As the Legislature reaches the halfway point of the 2020 session, no committee has yet to hear any of the wide range of bills filed to address a list of issues in Florida’s medical marijuana program.
Marijuana advocates are frustrated and people in the industry are left scratching their heads.
2019 was an eventful year for cannabis, but without a constitutional amendment to be implemented or the prodding of Gov. Ron DeSantis to make moves, there is little motivation for leadership to take up marijuana bills.
▪ Bill to waive the $75 medical card fee for patients who are veterans.
This bill would exempt veterans from having to pay fees to attain, replace or renew a medical marijuana card. The idea was brought up by Broward Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer as an amendment to an existing marijuana bill during the 2019 legislative session but failed to make it onto the bill.
This year, the bill was filed in the Senate by Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz and in the House by Riverview Democrat Adam Hattersley, who is a Navy veteran.
Neither version of the bill has been heard in committee.
▪ Bill to eliminate the vertically integrated business model in Florida’s medical marijuana law, undo the cap on the number of licenses and legalize marijuana for adult use.
This jam-packed set of bills filed by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Orlando Democrat Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, includes a variety of policies that would reshape the marijuana industry.
The bill would legalize adult use of marijuana for people over 21, order the courts to expunge criminal records of people with certain marijuana-related offenses and open up the current medical marijuana business model.
The current model maintains that a license holder must grow, process, test and sell their product without any subcontractors or middle men.
Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, also has a bill that addresses the medical marijuana business model and lifts the cap on licenses the state can issue.
None of the bills have been heard.
Read more at the Miami Herald
After more than five years, Boca Raton decided to join the growing number of South Florida communities that allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
Boca had banned the dispensaries in 2014. In a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the City Council approved repealing the ban and allowing the businesses within the city. Companies can start applying for permits immediately.Fullscreen
Councilman Andy Thomson introduced the bill. He, Councilwoman Monica Mayotte and Mayor Scott Singer voted in favor, while Councilwoman Andrew Levine O’Rourke and Councilman Jeremy Rodgers were opposed.
“This is medicine for people who need it, and need it badly,” Thomson said.
The vote came after about two hours of public discussion and council discussion.
Rodgers wanted to wait until after next year’s Florida Legislature session, perhaps until June 2021. He said he was more comfortable waiting a while, citing the federal prohibition on marijuana. The council decided move forward right away.
Read More at Sun Sentinel
Backers of a recreational-marijuana legalization effort announced Monday their proposal will not be on Florida’s 2020 ballot -- though a separate legalization drive continues.
In an email to supporters Monday, leaders of the “Regulate Florida” ballot initiative, which called for the state to regulate marijuana in the same way as alcohol, acknowledged they would not collect the necessary petition signatures before a Feb. 1 deadline.
Because the signatures have to be verified by elections officials prior to the deadline, petitions need to be submitted by Jan. 1, Regulate Florida’s board of directors said in the email.
“The sad reality is that we are not going to be able to meet that deadline,” Michael Minardi, the chairman of the political committee behind the proposal, and other board members said in the message.
The group announced it isn’t giving up on legalizing pot and is turning its attention to the legislative session that begins Jan. 14.
“We will continue to advocate for adult use for all Floridians and pursue an agenda that includes home cultivation, employee protections, social consumption, expungement of criminal records pertaining to marijuana offenses and more,” the board said.
Meanwhile, supporters of “Make It Legal Florida,” a separate measure to legalize recreational pot in the Sunshine State, continue racing to beat the deadline to get on the 2020 ballot. According to the Florida Division of Elections website, the political committee behind that proposal had submitted 159,250 valid signatures to the state as of Monday morning.
Initiatives require 766,200 signatures and need Florida Supreme Court approval of the proposed ballot wording to go before voters.
Two of the state’s largest medical marijuana operators have poured money into Make It Legal Florida since the effort was launched this year. Surterra Holdings, which operates under the name Parallel, and MM Enterprises USA, LLC, which operates as MedMen, have almost totally funded the political committee behind the effort.
The committee had raised -- and spent -- more than $3.7 million as of Nov. 30, according to the state elections website.
The Make It Legal Florida proposal would allow adults 21 or older to “possess, use, purchase, display, and transport up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and marijuana accessories for personal use for any reason.”
In a Florida Supreme Court case with major ramifications for the medical-marijuana industry, the Florida House contends a disputed 2017 law helps prevent “diversion” of pot to the illegal recreational market, minors and other states.
House attorneys late Monday filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn a July ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal that said a key part of the law conflicted with a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
That key part of the law involves what is known as “vertical integration” —- a system in which a limited number of companies that receive medical marijuana licenses must handle all aspects of the cannabis trade, including growing, processing and distributing the products. The alternative to vertical integration would be to allow companies to play different roles, potentially leading to more players in the industry.
In the brief Monday, House attorneys pointed to the need for a secure medical-marijuana system that would prevent pot from being used recreationally.
It said the Legislature “determined that licensure was appropriate only for vertically integrated entities, enabling the state to hold a single entity accountable for each phase of the industry from cultivation to dispensation.”
“That approach combats product diversion from a legal medical market to the illegal recreational black market,” the House attorneys wrote. “States with diffuse licensure systems, low market barriers, and unlimited licenses provide a cautionary tale. Such states have significant oversupply and persistent diversion and exportation of marijuana. The Legislature also required vertical integration to help curtail diversion to minors and diversion to other states where marijuana remains illegal or is regulated differently, which addresses the concerns the federal government expressed regarding the legalization of marijuana at the state level.”
Also filing a brief late Monday supporting the law were attorneys for several companies that already have medical-marijuana licenses. The brief said the decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal would cause a “seismic shift in Florida’s medical marijuana program.”
“In sum, the Florida Legislature created a vertically integrated medical marijuana program and established limits on the number of … licenses in an effort to ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana as required by the (constitutional) amendment,” the companies’ joint brief said. “These policy decisions are sound and consistent with medical marijuana programs in other states. By all indications, Florida’s program is growing successfully and appropriately.”
The arguments came in a long-running lawsuit filed by the Tampa-based firm Florigrown, which has tried unsuccessfully to get a medical-marijuana license from the state. The Legislature passed the 2017 law to carry out the constitutional amendment.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in July upheld part of a temporary injunction issued by a Leon County circuit judge who found that the 2017 law conflicted with the constitutional amendment.
At least in part, the court focused on the difference in the words “or” and “and” in the definitions of medical-marijuana operators, which are known as medical marijuana treatment centers.
The constitutional amendment defined the centers as “an entity that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes … transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies, or educational materials.”
Meanwhile, under the 2017 law, “a licensed medical marijuana treatment center shall cultivate, process, transport and dispense marijuana for medical use” – wording that establishes the vertically integrated system of performing all aspects of the business.
“The power of the Legislature does not include rewriting clear language in the Constitution, transforming a disjunctive ‘or’ into a conjunctive ‘and,’ ” appeals-court Judge Scott Makar wrote in a subsequent decision in which the court declined to revisit the decision.
“No evidence exists that the people via the elemental language of the medical marijuana amendment clearly intended a market limited to only a few fully vertically-integrated medical marijuana companies,” he wrote.
The Florida Department of Health, which administers the medical-marijuana system, appealed to the Supreme Court. Justices said in October they would hear the case, though they have not scheduled a date for oral arguments.
Florigrown is not required to file a brief until early next month, but CEO Adam Elend said in July that the 1st District Court of Appeal decision was a “game-changer” and described the current system as an “oligopoly.”
“It drops a bomb on the current licensing scheme. It’s just changing the whole regime,” Elend said.
Many of Florida’s marijuana dispensaries were not ready when Gov. Ron DeSantis made smokable medical marijuana legal in March. They were busy making oils, capsules, vape cartridges and other cannabis products.
In recent months, dispensaries have been struggling to provide enough smokable whole flower, which is the entire marijuana bud, to meet patients’ demands. Some patients prefer smoking flower to other cannabis products because it provides quick delivery into the blood stream for pain relief, medical experts say.
But in recent months, Florida’s dispensaries have jump-started cultivation of whole flower to make more available. Some dispensaries say that as early as December, they will have a larger supply to sell.
“Demand for flower has been extraordinary,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers told Wall Street analysts on a recent conference call.
Some of South Florida’s dispensaries, including GrowHealthy, have had trouble keeping their stores supplied. “We have smokable flower on a Monday and by Wednesday that product is out of stock," said Jeff Finnerty, senior director of marketing and sales for GrowHealthy. "We get it on Friday and then we have it to about Sunday morning.”
Dr. Barry Gordon, owner of Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, Fla., said patients are turning to smoking cannabis because it the most reliable way to ease their pain.
Gordon, known best for recommending cannabis to Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner to keep his cancer in remission, said inhaling is the safest means because many patients know what to expect in the high from a small pipe or a pre-rolled joint. They also know it will take only five to 10 minutes to get the pain relief they need.
Dave Clemmons, 54, of Boca Raton, was checking out the products at GrowHealthy’s dispensary in Deerfield Beach, which opened Wednesday. He said his first choice is to smoke flower because “you can see it and smell it." Clemmons, who uses medical marijuana to help with anxiety, said he prefers inhaling marijuana with a bong.
His experience with South Florida dispensaries selling flower is that every once in awhile “nobody has it. Then they’re back with 10 strains," or varieties.
Meanwhile, demand for medical marijuana has been growing.
Florida dispensaries, which can grow marijuana only inside the state, have been scrambling to add space to cultivate whole flower. Dispensaries are adding indoor spaces lit by lamps, which can result in higher quality, more consistent flower. Cannabis plants take about four months to generate from a clone or rooted cutting to packaging for a dispensary, experts say.
GrowHealthy, a dispensary that cultivates cannabis in Lake Wales, has been busy since summer converting several buildings into indoor grow-houses, labs and other operations to expand whole flower production.
“We expect in December to have almost three times amount of flower,” Finnerty said. He said whole flower has made up a quarter of GrowHealthy’s sales since May. With new inventory coming online, Finnerty said he expects whole flower to soon make up 50 percent of GrowHealthy’s business.
Rivers, of Trulieve, told Wall Street analysts that whole flower makes up about 50 percent of Trulieve’s product mix, and dispensaries can’t meet consumers’ demand for it. The medical marijuana company, based in Quincy, Florida, near Tallahassee, says it already operates 1.7 million square feet of cultivation and has 120,000 square feet of growing space under construction.
California-based MedMen also said Tuesday that it was expanding its cultivation near Eustis, Fla., north of Orlando, “to keep up with the growth of its retail footprint in the state.”
Kevin Fisher, chief operating officer of Atlanta-based Parallel, the newly named company operating Surterra Wellness dispensaries, said the company has 350,000 square feet of greenhouse space and 100,000 square feet of indoor cultivation space coming online in the Tampa area in 2020.
“It was a bear of a summer down there,” Fisher said, adding that sun-grown flowers may have lower levels of THC, the chemical compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Recreational marijuana use, on the other hand, remains illegal. But two constitutional amendments are currently in the signature-gathering phase in trying to get on the ballot in 2020, both of which would result in legalizing it.
One amendment would allow Floridians to grow their own pot and establishes rules and regulations toward that effect. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has challenged that amendment in court, arguing it is too long and confusing. The other would simply allow the current medical marijuana dispensaries to sell for recreational use. That simpler amendment has not been challenged or supported by Moody. Unsurprisingly, medical marijuana dispensaries are among that amendment’s strongest supporters; the industry has donated more than $2.8 million to the cause.
We want to know whether you support the idea. Should recreational marijuana use be legalized in Florida? Take our unscientific poll below as we gauge public sentiment heading toward 2020.
Proponents of recreational marijuana celebrated last week when a groundbreaking federal decriminalization bill passed the House Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Kamala Harris introduced the bill this summer alongside Rep. Jerry Nadler, a fellow Democrat. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act — described by its sponsors as the most comprehensive reform bill to date — would decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the list included in the Controlled Substances Act. The bill would also retroactively allow for federal expungement of all past and pending convictions for marijuana possession. States would then set their own policies.
But even the strongest proponents don't think the bill has any real chance of being signed into law. Skopos Labs, a company compiling data using artificial intelligence, gives the bill a 1 percent shot at passage.
Still, Florida experts say the bill's traction is adding legitimacy to a movement both here and in other states poised to pass new marijuana laws of their own. If the bill became law, it would change the landscape of legal marijuana business and, more important, would begin to undo the effects of the war on drugs for minorities, who are disproportionately arrested for related charges.
Florida A&M University's Medical Marijuana Education and Research Intiative Lauches Statewide Radio Show
Florida A&M University (FAMU) has a Medical Marijuana Education and Research Initiative (MMERI) and they have officially launched a radio show called MMERI Forum Radio. It is a half-hour weekly program that airs Friday and Sunday WANM Radio 90.5 FM in Norther Florida and WILD Radio 95.5 FM in West Palm Beach. The programs for the radio show will involve 8 episode series featuring in-depth interviews with legislators, physicians, law enforcment, and community activists on the topic of medical marijuana. Be sure to tune in and learn more.
The U.S. Committee on Appropropriations hosted a hearing September 25th for the Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. The panelists included Helene Langevin, Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), and Nora Volkow, Driector of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. During the hearing the three panels openly agreed that there is a problem with marijuana on the federal level. As a schedule 1 drug Marijuana is difficult to research because grants are restricted.Thankfully, Director Langevin's department is providing $3 million in grants to fund the studies into the benefits of cannabis compounds beside THC. The focus will be to develop and discover therapeutic alternatives to prescription opiods. The three panelists agreed that more ahs to be done by legislators for the full medicinal applications of marijuana to be understood and utilized for the benefit of patients across the country. Congresswoman Barbara Lee stated during the hearing her own anecdotal experience with her mother using a cannabis based pain-relieving lotion to treat her knee pain.
Positive news Florida. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Lawrence Keefe has come out publicly state that his federal offices will not actively pursue enforcement measures for small-time transactions of illegal marijuana. Instead they will focus on large scale trafficking of marijuana involving violent felons who commit gun violence while trafficking marijuana. Similarly Keefe has stated his office will not be pursuing charges against medical marijuana businesses operating within the bounds of Florida Law. Keefe and his fellow U.S. Attorney's are doing this as an exercise of their prosecutorial discretion.