Vermont legislature approves recreational marijuana use

A measure legalizing marijuana use in Vermont cleared the state’s legislature on Wednesday.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) has said the legislation is not “a priority for Vermont” and has not made a final decision as to whether he will sign it. The measure makes Vermont the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana use among adults and the first to legalize through a legislative process. Other states have approved recreational marijuana use through ballot initiatives.

“Vermont lawmakers made history today,” said Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a marijuana policy group. “The legislature has taken a crucial step toward ending the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.” Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the possession and use of marijuana, though each state has its own rules and regulations. For example, in Washington — one of the first states to legalize pot — only individuals using the drug for medical purposes can grow it, though any adult is allowed to possess and use it.

In Washington, D.C., marijuana can be used and “gifted,” but not bought, sold or exchanged for other goods or services.

Marijuana use is illegal according to federal policy, and President Trump’s opposition to legalization has created uncertainty for some states seeking to regulate the industry.

If signed by the governor, the Vermont measure would remove civil penalties for possessing one ounce of marijuana or less and would allow adults to keep up to two mature pot plants. It would also create a commission to develop a plan for taxing and regulating the drug.

Palm Beach County update 

Getting caught with a little marijuana in Palm Beach County could result in a $100 ticket instead of a trip to jail, under a new law initially approved Tuesday.
The proposal would allow law enforcement officers to issue civil citations — similar to traffic tickets — instead of arresting adults found with 20 grams or less of marijuana. Twenty grams is about 3/4 of an ounce. Supporters say the change would lessen public costs at the jail and avoid saddling people with criminal records that can make it harder to get jobs, housing and help paying for college.
“There are a lot of domino effects,” County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said about marijuana arrests. “We can’t just lock up everyone for these small crimes.” The proposed marijuana rule change goes back before the County Commission for a final vote on Oct. 20.
Miami-Dade County and the city of West Palm Beach have already passed similar measures creating alternatives to jail for marijuana possession. Broward County is also considering creating a civil citation alternative. Commissioner Hal Valache cast the only vote against the local measure, saying he was concerned that the county was “effectively decriminalizing marijuana.” The proposed easing of marijuana laws creates an alternative, not a requirement, for law enforcement officers to issue civil citations. That would leave the use of civil citations up to the officer’s discretion.
The civil citations would not be allowed if marijuana was found in conjunction with more serious offenses, such as driving under the influence or domestic violence. Palm Beach County’s proposed use of civil citations instead of arrests applies to areas outside city limits, where nearly half of local residents live. Cities could also choose to follow the new measure. Under the county’s proposal, the $100 fine that comes with a civil citation for marijuana possession can grow to $500 if the fine is unpaid. People could go to court to challenge the citation, but would face a penalty of up to $500 plus court costs if a judge finds they broke the law.
Also, the county’s final version of the law is expected to include limits on how many citations a person can receive before facing arrest.
From 2010 to 2014, Palm Beach County had 7,571 cases of marijuana possession of 20 grams or less. About 90 percent of the time that resulted in an arrest, according to the county. Currently, someone caught with small amounts of marijuana is taken to jail or given a notice to appear in court. First-time or low-level offenders often receive probation or are allowed to enter a diversion programs such as drug treatment as an alternative to spending more time in jail.
Palm Beach County’s proposal seeks to avoid arrests and involving the courts.
Supporters say jailing people for a nonviolent, low-level drug offenses such as marijuana possession bog down the court system and also create legal problems for people that can last a lifetime. Miss a court date or fail to pay a fine and the punishment for a minor offense grows much worse.
“If there is a legal way to give [people] a life without a criminal record, then we should do it,” County Mayor Shelley Vana said.

FLORIDA!!!!!

In June of last year, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that legalizes the use of low-potency marijuana for medical purposes. On Wednesday of this week, the state will begin accepting applications from parties interested in being one of five legal regional growing operations in the state. It will not be cheap or easy, though. The application fee is $60,063 and the state’s Department of Health will be accepting applications for just three weeks. Applicants also need to have been in the nursery business in Florida continuously for the past 30 years.  The licenses will allow growers to grow and sell low-potency marijuana to a state-licensed dispensing organization. 

The strain, sometimes called Charlotte’s Web, is high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high. 

The plant may be used in oil or vapor form, but may not be smoked. The law was passed primarily to provide relief for children suffering for severe illnesses such as epilepsy, which affects an estimated 125,000 Florida children.

Last November voters in Florida defeated an initiative that would have legalized medical marijuana use in the state when they failed to reach the 60% affirmative vote that Florida law requires. But 58% did vote in favor, despite the fact that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson ponied up $5.5 million to fund an opposition group. If Florida voters are asked again to approve a full-scale medical marijuana law it is highly likely that it will pass.

In other legal news, the U.S. Senate approved a medical marijuana provision in a funding bill that would prevent the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. The House of Representatives had already approved a similar bill. Senate passage virtually guarantees that the provision will be included in the final budget that Congress sends the president for signature.

FLORIDA CBD law update 

TALLAHASSEE — The Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Tuesday is expected to take up a plan that would try to move forward with the state’s new medical-marijuana industry.

The agenda for the committee meeting indicates it will take up a cannabis bill (SPB 7066), though the detailed proposal had not been posted online as of Saturday. Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told The News Service of Florida on Thursday he expects the measure would set up a structure for nurseries to grow, process and distribute non-euphoric cannabis.

The Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott approved a law last year that allows types of marijuana that are low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. Doctors will be able to order the low-THC pot for patients who suffer from severe muscle spasms or have cancer.

But the Department of Health has been delayed in carrying out the law because of legal challenges to its regulatory proposals, frustrating lawmakers.

Bradley on Thursday said he expects the committee meeting to include “a serious discussion and possible consideration of legislation that puts an end to the delays and makes sure that we get this substance in the hands of suffering families as quickly as possible.”


Meanwhile, Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth McArthur has scheduled an April 14 hearing in a legal challenge to a proposed regulatory framework for Florida’s new medical-marijuana industry, according to a document posted on the state Division of Administrative Hearings website.

The case challenges a proposed Department of Health rule for carrying out a 2014 law that would make available a limited type of medical marijuana. A Jacksonville attorney filed the challenge on behalf of 4-year-old Dahlia Barnhart, who has an inoperable brain tumor.

The challenge alleges the department did not follow the law in drawing up the rule. In part, it takes issue with the way the department proposes selecting five “dispensing organizations,” which would grow, process and dispense the cannabis.

In November, another administrative law judge rejected the department’s first attempt at a rule to carry out the law.

FLORIDA update!!!

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, has filed a bill to make medical marijuana legal in Florida on a fast track, putting application forms in patients’ hands in less than a year.

Under S.B. 528, the Florida Department of Health would oversee cultivators, processors and retailers. That state agency also would issue medical marijuana identification cards to patients.

The health department would be ordered to make registration forms available to patients by Jan. 1, 2016 under the measure.

The bill provides for treatment of roughly the same patients and medical conditions as the proposed amendment that is now going through the petition-gathering process, aimed at the November 2016 ballot.

Brandes says he already has discussed the proposal with key elected officials in Tallahassee.

One obvious question will be: Can any such a measure have any hope of passage in a Republican-dominated Florida House of Representatives and Senate?

Fifty-eight percent of Florida voters in the November election cast ballots in favor of medical pot, just short of the 60 percent required for passage of a constitutional amendment in the state.

“What we have tried to do is take the best of the other 23 medical marijuana states,” Brandes said of his proposed law. “For me, it is really about allowing doctors and patients to have another course of treatment, if they believe that is a reasonably prudent course.”

‘Floridians have spoken’

Marijuana activists were quick to applaud the proposal.

“Floridians have spoken on the issue of medical marijuana and Sen. Brandes has heard them,” said Ben Pollara, the executive director of the United for Care group that backs the proposed amendments. “This is a tremendous step towards passing a medical marijuana law without having to bring the issue back to voters in 2016.”

Already this year, United for Care has tweaked the language of the proposed 2016 amendment to satisfy some criticism, and has begun the process of getting the nearly 800,000 signature required to get the revised amendment on the November 2016 ballot.

Under the Brandes proposal, a qualified patient would be a resident who has been certified by a physician and diagnosed as suffering from one of eight listed medical conditions, or from “any physical medical condition or treatment for a medical conditions that chronically produces wasting syndrome, severe and persistent pain, persistent seizures, severe and persistent nausea, severe and persistent muscle spasms.”

The eight named medical conditions: cancer, HIV, AIDS, epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS), multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

One medical condition that is in the current proposed constitutional amendment but not in Brandes’ initial bill is post-traumatic stress disorder.

An Iraq war veteran, Brandes said: “We would be very open minded about adding that.”

The Republican senator said he has been discussing the proposal with other elected officials as the bill was being written.

“We’ve been asking that for a few weeks now, as we built this bill,” Brandes told the Herald-Tribune. “I have spoken to the governor’s office, to the president of the Senate, and to some of the leadership of the House. They are open-minded to this kind of legislation.

“All of us would agree it is best handled by statute, where it can be amended over time,” he said.

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MIAMI-DADE, Fla. –
St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes proposed a bill Monday that would allow physicians in Florida to prescribe “medical-grade” marijuana to their patients with specified medical conditions.

Under The Florida Medical Marijuana Act, the Department of Health would regulate the cultivation and not the Department of Agriculture.

County commissioners would be responsible for providing a retail license to the dispensaries, which must hold a $1 million bond, the legislation says.

“It is critically important that we thoroughly vet any proposal related to medical cannabis,” Brandes said on Facebook. “And I am confident that this legislation will be carefully reviewed through the legislative process.”

The 28-page bill lists 14 illnesses including cancer, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Patients and caregivers would need to apply for identification to a medical marijuana registry. The supply would be limited to 30 days, according to the legislation.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott would need to sign the bill for it to become law. He signed the restricted “Charlottes Web” bill.

Florida names its medical marijuana rule-makers

Five nurseries will be part of a 12-member panel announced Friday to hammer out rules on who can grow medical marijuana and how it will be distributed to patients.

The rule-makers selected by the state Office of Compassionate Use will meet the first week of February in Tallahassee to set up the regulatory structure for the five nurseries eventually selected to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana in Florida.

Under a marijuana law passed last spring, nurseries that have been in business for at least 30 continuous years in Florida and cultivate at least 400,000 plants are eligible to be one of five “vertically-integrated” entities that will grow, process and distribute strains of cannabis that are low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, for patients who suffer from severe spasms or cancer.

Under the new law, doctors were supposed to begin ordering the substance for certain patients on Jan. 1. But after a legal challenge from a group of nurseries and other businesses, an administrative law judge in November struck down the health department’s first proposal for a regulatory framework.

That prompted the department to select the rarely-used “negotiated rulemaking” process to craft a rule.

Those tied to nurseries selected to be on the committee are:

George Hackney of Hackney Nursery Company in Quincy;
Robert Wallace of Chestnut Hill Nursery and Orchards in Alachua;
Bruce Knox of Knox Nurseries in Winter Garden;
John Tipton of Plants of Ruskin; and Pedro Freyre of Miami-based Costa Farms, one of the nurseries that challenged the rule.
Also on the committee are: Jill Lamoureux, CannLabs, Inc.; botanist Darrin Potter; attorney Donna Blanton; Office of Compassionate Use Director Patricia Nelson; horticulture expert Jeffrey Block; Joel Stanley, who with his brothers produces and distributes “Charlotte’s Web,” a widely-known, low-THC cannabis strain, in Colorado; and Holley Moseley, who pushed for the low-THC law on behalf of her daughter, RayAnn, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy that can cause hundreds of seizures a week.

Florida may expand medical-marijuana law

Floridians can expect the Legislature to ponder expanding the state’s new medical marijuana law to allow for more potent marijuana that would treat other illnesses, but lawmakers might first wait to carry out the statute the state already has.

Last year the Legislature approved a law that allows non-euphoric marijuana for Floridians who suffer from epilepsy, cancer and a handful of other ailments that cause severe seizures or spasms.

But that law, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, has bogged down in rule-writing, special-interest disputes, challenges and court orders. The state Department of Health still needs to determine how to select, license and regulate private companies to grow and process the low-THC medical marijuana and produce and sell the products.

A rule-making hearing set for early February could get it going, or could lead to more delays. Key lawmakers say they are waiting to see if they need to step in again.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, who championed the so-called “Charlotte’s Web” law last year, said Monday he expects the Department of Health hearing will sort out the disputed details so that patients can be helped soon.

Gaetz and some other state lawmakers said they expect to expand the law eventually to include higher-THC marijuana and more patient groups — but not yet.

“I’d like to take one or two spins around the block with the training wheels on before we take them off,” Gaetz said.

State Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, agreed.

If the rules-making committee hearing does not go well, “There’s still enough time for us to act before the end of this session,” he said.

Even so, medical-marijuana advocates are lobbying to get the law expanded to possibly allow extracts made from higher-THC marijuana. Such a treatment would get users high, but they are believed to be more effective for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia and other ailments.

Among those groups is United For Care, which campaigned unsuccessfully last year for a state constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana broadly.

The organization, chaired by Orlando attorney John Morgan, got approval last week for new petitions so it can seek to put the issue back on the ballot in 2016. But the group also is lobbying the Legislature to broaden the law before then, with a draft bill that would largely enact its Amendment 2.

State Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise, said she also hopes the hearings in February can straighten out the licensing issues for low-THC marijuana products. But she also said there are problems that probably cannot be fixed through the those meetings.

Chief among them, she said, is that the low-THC medicinal marijuana oil may wind up being expensive to produce. The number of epileptic patients and other eligible users is small, which could result in high costs for the treatment that cannot be covered by health insurance, she said.

She intends to push for an expansion this spring to make medical marijuana available to more people and reduce per-patient costs.

United For Care director Ben Pollara said his group’s representatives are getting encouraging feedback from lawmakers about expanding the law. He pointed out that Amendment 2 barely missed approval last November, when 58 percent of voters said yes to it. It needed 60 percent for approval.