Can Democrat Chris King ‘turn the tide’ with pot legalization stance, TV ad blitz?

Democratic candidate for governor Chris King makes his TV advertising debut today.

This is a key week for Winter Park businessman Chris King as he tries to make a move in the four-candidate Democratic race for Florida governor.

First-time candidate King embarked Tuesday on a “Turning the Tide” tour in which he became the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to call for legalizing recreational marijuana use and taxing it. And today, King is launching a statewide TV ad campaign today with a 30-second spot highlighting his refusal to accept sugar industry contributions to his campaign.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has already called for legalized recreational pot. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who boasts that he decriminalized weed when he was in office, has said he’ll support legalizing recreational marijuana use if Florida voters approve it in a referendum. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, asked about recreational marijuana legalization in a televised debate last month, said “we have got to get the medical marijuana firmly implemented and have everyone take advantage of it and then we can talk about further steps.”

King outlined his marijuana stance as part of a campaign swing focused on criminal justice reforms. His “Turning the Tide” platform also calls for reducing the state’s prison population by 25 percent over five years by reducing punishments for non-violent offenders; ending the death penalty; ending private prison contacts; restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their terms; and “ending the school-to-prison pipeline” by spending more on childcare, education and other programs.

King, who through April 30 had pumped $2.1 million of his own money into his campaign, will spend $1 million or more on a TV ad campaign that begins today. His first 30-second spot promises to take Florida in a “new direction” and, aside from his anti-sugar stance, highlights his calls for Medicaid expansion, more affordable housing and expanded community colleges and trade schools.

Levine is the only other Democrat to advertise on TV, spending about $8 million since November.

Medical marijuana opponents look to snuff out support for November ballot measure

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speak against Amendment 2
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, speak against Amendment 2

With polls showing Floridians on course to approve a medical marijuana ballot measure in November, opposition stepped up their arguments Friday against the proposal.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell and state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, cited what they called problems with Amendment 2 that should cause voters to reconsider their support.

Latvala also bottom-lined his opposition.

“I don’t want this to come to Florida,” said Latvala, who has put $100,000 of his own re-election campaign money toward buying an anti-Amendment 2 TV ad in the Tampa Bay market.

Bell is among five former Supreme Court justices fighting the measure, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 2. He warned the amendment has “flaws,” which included questions about whether local governments could impose strict zoning regulations on marijuana distribution centers, or if the Legislature could ban such items as pot candy.

The measure needs to win approval from at least 60 percent of Florida voters on Nov. 9, with polls showing support now topping 70 percent. A similar measure narrowly two years ago narrowly missed reaching the 60 percent standard.

Latvala said there was still time to reverse public opinion. Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson recently weighed in with a $1 million contribution to the opposition campaign, but its finances still don’t look potent enough to mount a major statewide TV campaign.

Supporters are led by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who spent millions on the effort a couple years ago. This time, most of People United for Medical Marijuana has spent most of its money on petition signature-gathering to qualify for the ballot.

Catholic bishops have “concerns” about medical marijuana ballot proposal

Bishops have concerns about medical marijuana initiative
Bishops have concerns about medical marijuana initiative

With polls showing Florida’s medical marijuana ballot measure likely to win voter approval in November, the state’s Catholic bishops are tapping the brakes.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday didn’t say they were opposing the initiative, on the ballot as Amendment 2.

But they have “concerns.”

“At first glance, the proposed amendment appeals to a sense of empathy and implies safe and limited use by the infirm,” the bishops wrote. “However, closer inspection reveals that the framework established by Amendment 2 is problematic.”

The bishops cited four areas where the proposal has problems. They said it has a potential for fraud and abuse; opens the door to risks from edible marijuana products; there’s no assurance of quality and consistency with the medical pot sold; and could provide greater access to marijuana for kids.

 

Now open — a marijuana dispensary not far from Florida’s Capitol

Dallas Nagy, Florida's first medical marijuana patient, picking up his product.
Dallas Nagy, Florida’s first medical marijuana patient, picking up his product.

A new Florida attraction — the first medical marijuana dispensary –– opened Tuesday on a stretch of road five miles from the state Capitol.

Trulieve is the first of Florida’s six marijuana licensees to be fully approved to process and dispense state-approved non-euphoric marijuana oil statewide.

The oil is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which gives marijuana its psychoactive quality — but high in cannabadiol, or CBD, which research shows eases convulsions, inflammation, anxiety and nausea.

“This has been a long road,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, who opened the doors of the company’s carefully designed dispensary to media and supporters.

Florida’s first medical marijuana patient, Dallas Nagy, 56, of Pasco County, who suffers from severe seizures, also was on hand to pick up a supply of his medication. Trulieve offers a range of products in capsule, liquid or inhaler form.

A menu of marijuana products is available at Tallahassee's Trulieve
A menu of marijuana products is available at Tallahassee’s Trulieve

The products are manufactured in a laboratory that is part of the company’s indoor grow house at a plant nursery in nearby Quincy.

“It’s like walking into NASA,” said Dr. Ken Brummel-Smith, a Tallahassee gerontologist serving as medical director for Trulieve.

For patients and their families, Tuesday’s open house at Trulieve was a day they sometimes feared would never come.

The company only was cleared last week by the state’s Health Department to produce and distribute products to patients — a year-and-a-half past the state’s original Jan. 1, 2015 start date for making the strain of medical marijuana available to patients.

“The will of the people really does change the world,” said Moriah Barnhart of Tampa, whose 5-year-old daughter suffers from brain cancer, and plans to use Trulieve’s products to help her child.

Barnhart is a member of Cannamoms, a group formed to advocate for marijuana as a medical treatment for severely ill youngsters.

Rivers and Trulieve’s chief operating officer, Jason Pernell, plan to open dispensaries in Tampa and Clearwater in the next 60 days. It’s unclear when a store will open in Palm Beach County or other locations in South Florida, although Trulieve can deliver statewide.

Introducing low-THC marijuana to Floridians was plagued by delays involving creating new state regulations, which then led to lengthy legal challenges involving those seeking licenses. Health officials are still dealing with an attempt by one rejected licensee to gain entry into the potentially lucrative new Florida industry.

The 2014 law was expanded this year to allow the dispensing organizations to also grow full-strength marijuana for patients who are terminally ill. Trulieve said that more potent strain will be available for shipping next month.

Patients seeking medical marijuana must get a recommendation from a doctor who has been certified by the state for having taken an approved continuing medical education course on the treatment.

Once a patient’s name is entered into a directory — also newly established by the Health Department — Trulieve will be authorized to ship the product.

So far, though, only a handful of Florida doctors are authorized to recommend marijuana. There are also only a few patients, since they must be under the care of that authorized doctor for 90 days before being able to fill a marijuana order.

 

 

 

A Florida milestone: Patient gets first home delivery of medical marijuana

Long-delayed marijuana strain delivered to first Florida patient
Long-delayed marijuana strain delivered to first Florida patient

The only medical marijuana company fully licensed in Florida said Saturday that it has made its first home delivery to a patient in Pasco County suffering from severe seizures.

Trulieve, with a distribution center in Tallahassee, announced last week that it was the first of six state licensees to be fully authorized to produce and send its non-euphoric pot oil statewide. The Pasco County patient, whose name was not made public, would have been entered into a directory and recommended by a doctor who completed a continuing medical education course on treatment with medical marijuana.

The Pasco patient suffers from dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes muscle spasms and seizures, according to Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers.

The marijuana oil is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which gives pot its psychoactive quality — but high in cannabadiol, or CBD, which research shows eases convulsions, inflammation, anxiety and nausea.

A 2014 measure approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott originally set Jan. 1, 2015 for when patients would be able to access the medical marijuana.

But delays in setting new regulations followed by lengthy legal challenges involving those seeking licenses stalled the rollout. The state’s Department of Health is still dealing with an attempt by one rejected licensee to gain entry into the potentially lucrative new Florida industry.

The 2014 law was expanded this year to allow the dispensing organizations to also grow full-strength marijuana for patients who are terminally ill. Trulieve said that more potent strain will be available for distribution next month.

Long-stalled medical marijuana now available to sick Floridians

A medical marijuana strain is now available in Florida.
A medical marijuana strain is now available in Florida.

More than a year-and-a-half behind schedule, a strain of medical marijuana was made available Wednesday to Floridians suffering from cancer and severe seizures.

A company called Trulieve, one of Florida’s six medical cannabis licensees, received permission from state health officials Wednesday to process and dispense the non-euphoric marijuana oil statewide.

The oil is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which gives marijuana its psychoactive quality — but high in cannabadiol, or CBD, which research shows eases convulsions, inflammation, anxiety and nausea.

It is only coincidental that Trulieve received the final go-ahead from the state on the 47th anniversary of the moon landing. But for many observers, Florida’s stumbling effort at making medical marijuana available seemed almost as monumental a feat.

“We are happy to announce that we have passed all inspections — from growing and processing to dispensing,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers.

Trulieve, housed in Tallahassee with a growing facility in nearby Quincy, is the first licensee to complete the necessary state review, clear legal challenges and actually have product ready for market.

A 2014 measure approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott originally set Jan. 1, 2015 for when patients would be able to access the medical marijuana.

But delays in setting new regulations followed by lengthy legal challenges involving those seeking licenses stalled the rollout. The state’s Department of Health is still dealing with an attempt by one rejected licensee to gain entry into the potentially lucrative new Florida industry.

The 2014 law was expanded this year to allow the dispensing organizations to also grow full-strength marijuana for patients who are terminally ill. Trulieve said that more potent strain will be available for shipping next month.

Patients seeking medical marijuana must get a recommendation from a doctor who has been certified by the state for having taken an approved continuing medical education course on the treatment.

Once a patient’s name is entered into a directory — also newly established by the Health Department — Trulieve will be authorized to ship the product.

Marijuana opponents condemn latest Florida effort as “still a scam”

The campaign to fight the latest effort to legalize medical marijuana in Florida released an internet spot Monday condemning it as “still a scam to legalize pot.”

A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A woman rolls a marijuana cigarette as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Vote No on 2 effort targets the United for Care push as not much different from what narrowly failed to win voter approval two years ago.

The almost-three minute web ad takes viewers through California’s medical marijuana world, suggesting Florida could have a similar landscape of street corner pot shops and users who are more typically dope enthusiasts than the severely ill and dying.

Drug Free America Foundation fought the 2014 medical marijuana effort in Florida, backed by $5.5 million from Las Vegas casino titan Sheldon Adelson. Campaign finance records show the new anti-marijuana effort still hasn’t drawn Adelson cash — with $37,000 cash-on-hand.

A report released last week by the National Institute on Money in State Politics showed that Adelson’s funding was the largest made by any individual to any of the 189 ballot measures proposed in 42 states in the 2013-14 election cycle.

Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan is back leading the latest campaign. His Morgan & Morgan law firm gave $3.8 million to United for Care in 2014, records show.

Medical marijuana fan, Clinton fundraiser Morgan ‘would love to physically hit Ted Cruz in the face’

John Morgan at a 2014 event supporting medical marijuana. (Gainesville Sun photo)
John Morgan at a 2014 event supporting medical marijuana. (Gainesville Sun photo)

Deep-pocketed and salty-tongued Orlando attorney John Morgan, the main force behind the effort to legalize medical marijuana in Florida, predicts a pro-pot constitutional amendment will succeed this year after falling short in 2014.

Click here to read reporter Jeff Ostrowski’s coverage of Morgan’s F-bomb-laced remarks to Tuesday’s Marijuana Business Conference in Kissimmee.

Morgan, who hosted a 2015 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, also weighed in on a variety of political figures, including GOP moneyman Mel Sembler, Attorney General Pam Bondi and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

“I would love to physically hit Ted Cruz in the face,” Morgan said. “I look at that guy, and I go, ‘That’s the guy in high school that we used to just beat the p— out of.’ Nasty, nasty snitch. You know he was the guy telling on us.”

Click here for an Ostrowski blog post that details Morgan’s remarks on Cruz and his other musings.

 

 

 

 

Rick Scott for Donald Trump VP? Florida poll bad for him, good for medical marijuana

Rick Scott has been praising Donald Trump since January, fueling speculation he could be Trump's running mate.
Rick Scott has been praising Donald Trump since January, fueling speculation he could be Trump’s running mate.

While Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been getting some mention as a potential running mate for Donald Trump, a new Quinnipiac University poll suggests Scott might not be an asset to the ticket in critical Florida.

 

Only 40 percent of Florida voters approve of the way Scott is handling his job as governor, with 49 percent disapproving. Scott’s approval rating has exceeded his disapproval rating only twice in Quinnipiac’s polling — in February 2011, his second month in office (35 percent approval, 22 percent disapproval) and last August (45 percent approval, 44 percent disapproval).

 

Quinnipiac, which released polling Tuesday that shows Trump and Hillary Clinton virtually tied in Florida, followed up today with a poll showing the state’s U.S. Senate race remains up for grabs and strong voter support for a medical marijuana initiative.

 

Voters favor a medical marijuana initiative slated for the November ballot by an 80-to-16 margin. That includes 71 percent support among Republicans, 84 percent support among independents and 79 percent support among seniors. Sixty percent of voters must approve of the measure to add it to the state constitution.

 

A similar marijuana measure failed in 2014, garnering 57.6 percent despite much stronger polling numbers before the vote.

 

In the Senate race, Quinnipiac didn’t poll on the five-candidate Republican primary or the Democratic primary between Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson, but tested various hypothetical matchups between the Democratic and Republican candidates.

 

With a high percentage of undecided voters in every pairing, Murphy appears to be the strongest candidate. He edges each Republican by between 1 point and 5 points in a poll that has a 3 percent margin of error. Grayson, meanwhile, edges businessman Carlos Beruff by 1 point, runs even with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and trails Reps. David Jolly and Ron DeSantis and businessman Todd Wilcox by 2 points apiece — all virtual ties considering the margin of error.

 

 

Casino titan’s cash that helped sink Florida’s marijuana law topped spending in the nation

Casino titan Sheldon Adelson fought Florida's medical marijuana measure
Casino titan Sheldon Adelson fought Florida’s medical marijuana measure

While Orlando lawyer John Morgan may be identified with Florida’s effort to legalize medical marijuana, the biggest figure in the campaign apparently is an opponent — Las Vegas casino titan Sheldon Adelson.

A review of 189 ballot measures across 42 states in the 2013-14 cycle shows the $5.5 million Adelson contributed to fighting Florida’s marijuana proposal was the single largest individual donation made by anyone to any campaign.

Adelson’s cash represented the bulk of the $6.4 million raised by opponents.

By contrast, the Morgan & Morgan law firm gave $3.8 million in support of the United for Care campaign, well down the list of non-individual donors, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which tracks state political spending.

The 2014 marijuana measure raised $8.1 million but fell just short of the 60 percent voter support needed to win approval. Morgan is back again this year, helping finance a revised proposal slated to appear on the November ballot as Amendment 2.

Adelson’s role in Florida this time around isn’t clear. But Adelson, who helped finance Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign, recently endorsed presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — and is seen as a potential force this campaign season in turning the candidate against expanding marijuana laws across the country.