplegia, quadriplegia, and terminal conditions to the list of debilitating medical conditions as adopted as part of Amendment 2;

— Establishes criteria for caregivers and requires the background screening of caregivers;

— Restricts patients and caregivers from cultivating their own marijuana, and requires patients obtain marijuana from registered medical marijuana treatment centers;

— Grandfathers in existing dispensing organizations; and

— Applies a sales tax to the sales of marijuana and medical marijuana products.

If Brandes’ proposal makes headway in the Senate, that sales tax issue could run into some trouble in the House. While a House bill hasn’t been filed yet, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who is expected to carry the bill, has said the House version won’t include a tax on medical marijuana products.

Read the article here: http://floridapolitics.com/archives/231374-jeff-brandes-files-medical-marijuana-bill

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TAMPA BAY TIMES: Tallahassee is late, and lame, on medical marijuana

By John Romano - Voters gave them a solution.

Others states have given them a road map to follow.

And still there are people in Tallahassee who seem hell-bent on fouling up Florida's medical marijuana program with unnecessary and unwieldy regulations.

It doesn't have to be this way, and it shouldn't be this way. More than half the nation is moving forward with medical marijuana, and more than 70 percent of Florida voters agreed it was the smart and compassionate thing to do by passing Amendment 2 last fall.

Yet the state's Department of Health has weighed in with proposals that defy the language passed in the amendment. And some lawmakers are talking about conditions that will almost certainly make it harder and more expensive for patients to get their medication.

Meanwhile, parents such as Clearwater's Dani Hall are left worrying about a battle they thought had already been fought and won.

Both of Hall's sons, ages 11 and 13, are autistic, and she has been waiting for marijuana's legalization to combat the anxiety, depression, rage and other issues associated with their condition. She's known other parents who have gone out of state for medical marijuana products, but she instead chose to advocate for Amendment 2's passage and remain within the law.

"I simply can't take the risk of having my kids taken away from me if we ever got arrested,'' Hall said. "That's the crazy thing. We've done everything right, we got the amendment passed and now we're still fighting all these little battles all over the place. It's like two steps forward, and one step back.''

There are a number of potential problems with some of the regulations being talked about in Tallahassee, but three stand above the rest:

1. As they did with Charlotte's Web — a modified form of medical marijuana with a small list of eligible patients — some lawmakers want to limit the number of growers in the state.

Never mind that this is antithetical to the state's normal free-market obsession, it could also create a supply/demand problem that would make prices soar and conceivably send patients to the black market.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has proposed a bill that would add growers as the state's patient list increased, but Amendment 2 guru Ben Pollara says the state's patient-to-grower ratio would still be five or six times higher than most other states. And there's also the problem of giving the first round of growers a head start on signing agreements with municipalities for dispensaries.

"What we are creating is the definition of a cartel,'' said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

2. The Department of Health proposal would limit the number of ailments eligible for marijuana and put the list in the hands of the state Board of Medicine. The amendment specifically says individual doctors should have the authority to make those decisions.

3. Language in some of the proposals could also make doctors wary of signing up for the approved list of physicians who can recommend marijuana. Since it is still technically against federal laws, some doctors are concerned by language that suggests they will "order'' marijuana instead of "recommending.''

All of these problems are unnecessary and easily solvable. Brandes is planning to introduce legislation in the coming week that would eliminate Bradley's proposal to limit the number of growers. Brandes also suggests there is no need for growers to control the product from inception to delivery, and proposes creating separate licenses for growers, processors, retailers and transportation companies.

"I hope that we can have reasonable discussions about this,'' Brandes said. "Using the (Charlotte's Web) regulatory system designed for 1,000 sick children when you're now looking at potentially 250,000 patients is crazy. That mindset is absolutely insane.''

What's exasperating is that lawmakers should know better. They bungled the rollout of Charlotte's Web, and children had to wait an unconscionable amount of time before it became available.

And though the Legislature had zero interest in legalizing marijuana on its own, lawmakers had to know this day was on the horizon based on polls and what was happening elsewhere in the country.

"They have this attitude of, 'We have to take a conservative approach because we don't know what's going to happen.' That's nonsense,'' Pollara said. "We know what's going to happen. We know how it's supposed to work. We have two dozen other states that have already shown us.''

Read the article here: http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/romano-tallahassee-is-late-and-lame-on-medical-marijuana/2311195

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