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SUN-SENTINEL: New medical marijuana amendment moves forward

By Dan Sweeney - The second push to legalize medical marijuana in Florida is moving full steam ahead, with more than 100,000 signed petitions presented to the state on Wednesday.

"This is a massive head start over the previous campaign, which started late," said Ben Pollara, campaign manager of United for Care, the organization behind the medical marijuana amendment. "If we can sustain this pace, we should ensure our place on the ballot before the holidays."

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LEGISLATURE STOPS PROGRESS OF AN ALREADY NARROW MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL

LEGISLATURE STOPS PROGRESS OF AN ALREADY NARROW MEDICAL MARIJUANA BILL

(Tallahassee, FL) – This morning the Senate Rules Committee met to hear SB 7066, a low-THC medical marijuana law and had the opportunity to vote on several amendments to expand this narrow law. Yet, today’s vote was another disheartening demonstration of how tone deaf the politicians in Tallahassee remain.

“For a fleeting moment today, it appeared as if Senate had voted to walk back the arbitrary rules on who could open a medical marijuana business in Florida, but then with the roll call it failed at a 6-6 vote”, stated Dan Rogers, Director of Legislative Affairs. He continued to say, “I just feel terrible at the injustice against the small farmers, which are mostly minorities, who will not be able to participate in this market”.

Howard Gunn, President of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, was present to lobby for the decrease in how many years a business had to be active in order to apply for a production license. “I said my piece and that’s all I can really do at this point in time” he said. Mr. Gunn plans to be present once the bill is scheduled for a floor hearing.

“Florida asked for a comprehensive medical marijuana law – and the legislature denied their will. Again today, the Black Farmers asked for a change in the narrow law on the books that would actually allow them an opportunity to grow a business. They too were denied.”, said Executive Director of Florida for Care, Ben Pollara.

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Black Farmers Association and Florida for Care Continue Fight for Inclusion of Minorities in SB 7066

SB 7066 is the low THC medical marijuana bill filed by Senator Bradley, R-District 7 which has a requirement that nurseries that have been in business for at least thirty years are the only ones that can apply for a license to grow and process the medicine. Earlier this week Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who sponsored the amendment last year that allowed the requirements stated, “I thought the ones who’ve been here the longest should be the first in line”.

This requirement makes it impossible for black farmers to even apply for one in the five highly sought after license- However, the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association is not going to sit idly by while this bill is pushed through committees.

Last week during the Health Policy Committee meeting members from the association stood lobbying against the requirement stating it’s injustices to not only the black farmer, but the small farmers in Florida.  Howard Gunn, an Ocala farmer and President of the Florida Black Farmers Association said, “We basically would love to get into this business. We see the profitability. We think the black farmers can somehow make a better living”

An Amendment to SB 7066 has been filed that will change the requirement. The Amendment sponsored by Minority Leader, Senator Joyner of District 19, should it pass, will allow nurseries who have been in business for five consecutive years to apply for one of the highly sought after licenses.

Tomorrow the Rules Committee will meet and vote on the amendment to change the requirement from thirty years to five. Florida for Care is hopeful this egregious requirement will no longer exist. “When you see such a large group of people being marginalized, it’s much easier to understand the injustice of this rule”, said Dan Rogers, Director of Legislative Affairs, “and let’s face it, no one wants to be called racist. That’s what this requirement is. It is racist- it may not have been intentional- but there’s no denying the reality.”

The Black Farmers Agriculturalists Association is not going to rely on hope. They will be at the Rules Committee tomorrow morning to once again lobby for their right to apply for a license. “5 years will be a lot better than 30, but I have constituents with me that believe there should not be any restrictions.” Stated Howard Gunn. In regards to the overall satus of the bill he said, “We are hopeful the right decision will be made that will help all people and not just some people. We understand it’s been a long time coming for patients.”

“Florida for Care is about creating a free and robust market- passing this amendment will bring us closer to that goal.” said Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care.

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Medical Necessity Established in Broward County Court; Jury Rules Medical Marijuana Patient “Not Guilty” on all Counts

(Miami Beach, FL) - Today a jury in the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County, Florida ruled that Ft. Lauderdale resident, Jesse Teplicki, was “not guilty” on all criminal charges surrounding his medical use of marijuana for the treatment of his chronic anorexia. Michael C. Minardi, partner at the Kelley Kronenberg law firm and longtime medical marijuana advocate, successfully argued Mr. Teplicki’s medical necessity defense in front of a jury of his peers. Today’s verdict is groundbreaking in that it is the first time that the “medical necessity” defense was successfully argued in a jury trial, since Florida courts established the defense over 20 years ago.

Florida for Care Executive Director, Ben Pollara, reacted to the verdict with elation, “This verdict that Mr. Minardi won for Jesse Teplicki is a game changer on the eve of the start of the 2015 legislative session. Legislative leaders in Tallahassee now have to look at medical marijuana through the lens of this precedent established by a Florida jury, in addition to the 58% of Floridians who voted for medical marijuana at the polls last November.”

He continued, “the medical use of marijuana is no longer solely a political issue with wide popular support, it is legal precedent in Florida courts. This ruling should be a message to the legislature that they should act this session on establishing a medical marijuana system in our state so that sick and suffering Floridians don’t have to fight in court for the right to use the medicine recommended by their doctors, as Mr. Teplicki did today.”

Florida for Care legislative director, Dan Rogers, said the following about the impact this ruling could have on pending legislation in Tallahassee, “What was established today was not just medical necessity, but the principle that this is a determination best left to a doctor. Mr. Teplicki would still have had to fight for his rights in court under the House version of the pending legislation in Tallahassee. This case demonstrates the argument we have been making: a law that only includes patients suffering with one of a defined list of diseases as eligible for medical marijuana is simply not an effective law. Doctors must be able to recommend marijuana for debilitating symptoms as well.”

This verdict was handed down less than 24 hours before the beginning of the 2015 legislative session in Florida. Currently, bills have been filed in both chambers of the Florida Legislature to allow the medical use of marijuana by qualifying patients. Jesse Teplicki would only qualify for the medical use of marijuana under SB 528, filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes.

Florida for Care will advocate throughout this legislative session for the passage of a law, like SB 528, that would help sick and suffering Floridians, without them having to fight for their liberty in court.

Florida for Care will spearhead legislation in March of 2015 in Tallahassee, setting the standard for what the state’s medical cannabis system should look like and how it can function most effectively. Such a system must balance three core principles: first, safe, affordable patient access; second, a tightly controlled state regulatory structure; and third, a robust, free market commercial enterprise.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please call Vanessa Moffatt at 954-529-7145 or email her at press@floridaforcare.org.

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Florida for Care bringing Ethan Nadelmann to Policy Conference

Florida for Care Bringing Nation’s Leading Drug Reformer

(Miami, FL)  Florida for Care is hosting their first policy conference of 2015 this week. On Friday, February 27, 2015 they will bring Sheriffs, legislators, County Commissioners, advocates, medical professionals and business people together to discuss medical marijuana in Florida. Among those speaking at the conference will be Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of Drug Policy Alliance. “We are thrilled to have Ethan back. I suspect he’ll shed light on where Florida goes from here.” Stated Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care.

Ethan Nadelmann was present during FFC’s last conference where he touched on Jamaica’s state of affairs in regards to medical marijuana- just over a month later Jamaica, as he predicted, decriminalized marijuana clearing the way for safe, legal medical marijuana. He also told guests of the last conference, “Building this industry isn’t just good for business, it’s the right thing to do”.

In addition to Ethan’s Afternoon Keynote speech, there will be panels titled Best Business Practices and Government Regulations.

The Policy conference is being held at The Westin Colonnade of Coral Gables. The Conference is from 8am to 3pm on Friday, February 27 with a social networking event the evening before from 6:30 to 8:30pm. Registration is required to join the conference.

For more information on the event or how to become a member email Eric Stevens, Executive Deputy Director, at Eric@floridaforcare

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Florida for Care Cautious to Support HB683

Florida for Care Cautious to Support HB 683 ; Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Legislation Filed by Representative Greg Steube

(Tallahassee, FL) While Florida for Care applauds the filing of House Bill 683 by Rep. Greg Steube (R-D373), there are serious reservations regarding its provisions, which are far more restrictive than its Senate companion bill SB528.  “We are encouraged to see this companion bill filed by Rep. Steube. However, the exclusion of qualifying symptoms - in addition to qualifying diseases - and the prohibition on a patient’s ability to consume their medicine as recommended by a doctor is alarming.", said Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care.



Like SB 528, the bill is considerably more comprehensive than previously passed Senate Bill 1030, which only allowed for a low-THC, high-CBD strain of marijuana that would primarily help those suffering with epilepsy and other seizure disorders. However, unlike SB 528, this bill bans smoking and severely restricts what conditions would be eligible under the law.

“It is impossible to create a completely comprehensive fixed list of qualifying diseases for the use of medical marijuana – some diseases will arbitrarily be left behind – it is absolutely crucial that doctors have the freedom to make these recommendations based on specific symptoms, in addition to named diseases,” said Pollara. He continued, “and our position remains that legislation should not stand between a doctor and patient in mandating the manner in which that patient consumes their medicine.”


Dan Rogers, Director of Legislative affairs, stated, "We have a powerful member of the majority filing this piece of legislation. That's huge and we are very excited to see a medical marijuana law in Florida, but we hope the bill will meet the needs of all sick and suffering Floridians, not just those with diseases listed in Rep. Steube’s bill. It has always been our position that medical decision are best left to doctors, not politicians."

Mr. Pollara also looks forward to working with both chambers, "At this point HB 683 just does not meet the needs of all Florida patients, but nonetheless is a strong starting point from the House. We look forward to working with Rep. Steube, Sen. Brandes and the legislature to pass a medical marijuana law that works for all the sick and suffering patients of Florida." 

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President of Epilepsy Foundation of Florida supports SB 528

Imagine a seizure striking without warning while attending your son’s or daughter’s soccer game.

This is the fear that more than 375,000 Floridians and their families face every day involving epilepsy.

The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida is to eliminate as much uncertainty for our members as possible. Epilepsy doesn’t always have a cure; as a result, those impacted by the disease are desperate for any treatments that reduce symptoms.

We applaud Sen. Jeff Brandes for his recent proposal to expand access to medical marijuana to those most deserving.

His bill, SB 528, would allow for a patient with a specified medical condition, including epilepsy, to use medical-grade marijuana as ordered by his or her physician once other medical treatment has been exhausted.

Last year, lawmakers, led by state Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Katie Edwards, championed and ultimately passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, also known as Charlotte’s Web, which made legal a strain of non-euphoric marijuana for Florida residents who suffer from epilepsy and other seizure disorders.

However, the rules that the Department of Health drafted in order to implement the law were challenged in the court’s system and ultimately thrown out, leaving families desperate for a new treatment option without an alternative.

Today, 12 percent of Americans with epilepsy live in Florida. And indicators are that this number may increase — not only because baby boomers will age but also because Florida is home to the second largest veterans population in the nation.

It’s estimated that 20 percent of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experienced traumatic brain injury, the leading cause of epilepsy.

It’s in our state’s interest to address this condition.

We humbly ask the Legislature to continue its good work in expanding treatment options to ensure that epilepsy victims have access to new medications with medical supervision, allowing them to live better and more productive everyday lives.

Karen Basha Egozi, Miami, president,
Epilepsy Foundation of Florida

 

Read article here: http://jacksonville.com/opinion/letters-readers/2015-01-30/story/lead-letter-floridas-epilepsy-sufferers-need-medical

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PRESS RELEASE: Joint Statement from Florida for Care and Medical Marijuana Business Association of FL

Joint statement from Ben Pollara, Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl Regarding the Medical Marijuana Legislation Filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes

(Miami, FL)  The heads of the two largest medical marijuana advocacy groups in Tallahassee issued the following combined statement regarding medical marijuana legislation filed today by Sen. Jeff Brandes:

"While our respective organizations have different memberships and missions, we share a common purpose: advocating for sick and suffering Floridians to gain access and ultimately relief in the form of medical marijuana. We applaud the courage of Sen. Brandes introducing this important legislation (SB 528) and look forward to fighting side by side with him to bring comprehensive and compassionate medical marijuana policy to Florida."

Mr. Pollara is the executive director of Florida for Care and Mr. Sharkey and Mr. Biehl are the co-founders of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. Together, these two organizations represent the largest number of patients, businesses and volunteers advocating for a comprehensive medical marijuana policy in Florida.

Florida for Care will spearhead legislation in March of 2015 in Tallahassee, setting the standard for what the state’s medical marijuana system should look like and how it can function most effectively. Such a system must balance three core principles: first, safe, affordable patient access; second, a tightly controlled state regulatory structure; and third, a robust, free market commercial enterprise. 

For press inquiries for Ben Pollara, please contact Bianca Garza, Bianca@floridaforcare.org

For press inquiries for Jeff Sharkey or Taylor Biehl, please contact Taylor Biehl, (850) 224-1660 or taylor@mmbafl.com.

 

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PRESS: Florida for Care Applauds Senate Bill 528; Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Legislation Filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes

Florida for Care Applauds Senate Bill 528; Comprehensive Medical Marijuana Legislation Filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes

 (Tallahassee, FL) Today Florida for Care applauded the filing of Senate Bill 528, a piece of comprehensive medical marijuana legislation drafted and filed by Senator Jeff Brandes, the Republican representing District 22. “We are very excited to see Sen. Brandes file this important piece of legislation. Sen. Brandes has taken a courageous step in service of making the voice of Floridians heard on this issue”, said Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care.

One such voice is that of Sheriff Jim Manfre (Flagler County) whose mother suffered from cancer, "I'm very encouraged by Sen. Brandes' bill. As a sheriff and as the son of a cancer survivor, responsible, comprehensive, medical marijuana legislation is critically important to me. I hope my fellow sheriffs will see this bill in the same light and work towards consensus on this issue which is deeply personal to many Floridians, as it is to me." 

The bill is considerably more comprehensive than previously passed Senate Bill 1030, which allowed only for a low-THC, high-CBD strain of marijuana that would primarily help those suffering with epilepsy and other seizure disorders. “While SB 1030 was monumental in that our legislature-for the first time- recognized marijuana as medicine, it simply did not help all sick and suffering Floridians in the way that Sen. Brandes’ bill would, if passed,” stated Dan Rogers, Director of Legislative Affairs for Florida for Care.

The bill has been identified by many as an alternative to a constitutional amendment in 2016. Pollara stated, “The message we heard again and again was that medical marijuana should become law through legislation rather than constitutional amendment, Sen. Brandes’ bill appears to be a significant step towards accomplishing that goal.”

Florida for Care will spearhead legislation in March of 2015 in Tallahassee, setting the standard for what the state’s medical marijuana system should look like and how it can function most effectively. Such a system must balance three core principles: first, safe, affordable patient access; second, a tightly controlled state regulatory structure; and third, a robust, free market commercial enterprise.

For more information or to schedule an interview with Ben Pollara or Dan Rogers, please contact Bianca Garza via email at Bianca@floridaforcare.org

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Florida for Care Plans Next Event

FLORIDA FOR CARE PLANS NEXT EVENT


(Miami ,FL) - Florida for Care, the medical marijuana lobbying group, has announced the date of its first policy and regulation event for 2015. The event will be held at The Westin Colonnade Coral Gables with a cocktail, networking reception on the evening of Thursday, February 26th followed by a day of presentations on the 27th.

They will be discussing upcoming medical marijuana bills as well as progress on the petition that United for Care is planning.

“We anticipate an information packed day with speakers ranging from the medical marijuana industry leaders to Florida’s legislators. A full agenda will be released soon”, stated Ben Pollara, Executive Director of Florida for Care.

For information on memberships, sponsorships or tickets contact Eric Stevens at Eric@Floridaforcare.org or 305-547-9831

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Florida for Care was founded in 2014 to advocate for the implementation of a strong, well-regulated, Florida medical marijuana system under Amendment 2.

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