Archives for March, 2014

Florida Cities Getting a Head Start on Zoning Medical Marijuana Businesses

With all of the focus we place on State and Federal regulation of Medical Cannabis, sometimes its easy to lose sight of something much closer to home.  Local Governments will likely have a huge impact on how and where Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers will be operated.  One way they will do so is through the use of zoning laws, which give cities, towns and counties a great deal of power in dictating where certain types of businesses may be located.

In other states, we have seen local zoning laws used to impose a variety of restrictions on dispensaries.  Some require that they not be located close to schools, churches, parks and other dispensaries.  Others have even taken such extreme steps as imposing outright bans on dispensaries, growers and other MMJ businesses within their city limits.

Many local governments in Florida are looking to get out in front of this issue.  The election is not until November, but City Planners are already getting into gear and considering how they will be regulating cannabis businesses.  The sun-sentinel recently published an article detailing how the cities of Lauderhill, Pembroke Park and Sunrise are already preparing for the day when Medical Marijuana is legal in Florida.  You can click here to read that article.

Florida Cannabis Consultants is operated by people with experience in navigating local zoning laws and challenging them in court when they are unfairly restrictive.  Specifically, we have successfully fought zoning restrictions related to other “politically unpopular” businesses, such as adult-oriented and fortune telling businesses.  Dealing with the inevitable zoning issues related to dispensaries is yet another reason to have a knowledgeable and experienced consultant by your side.

The 60% Hurdle – Can the Florida Medical Marijuana Amendment Make It?

When it was announced that Florida voters would have the chance to consider a Medical Marijuana Amendment during the November 4, 2014 election, there was excitement and celebration by Cannabis activists.  That reaction is completely understandable as Florida now faces an opportunity to inject some sanity into its draconian drug policy.

However, let’s not start planning the victory parade yet.  A lot of work remains to be done.

In Florida, a Constitutional Amendment will only be approved if it receives 60% or more of the popular vote.  Unlike some other states, a simple majority vote is not enough to get the job done in the sunshine state.  So, we have to not only win, but win in a convincing fashion.

Why should you be concerned about the “60% requirement”?  You only need to take a look at the margin of victory Medical Marijuana Amendments have received in other states to know the answer to that question.

Here are the vote percentages Medical Marijuana Amendments have received in States where voters have been asked to vote on the issue:

Alaska – 58%

Arizona – 51%

Arkansas – 48.56% (the only state where the measure lost)

California – 56%

Colorado – 54%

Maine – 62%

Massachusetts – 63%

Michigan – 63%

Montana – 62%

Nevada – 65%

Oregon – 55%

Washington – 59%

You don’t have to be a statistician to see that, although Medical Marijuana was approved in all but one state, it failed to reach the 60% mark in over half of them.  Under the rules applied in Florida, over half of those states would have failed to approve Medical Cannabis.

But, the news isn’t all bad.  Recent polling suggests that Florida voters are overwhelmingly in favor of Medical Marijuana.  In fact, a recent Quinnipiac University poll found 82% of the people questioned to be in favor of Medical Cannabis.  It’s also important to remember that support for Medical Marijuana has been trending upwards, so it is understandable that states who voted on the measure years ago would not experience approval levels that are as high as we will likely see in November.

But the bottom line is, the amendment is worthless if we can’t get it passed.  And the 60% hurdle is one that we will have to clear if we want Florida to see the benefits of Medical Cannabis.  So, don’t forget that your first job is to support the campaign with donations and to do your best to encourage everyone you know to vote “Yes on Amendment 2”!

No Tax Breaks from Uncle Sam for MMJ Dispensaries

Everyone looking to cash in on the immediate ‘Green Rush’ that will follow the approval of medical marijuana in Florida needs to be alerted to some Federal fiscal realities.

With April 15th fast approaching, everyone has their minds on taxes.  Dealing with tax issues is never a pleasant experience, but it can be an even more complicated and treacherous ordeal for cannabis business owners.  Today, the USA Today even ran an article outlining some of the tax pitfalls unique to medical marijuana entrepreneurs.

First, and most important, is the very dangerous 280E exception, which bars dispensaries from taking customary business tax deductions.

Second, is the refusal of many A-Rated banks to deal with dispensaries in credit card transactions, despite an easing of federal restrictions in that area.

Third, is the strict scrutiny the IRS imposes on such business operations.

Even though medical cannabis can present an opportunities to launch a fruitful enterprise and make money, the unique challenges faced by such businesses mean you need a good lawyer and consultant to walk you through the jungle.

 

Pot smokers out of hiding as marijuana becomes accepted

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When 64 percent of voters in Miami Beach in a straw ballot said they would support medical marijuana in Miami Beach last week, it was no surprise.

Pot smokers may not wear rainbow flags, but they have finally come out of the closet.

For forty years, since early in the 1970’s, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has been fighting to change repressive and regressive laws against the responsible use of cannabis by consenting adults.

The truth is the ‘war on drugs’ was never a war on drugs. It was a war on good and decent people, whose only crime was smoking a joint at the end of the day.

Most Americans have always known the horror stories about pot consumption were delusional hallucinations by cowardly politicians afraid to be seen as ‘soft on dope.’

NORML is winning the battle today because a raised consciousness amongst Americans realizes they can trust themselves more than their government.

This new awakening is why in 21 states where citizens have been asked if they want pot to be decriminalized, they have resoundingly said ‘yes.’ It is why current Gallup polls have showed nearly 60 percent of Americans wants pot legalized.

It isn’t because we are all stoners, though many of us are. It is because we as Americans are fed up with the lies and laws our legislators have passed and prosecuted. Over four decades, we have empowered our government to create draconian drug laws that compromised our civil liberties and sacrificed common sense.

They have enacted statutes allowing our sons and daughters to be jailed, our cars to be seized, and our scholarships to be forfeited. In certain places, moms and dads can still lose custody of their kids because they are caught smoking pot. It is an outrage and injustice Americans can no longer endure or countenance.

The only reason Miami Beach even agreed to a straw ballot is we showed them 8,000 petitions we had signed by residents supporting a special vote to make pot arrests the lowest priority of law enforcement. The public is always one step ahead of the politician.

Today, though, from Miami Beach to Maine, from Seattle to South Florida, we are saying ‘Free the Leaf.’ It’s not just to get high. There are valid medical and curative reasons to support normalizing marijuana.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans who were living with HIV learned years ago medical cannabis enhanced their appetite and inhibited a ‘wasting away’ syndrome. Others, like Elvy Mussika, a grandmother from Hollywood, Florida, who gets monthly prescriptions of cannabis from the DEA, found out pot can retard glaucoma and cataracts.

Scientists in Israel have discovered cannabis can control muscular spasticity and arthritic conditions amongst the elderly. One housewife in Manatee County, Cathy Jordan, has used cannabis for a quarter of a century to combat Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She grows her own in her backyard, and an enlightened prosecutor has declined to prosecute her, acknowledging her use is a ‘life-saving condition.’

Baby boomers from the 1960’s are now in their 60’s. For those of us who smoked joints watching Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, we have seen an America supplicate itself to pharmaceutical companies who gave us a sea of prescription pills which have led to multi million dollar class action lawsuits and premature deaths from unanticipated consequences. None of us have ever died from weed. But we have all been victims of the war against it.

Still, it does no good to enter an era of recrimination. As we approach an age of decriminalization and even legalization, let me just say ‘welcome.’ If you support reform now, and you have not before, thanks for joining a good cause.

In Florida, an effort has been launched to place medical marijuana on next year’s ballot as a constitutional amendment. If the signature requirements are met, you will get to vote on it. Like every other state where people vote on cannabis, it will pass, with cross-sectional support in both red and blue counties. Pot has only one party.

Support those communities that want to legalize and medicalize cannabis, and you will be on the right side of history, part of a community wrongfully denied a voice and now, finally, after all these years, rightfully being recognized.

Know Thy Enemy

As the old saying goes “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”.  With the vote on the Florida Medical Marijuana Amendment approaching, we will no doubt begin to see the same old anti-cannabis crusaders making their same old anti-cannabis pitch.

The Broward New Times recently ran an article profiling the five biggest opponents to Medical Marijuana in Florida.  They include Attorney General Pam Biondi, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Governor Rick Scott, Kevin Sabet of the the UF Drug Policy Institute, and a group called Save Our Society From Drugs.

As election day nears, we are sure to hear more from all of these people and we should be prepared to counter their scare tactics and misinformation campaigns about the medical benefits of cannabis.

CLICK HERE to read the full article on the Broward New Times website.

Florida’s proposed “Charlotte’s Web” Law – How does it impact the Medical Marijuana Amendment?

When CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, aired a special report on Medical Marijuana, one of the most striking parts of the program was a feature on young children who suffered from constant and debilitating seizures.  The heartbreaking images of children suffering were contrasted with the hope that a new strain of cannabis could provide them with relief.  That new strain is known as “Charlotte’s Web” and it is engineered to have very low levels of THC (the part that gets you high) while maintaining high levels of CBD (the part that helps combat seizures).  The story made for compelling television and has spurred politicians, who are usually very timid on marijuana reform, to take steps towards allowing the legal use of Charlotte’s Web.

In Florida, the result has been House Bill 843, which was introduced by Representatives from both the Democratic and Republican parties.  Earlier this month, the Bill was approved by the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and will now move forward to be considered by the full House of Representatives.  Proposed Bills that are favorable to marijuana reform rarely make it this far into the process, but the unique circumstances presented by Charlotte’s Web have brought the Bill close to becoming law.  But, what does the Bill really do and what does it mean for the Medical Marijuana Amendment that Florida voters will address on November 4th?

Turning to the language of HB843, the first thing I noticed is what it does not do.  It does not provide for certification of patients who would then have a lawful right to consume Charlotte’s Web.  It also does not provide for any type of system to provide cannabis to patients who need it (i.e. via dispensaries, caregivers, treatment centers, etc.).  Rather, the only thing that HB843 does is provide for an “affirmative defense” to the crime of possession of cannabis for persons who are charged with possessing certain strains of cannabis, intended for use in a non-smoking manner under the supervision of a doctor.  In other words, the new law only sets up a defense for persons who are criminally charged and who meet the rather narrow requirements of the law.

HB843 also does nothing to help patients who seek to use marijuana for conditions that are not adequately addressed by “low THC / high CBD” cannabis strains.  The conditions treated by strains like Charlotte’s Web, while serious and devastating, are relatively rare when compared to other conditions that medical marijuana can help.

Yes, the Charlotte’s Web law is a positive development and we should all support it.  But, it’s narrow application and scope and the absence of any proactive measures that would allow for patient certification and disbursement of medical cannabis, mean that we still need the broader protection of the Medical Marijuana Amendment.

The full text of the Charlotte’s Web law (as approved by the subcommittee) can be viewed here:  HB843

Medical Marijuana is Coming to Florida

Florida Cannabis ConsultantsNorm Kent, the past President of the Board of Directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), has opened up a new medical marijuana consulting firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Florida Cannabis Consultants will be doing business as FCC420.com.

“Frankly,” said Kent, “with a constitutional amendment on the ballot to approve marijuana wellness centers here in the Sunshine State, entrepreneurs, growers, and venture capitalists are going to need guidance and direction. I am being swamped with calls and I needed to set up a vehicle to respond professionally.”

Few people in the industry can bring to the table the breadth and depth of experience that Kent can, having first worked with NORML four decades ago when he was a student and “toker,” he acknowledges, at Hofstra University. Kent sarcastically notes that “yes, marijuana was a gateway drug. It led to a higher education, law school and a lifetime of fighting for social reforms.”

“Today,” Kent notes, “my youthful indiscretion has become a professional crusade.” In Florida, it’s on the verge of coming to fruition. Early polling suggests nearly 72 percent of Florida citizens support medical marijuana. For the amendment to prevail, 60 percent of the voters must approve the initiative. Kent states that his consulting firm, formed with his law partner, Russell Cormican, “will guide clients through the emerging rules and regulations for Florida wellness centers.”

Kent, who has become somewhat of a regular on national TV defending cannabis consumers on the Nancy Grace show, indicates that his new consulting firm “will provide up to date and cutting edge advisories warning ‘cannabiznesses’ of the pitfalls and problems which may occur as they seek to invest their monies and open their doors.”

Importantly, Kent warns that you can’t start to “grow now and assert a medical defense tomorrow. The amendment has to pass first.” He adds “you can prepare but you can’t plant.”

In 1982, as a young attorney, Kent once sued the state of Florida to prevent it from spraying the deadly herbicide paraquat on marijuana fields growing in the state. Today his goal is to help the state craft reasonable rules and regulations for the dispensaries and wellness centers which will open when and if the amendment passes.

“No one is better equipped to do so,” says his business partner, Russell Cormican. “As the chair of NORML, Norm has criss-crossed the country as a medicinal marijuana advocate, lecturing in colleges, legal conferences, and advising legislators. He is a legitimate expert.” Kent served as vice chair and then chair of NORML from 2012-2014, and has served on their Board of Directors since 1996.

It was Kent who pioneered medical necessity defenses for cannabis consumers in Florida as far back as 1988. One of his clients, Elvy Mussika, is one of only four living Americans who have cannabis grown and delivered to them monthly by the federal government. A criminal defense attorney in South Florida for 35 years, since 1979, Kent also successfully represented patients and caregivers of the Key West Cannabis Buyers Clubs in the early 1990’s.

“The public is tired of prohibition. It seeks access to medicinal marijuana. I hope to help craft the rules so it happens fairly,” Kent stated, adding “I also want to insure that consumers and investors do not become victims of flim-flam artists and fly-by-night con artists. At FCC420.com, we will be like a third base coach, letting players know where the scoring opportunities are.”

FCC420.com will be providing its clients with online weekly updates and advisories through its password-protected website.

What would pot’s passage mean to Florida?

Excellent and well researched article.

If voters amend the state’s constitution in November to allow the use of medical marijuana, Florida could witness the birth of an $800-million-a-year industry.

In short order, Florida would become the second-largest marijuana market in the nation, behind only California.

But the variables in the financial equation of a law that would take effect Jan. 6 are many, starting with who ends up being Florida’s next governor.

The proposed amendment — which requires approval by 60 percent or more of the state’s voters — would give Florida’s Department of Health six months to start issuing ID cards to patients who can produce physician letters of recommendation, and nine months to write rules and register medical marijuana treatment centers. Read more…

Herald-Tribune

“I’m Going To Prison For Working At A Pot Shop That Was Legal In My State”

Robert Duncan thought he could comply with all the laws in California and start an honest dispensary. He wound up facing a two year prison sentence.

FCC420.com has been created to help you avoid the pitfalls of entering a profession where all is not yet legal, and much is still risky. Our expertise will guide you through the rules and regulations as they are developed.

Here is Robert’s story:

Robert Duncan moved from Los Angeles to Northern California in 2010 to manage marijuana growing operations for a collective of medical marijuana dispensaries. Although California voters legalized medical cannabis more than 17 years ago, the plant remains illegal under federal law, and the Obama administration launched a renewed crackdown on marijuana in California in 2011.

That October, Duncan’s grow house was raided. A few months later, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner indicted him and others involved in the dispensary business on the grounds that it had grown too large. Despite California’s struggle with prison overcrowding, and despite new federal guidelines that say size should no longer be considered in prosecution decisions, Duncan, 31, was sentenced to two years in prison. He is scheduled to report to Mendota Federal Correctional Institution near Fresno, Calif., on Monday afternoon. Read more at the Huffington Post…

Huffington Post