September 14, 2014
Health regulators are wasting no time getting Florida ready for the “green rush” already sweeping the state as they craft a framework for the new medical marijuana industry. Meanwhile, the “just say no” crowd is letting loose with the green, fanning the flames in the fight over a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize weed for a variety of medical reasons.
It’s sort of a pot rush, even if the type of weed that will soon be spreading across the state supposedly doesn’t get users high.
The Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use this week hurriedly published a revised rule governing everything from stems and seeds to serving the substance to sick kids. The latest version of the rule included tweaks to who can own the five “dispensing organizations” that will eventually get licensed by the state to grow, process and distribute newly-authorized strains of cannabis.
The Legislature, in approving a pot law this spring, required each applicant to have a valid registration from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to cultivate more than 400,000 plants, be operated by a nurseryman as defined by state law and have operated as a registered nursery in the state for at least 30 continuous years. At least 60 nurseries meet the criteria.
A preliminary rule floated by health regulators would have allowed nurseries to have just 25 percent ownership in the entities applying for a license. That option drew a rebuke from the Legislature’s Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which helps oversee state regulations. The original proposal also neglected to specifically address whether the nursery would be required to have a continued role in running the pot operation.
Under Tuesday’s revised proposal, a nurseryman would have to “serve as the operator,” alleviating some concerns that growers would have little or nothing to do with the grow operation despite lawmakers’ intention that the nascent pot business be controlled by companies with a long agricultural history in Florida. The proposal would require a nursery to have at least 25 percent ownership of the organization that gets a license, but also would offer another alternative that would allow “100 percent of the owners of a nursery” to fulfill that 25 percent requirement.
That ownership change appears aimed at appeasing some nursery owners who expressed concerns about financing the marijuana operations. Because pot is still illegal under federal law, nearly all banks are refusing to lend money to marijuana-related businesses. Converting other areas of operations into cash-only business could pose major problems for growers interested in participating in the medical marijuana start-ups, a lawyer for Costa Farms told the Department of Health at a day-long public hearing last week.
With Scott’s blessing, lawmakers this spring legalized marijuana that contains .8 percent or less of euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and more than 10 percent cannabidiol, or CBD. Supporters believe the compound, which hasn’t been approved by the feds, can eliminate or drastically reduce life-threatening seizures in children with severe forms of epilepsy. Under the law, doctors can also order the low-THC, high-CBD substance — usually delivered in paste or oil forms — for patients with other spastic disorders or cancer, as long as they have exhausted all other treatments.
Many GOP lawmakers jumped on the “doesn’t get you high” pot bandwagon this spring hoping to thwart Amendment 2, a proposed constitutional change that would legalize “traditional” medical marijuana.
While the state moves toward getting the low-THC, high-CBD regulatory framework in place by Jan. 1, the battle over Amendment 2 — bankrolled heavily by Orlando trial lawyer and Democratic fundraiser John Morgan — is starting to smoke.
The “Vote No on 2″ campaign recently nailed down the backing of seven former Florida Supreme Court justices, who joined associations representing Florida sheriffs and police chiefs in opposition. And the amendment’s foes are planning to spend $1.6 million on television ads, slated to start running in October, condemning the proposal. Like all constitutional proposals, at least 60 percent of the voters must approve the amendment for it to pass.
“We want every voter to know the dangers of this amendment and that it is not about the sick, it is about legalizing pot for anyone and for any reason,” spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said.
Polls have shown widespread support for legalizing medical marijuana, but that support is expected to drop in the wake of a full-frontal attack. Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has pledged to double the $2.5 million he’s already dropped on the Drug Free Florida political committee, launched by Tampa Bay developer Mel Sembler. Both are mega-GOP money men.
“When your basic position runs completely counter to public opinion, millions in misleading advertising is the only strategy available. But no amount of advertising can overwhelm the basic facts,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager at United for Care, a group spearheading the amendment. “Floridians know the benefits of medical marijuana are real, and the people of this state are deeply compassionate. We believe the overwhelming majority will vote to make sure patients no longer have to risk incarceration for listening to their doctors and seeking relief from debilitating diseases and medical conditions.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: St. Augustine Republican John Thrasher makes the list of four finalists in the search for a new Florida State University president.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Is the First Lady not good enough?” — Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign, after being asked why the governor remained on the campaign trail instead of attending a Missing Children’s Day event at the Capitol. First Lady Ann Scott took part in the event.