Archives for October, 2019

Report: Domestic Hemp Production Soaring in 2019

by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy DirectorSeptember 5, 2019

State regulators licensed farmers and researchers to cultivate over 500,000 total acres of industrial hemp in the first half of 2019, according to data compiled by the organization VoteHemp.com.
“Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp cultivation in the US has grown rapidly,” the group summarizes in a press release. “The number of acres of hemp licensed across 34 states totaled 511,442 in 2019 – more than quadruple the number of acres licensed from the previous year. State licenses to cultivate hemp were issued to 16,877 farmers and researchers, a 476 percent increase over 2018 [totals].”
Congress enacted legislation in December removing industrial hemp (defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3 percent THC) and products containing cannabinoids derived from hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, the United States Department of Agriculture is still in the process of finalizing federal regulations to oversee the plant’s commercial production.
Currently, 46 states have redefined hemp as a crop distinct from cannabis, according to VoteHemp.
The full text of VoteHemp’s 2019 crop report is online here.

Medical Marijuana Cost a Nursing Student Her Spot at Nova Southeastern

When Kaitlin McKeon was confronted with the results of her drug test, she already knew what it would show: positive for marijuana. Before she’d even enrolled in the nursing program at Nova Southeastern University, the bubbly then-23-year-old had told school officials she had a medical marijuana card and used the drug to relieve her chronic stomach pain.

The surprise was the next part: Because she’d failed the test, she was being recommended for dismissal. The director of the school’s entry-level nursing program, Lori Lupe, handed the eager, first-year student a letter declaring she had violated the school’s zero-tolerance drug policy. McKeon was so stunned she barely defended herself. She left the February 2018 meeting and cried.

Initially recruited to swim at Nova Southeastern straight out of high school, McKeon had to postpone her college plans because of health problems that began with a severe stomach bleed. Now her life was being thrown off-course again — this time by the very thing that had finally helped her feel better.

“Right away, I felt embarrassed, like I did something wrong,” McKeon says, “because that’s kind of how they made me feel.”

In November 2016 — more than a year before McKeon started classes at the Fort Myers campus of the private Fort Lauderdale-based university — 71 percent of Floridians voted to amend the state constitution to make marijuana accessible to patients with severe medical conditions. But while many advocates, patients, and politicians believe the amendment settled the issue, the reality is far more complicated. McKeon’s predicament illustrates the Catch-22 many patients face in Florida and other states where the drug is now legal: They can use marijuana, but they’re not protected from being penalized at work or school as a result.

As a growing number of states legalize medical marijuana, stories like McKeon’s are cropping up across the nation. There’s the Brevard County teacher who was fired from the job she loved and outed in the local paper for violating the school district’s drug-free workplace policy. There’s the 11-year-old Illinois girl who wasn’t allowed to go to class because she wore a marijuana patch to treat symptoms of leukemia. There’s the quadriplegic man who was fired from his job at a Colorado call center for using medical marijuana to control his muscle spasms.

“People who use marijuana for medical purposes really get discriminated against.”

And there’s McKeon, who says Nova officials gave her an ultimatum: Either stop using medical marijuana or stop taking classes at the university.

A year after the drug test that derailed her career dreams, she is now suing the school (as well as Castle Branch, the company that administered the test), claiming in a complaint filed in Broward County Circuit Court that the school violated Florida’s medical marijuana law. She hopes her experience can help other patients who depend on medical marijuana.

“I don’t think people really realize how people who use marijuana for medical purposes really get discriminated against,” she says. “There’s a very big stigma against it.”

After her plans were derailed by years of health issues, Kaitlin McKeon was thrilled to start nursing school at Nova Southeastern University.Photo courtesy of Kaitlin McKeon

Since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, there’s been confusion and debate about whether patients can be fired from their jobs or expelled from school for using the drug.

In 1999, a Sacramento-area man named Gary Ross began using marijuana on his doctor’s recommendation to relieve chronic pain from injuries he had sustained in the Air Force. But that didn’t stop his bosses at a data company from terminating him when he flunked a drug test. Ross sued the company for employment discrimination, arguing his doctor-recommended marijuana use should be treated the same way as a prescription for insulin or Zoloft.

The case went all the way to the California Supreme Court, where, in 2008, the majority ruled against Ross. The ruling said the Compassionate Use Act merely shielded patients and their doctors from being criminally prosecuted and did not give marijuana — because it’s still illegal under federal law — the same status as a prescription drug. Two of the justices disagreed. They blasted the majority’s decision as “conspicuously lacking in compassion,” adding it had “seriously compromised the Compassionate Use Act.”

In the 11 years since that decision was handed down, medical marijuana has become more widely accepted. It’s now legal in 33 states, where an estimated 2.6 million people rely on it for medical treatment, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Yet in cases across the nation, patients have lost their jobs or been kicked out of school for legal use of the drug.

“There’s also the question of how many people do not seek a recommendation for medical cannabis who may benefit from it but do not want to lose their job,” says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.

The ruling meant patients “will have to choose between using medical marijuana and work.”

Of the states where medical marijuana is legal, just over a third have passed laws explicitly forbidding employment discrimination. They are Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia. In places where those protections don’t exist, medical marijuana users have struggled to find and keep jobs — and the courts haven’t exactly helped.

In 2015, citing the clash with federal law, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic Dish Network employee canned for using medical marijuana off-duty. The decision followed similar rulings across the country.

Coats’ attorney, Michael Evans, called the decision “devastating.” It meant, he told reporters at the time, that even in a state with some of the most liberal marijuana laws in the nation, patients “will have to choose between using medical marijuana and work.”

A shift may be underway, though: In the past two years, courts have begun ruling in favor of patients. Those victories have come even in states without explicit employment protections for medical marijuana patients. In Massachusetts, the state’s highest court in 2017 ruled that a marketing company was wrong to fire a worker who used marijuana to treat Crohn’s disease. The Arizona Supreme Court last year found that a 2012 law banning medical marijuana on college campuses violated the state’s constitution. And in New Jersey just last month, an appeals court decided that under a state antidiscrimination law, medical marijuana patients cannot be fired for failing drug tests.

Florida’s medical marijuana law, still relatively new at less than three years old, has not undergone such a test. At least, not yet.

It was her own time as a patient that made McKeon want to become a nurse. Until her high-school graduation in 2012, she’d always been healthy. But suddenly, she began getting so sick she could barely stop vomiting. After losing nearly 20 pounds, she gave up her swimming scholarship and stayed home in Naples instead of starting classes.

“She was in and out of the hospital; we were going to Miami, going to Fort Lauderdale,” says her dad, Daniel McKeon. “We went to all these hospitals all over the place trying to find an answer or a treatment or something for it.”

Although doctors still don’t know the exact cause of her health issues, McKeon was eventually diagnosed with severe anemia, among other conditions. For about a year beginning in 2015, she visited the Florida Cancer Center for twice-weekly iron infusions. Each infusion meant a few hours of sitting in a chair while the iron was fed from an IV into her arm. While McKeon waited, the nurses would always strike up conversations and make sure she was comfortable. Sometimes one of them would sit and play cards with her. On holidays, they’d throw parties for the patients.

“That’s why I wanted to do it, because when I was sick, those nurses were so great,” McKeon says.

Although it took a few years for her to feel well enough to go to school, in the summer of 2017, she felt ready. Before enrolling in Nova’s nursing program, she and her dad told the nursing director, Lori Lupe, that a doctor had recommended she try medical marijuana. They wanted to be sure it wouldn’t disqualify her. McKeon and her father say Lupe told them it wouldn’t. (Lupe did not respond to New Times‘ request for comment.) Moreover, the student handbook said only that medical marijuana couldn’t be used on school grounds.

She decided her own well-being was more important than going to nursing school at Nova.

With those assurances, McKeon began classes in late August. On Instagram, she posted a picture of herself beaming in blue scrubs embroidered with her name. “Sometimes you have to put your life on hold to get your health on track,” she wrote in the caption. “Ready to dive back in.”

Her medical marijuana card came in October. She wasn’t especially optimistic about it — her parents were the ones who encouraged her to apply after seeing her so often in pain. But when she began vaping the drug each night, she was amazed at how much better she felt. Weed knocked out her stomach pain in a way nothing else had. She says she felt “like a normal human again,” able to go to the beach or the bar with her friends. Her family also noticed the difference.

“I’m definitely not for legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but from the difference that I see, for medical use, for Kaitlin, it’s just astonishing,” her dad says. “If you were to see her before and after, you wouldn’t believe it was the same person. And everyone who sees her says they can’t believe it.”

Everything seemed to be going her way, until administrators told McKeon her positive drug test meant she might be kicked out of school. She got a chance to appear before a disciplinary committee to plead her case. But when she stood in front of the board and read a statement she’d written — over a video-conferencing service because the officials were based in Fort Lauderdale — she could sense she’d already lost.

Feeling ashamed, McKeon stopped using marijuana while she waited on a decision from the school. But her health slid back downhill. She eventually ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, she says.

“At that point, I still felt embarrassed, and I felt like I wanted to be a nurse, and I wanted to keep trying,” she says. “I immediately just thought, OK, I’ll try. And it didn’t work out very well.”

By the time administrators said that spring she could return if she stopped using marijuana, she had decided to leave the school. The pain was too much to endure now that she knew of a way to get relief. She decided her own well-being was more important than going to nursing school at Nova.

“I was like, You know what? I can’t do this to try to appease them,” she says. “My health isn’t worth this.

Kaitlin McKeonPhoto courtesy of Kaitlin McKeon

McKeon’s untimely departure from nursing school meant she was out about $20,000 in tuition. Neither she nor her parents could believe they’d been assured her use of medical marijuana wasn’t a problem, only for her to start classes and ultimately be pushed out.

“Things were going good,” her dad says. “She was getting better; she was doing astounding in school — when she puts her mind to something, she gives it 100 percent. She was getting great grades and was so excited to start her clinicals, just to get knocked down.”

Also stunned by the turn of events was My Florida Green CEO Nick Garulay, whose clinic helped McKeon get her marijuana card. He called the situation “heartbreaking” and “criminal.” Through him, McKeon and her family got in touch with an attorney who was eager to take the case: Michael Minardi, the cannabis lawyer who’s leading a campaign to put recreational marijuana on the ballot in 2020.

Minardi filed McKeon’s complaint in February, accusing Nova of violating Florida’s law allowing medical marijuana use, along with fraud and breach of contract. They’re seeking unspecified damages.

“I think that if people are using medical marijuana and they are sick, then they should not have to switch their major or their job or their dreams because of a medicine they are taking,” McKeon says. Adds Minardi: “We just want it to be treated the same as all other drugs.”

University attorneys have asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed, but so far no hearings have been held. School spokesman Brandon Hensler, citing the pending litigation, declined to comment on the specifics of McKeon’s situation.

Asked about the school’s policies on medical marijuana, he pointed New Times to the student handbook. But, as McKeon and her father found before she enrolled, that document defines illicit drugs as those “obtained or used without a physician’s order.” It addresses medical marijuana directly only once, saying that in accordance with federal law, “the possession or use of medical marijuana, even if authorized under state law, is prohibited on NSU property and during NSU-sponsored events.” McKeon says she never used marijuana on campus or during school events — only at home in the evenings. “Looking at Nova’s handbook,” she says, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“People shouldn’t have to give up their dreams because they are a patient taking medicine.”

Advocates for medical marijuana and drug reform have been outraged by the school’s handling of McKeon. Norm Kent, a lawyer and South Florida-based board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says Nova is violating her “absolute right” under the state constitution to use the drug. Doing so might even be a breach of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Kent believes.

“The student is being unlawfully treated by the school, and the only thing more offensive and unconscionable than the university expelling her is that 10,000 students have not already gathered in the administration building and smoked the damn place out until they let her back in,” he says.

But Ben Pollara, a Miami Beach political consultant who led the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Florida, says the law has no specific language addressing universities or protecting patients from being kicked out of school.

“I think it absolutely goes against the spirit of what the voters approved but not so much against the letter,” he says. It’s a significant gap that lawmakers should address, he adds, although after efforts this year to cap THC levels in medical pot, he isn’t hopeful.

State Rep. Michael Grieco, a Miami Beach Democrat who this year sponsored a failed bill to legalize recreational marijuana, was shocked and dismayed to hear of McKeon’s ordeal. From his perspective, disciplining a person for using medical marijuana goes against the Florida Constitution and the will of voters.

“People shouldn’t have to give up their dreams because they are a patient taking medicine,” says Grieco, who told New Times he planned to look into the issue as something the Legislature could tackle.

McKeon, meanwhile, is now taking online classes at Florida Gulf Coast University while working at a doggy daycare and at a psychiatrist’s office. She’s put away the scrubs she once was so proud of and given up on nursing. Instead, she’s majoring in public health, which will give her a chance to make change.

She says her health is her top priority and she still uses marijuana daily, which hasn’t been a problem since she left Nova. She hopes her case might lead to school and employment protections for patients like her.

“I was really, really upset for a while. They made me feel like I was doing something wrong, so I felt guilty. But now I don’t feel any way toward it,” McKeon says. “I feel that this is a part of my life, and I am who I am, and if something is going to help me live my life, that’s the most important thing to me.”

Update:  On April 26, 2019, Kaitlin McKeon voluntarily dismissed Castle Branch from her case. An attorney for the company says that while Castle Branch does not know the specifics behind the decision, it came about after Castle Branch filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims against it.

BRITTANY SHAMMAS | MAY 7, 2019 | 8:00AM

https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/florida-medical-marijuana-patients-face-discrimination-at-work-and-school-11166242

Marijuana is a medicine not a menace

April 18, 2019 at 7:57 pm EDT | by Norm Kent

I am the past chairperson of the board of directors of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, based in Washington, D.C. for the past 50 years.

Our offices are on H Street, and if that stands for High, don’t worry one bit. I am delighted to report that more and more Americans are coming out of the closet openly and freely about using cannabis proudly.

The medicalization, decriminalization, and inevitable legalization of marijuana has turned the corner in America. Dispensaries are populating our neighborhoods, and cannabis cafes are opening in our communities. Earth is still on its axis, and planes are still taking off on time.

If only the activists in the cannabis community had the courage of LGBTQ pioneers, the movement might have emerged sooner. You see, it was the gay community’s advocates during the AIDS era that first spoke out about the medicinal properties of marijuana. Cannabis fought the wasting syndrome, stimulating appetites and improving a patient’s health.

Unfortunately, for decades, archaic and unconscionable cannabis laws criminalized innocent behavior and denied HIV patients medicine. The laws also discriminated against racial minorities and unjustly incarcerated hundreds of thousands of our countrymen wrongly. A new day has dawned.

Today’s cannabis consumers cross political parties, generational lines, and sexual identities. We are opening businesses, not posting bail. We are starting corporations, not fighting incarceration. We are energizing economies with entrepreneurs, transacting sales at retail counters, not negotiating deals in dark alleys.

As we research and expand the medical dimensions of cannabis, we have also discovered marijuana is a useful treatment for treating patients living with HIV, PTSD, cancer, arthritis and a host of other illnesses. From dealing with seizures to glaucoma, cannabis has proven itself to be a medicine, not a menace.

Yes, good weed also gets you high. It is supposed to. Cannabis consumers know that colors become brighter, food tastes better, and sex can be more satisfying. That’s OK. The choices you make to derive pleasure should be your right, not a crime.

The legitimate powers of government should reach no further than controlling acts that are injurious to others. Pot never should have been criminalized. Outside of making North Dakota a state, locking people up for smoking weed was one of the dumbest things our government has ever done.

Federal law still declares cannabis has “no medicinal value.” In dozens of states and countless communities across the country, this places new dispensaries and cannabis entrepreneurs in constant legal jeopardy. We can’t let that go on. It’s a continuing injustice.

Even worse, while 32 states have moved progressively toward a new day of decriminalization, there are still many zip codes that have not. We cannot afford to celebrate on the shore while people are still being swallowed up in the ocean. There are legal initiatives still to be won.

Earlier this year, a conservative Republican Florida congressman, Matt Gaetz, partnered with New York’s Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to propose revising federal cannabis laws. If polar political opposites can come together, so can we all.

Ultimately, the right to consume cannabis should not even be made by a lawmaker in the state house. It’s one you have the right to make in your own house. You see, it’s never really been about the pot. It is about the right you as an adult should have to make decisions about what to do with your own body.

The pursuit of happiness is a constitutional right, not a legislative grant. 
Whether you put a pizza pie, a penis, or inhale pot into your lungs, it should be your choice, not a lawmaker’s. Nothing less than your inalienable right to free choice is at stake. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Vaping Products Linked with Rising Number of Hospitalizations

by NORML – September 6, 2019

The US Centers for Disease Control has now identified over 450 cases of respiratory distress that may be associated with the use of disposable vapor cartridges used to consume certain e-liquids.
While initial cases of the phenomenon were associated with consumption of cannabinoid oil products via the use of unregulated vapor cartridges, the CDC reports that some cases have also been linked to the use of nicotine only.

Three people have died as a result of the illness, and a fourth death is under investigation.

In New York State, where 34 cases have been reported, health officials reported the identification of “very high levels of vitamin E acetate in nearly all cannabis-containing samples analyzed.” The inhalation of vitamin E oil has previously been linked with lipoid pneumonia. Medical reports have previously identified an association between vitamin E oil exposure and the vaping of both cannabis and nicotine liquid products, according to a NBC News investigative report. Reporting by Leafly.com suggests that additives may be introduced to unregulated oil products in an effort to thicken their consistency and to mask dilution.

The Health Department bulletin warns: “Anyone using vape products should never use unregulated products purchased ‘off the street.’ … These unregulated products are not tested and may contain harmful substances.” The agency has posted pictures of some of the products linked to the ailments here.
NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “These unfortunate incidents reinforce the need for greater regulation, standardization, and oversight of the cannabis market — principles which NORML has consistently called for in the cannabis space. Consumers must also be aware that not all products are created equal; quality control testing is critical and only exists in the legally regulated marketplace.”
Nonetheless, a review of the phenomenon published Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine acknowledges, “[N]o conclusions can [yet] be drawn as to which compound or compounds are the causes of injury.” The CDC similarly affirms, “No single product [has been] linked to all cases of lung disease.” The agency adds, “While this investigation is ongoing, people should consider not using e-cigarette products.”

While there exists only limited data assessing the safety of vaporized cannabinoid oil products, scientists have conducted multiple investigations of the use of technologically advanced (non-disposable) vaporization devices on cannabis plant material. In one study performed by investigators at San Francisco General Hospital, researchers reported that use of the Volcano vaporizing device did “not result in [subjects’] exposure to combustion gases.” Authors concluded, “The Volcano [vaporizer] device is an effective and apparently safe vehicle for THC delivery.” In another study, Dutch researchers similarly reported, “Our results show that with the Volcano a safe and effective cannabinoid delivery system seems to be available to patients. The final pulmonal uptake of THC is comparable to the smoking of cannabis, while avoiding the respiratory disadvantages of smoking.”

The latest update from the CDC is online here. The bulletin from the New York State Department of Health is online here. Ongoing reporting from Leafly.com is online here. A Leafly.com primer on the topic, “Vape Pen Lung Disease: Here’s What You Need to Know,” is online here.

POTUS: Feds “Allowing States” to Choose Legalization

by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director – September 3, 2019

The federal government is not standing in the way of states that decide in favor of legalizing and regulating marijuana, President Donald Trump stated on Friday in comments first reported by MarijuanaMoment.net.
In response to a reporter’s question regarding whether or not the administration will support a change in federal marijuana policy, President Trump responded: “It’s a very big subject and right now we are allowing states to make that decision. A lot of states are making that decision, but we’re allowing states to make that decision.”
Reacting to the President’s comments, NORML’s Political Director Justin Strekal said, “The reiteration of a non-enforcement policy from the president is a clear sign that states should continue to defy the federal government when it comes to marijuana prohibition.”
During his Presidential campaign, Trump similarly said that he believed issues surrounding cannabis legalization ought to be decided “state by state.” However, the administration’s first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, rescinded an Obama-administration memorandum which directed the Justice Department not to interfere in state-sanctioned marijuana-related activities.

Surgeon General’s Advisory Highlights Need for Further Cannabis Regulation, Not Criminalization

by NORML – August 29, 2019

Remarks made today by the United States Surgeon General highlighting “the importance of protecting our nation from the health risks of marijuana use in adolescents and during pregnancy” fail to acknowledge the role that a regulated market can play in mitigating the use of cannabis by potentially high-risk populations.
States NORML’s Executive Director Erik Altieri: “It has long been acknowledged that cannabis is a mood-altering substance with some risk potential. In fact, it is precisely because marijuana use may pose potential risks to certain consumers — for example, adolescents or people with a family history of psychiatric illness — that NORML believes that lawmakers should regulate it accordingly.
“These regulations should include age restrictions, prohibitions on the unlicensed commercial production or retail sale of the plant and rational limits with regard to product marketing.”
He concludes, “A pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults but restricts and discourages its use among young people — coupled with a legal environment that fosters open, honest dialogue between parents and children about marijuana’s effects — best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse.”
Specifically, federal and state data finds that teen cannabis use has declined in past years – during the same time that many states have legalized and regulated the use of cannabis by adults. According to an August 2019 federal report, past-year marijuana use by those ages 12 to 17 has fallen consistently since 2002, from 15.8 percent to 12.5 percent. Since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to regulate adult-use access, past-year youth use has fallen eight percent.
Separate evaluations of marijuana use patterns specifically in cannabis legalization states similarly show little if any change in cannabis use or access by teenagers. In fact, data published online in JAMA Pediatrics in July reported that states with “recreational marijuana laws were associated with an eight percent decrease in the odds of marijuana use and a nine percent decrease in the odds of frequent marijuana use” among teens.
Added Altieri, “Our current model of federal prohibition represents the utter lack of control over any aspect of marijuana or the marijuana market,” he said. “The Surgeon General’s time would be better spent advocating for a legally and tightly regulated cannabis market – one in which we educate Americans about the potential harms and benefits of cannabis through evidence-based public education campaigns – rather than through fear-mongering.”
For more information on the public health and safety of cannabis, please see NORML’s fact-sheets here.

Poll: Americans View Cigarettes and Alcohol as More Harmful Than Cannabis

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Boston, MA: Most Americans perceive cigarettes and alcohol to pose greater risks to public health than cannabis, according to survey data compiled by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and first reported by MarijuanaMoment.net.

According to the survey, 81 percent of respondents believe that tobacco cigarettes are “very harmful.” Fifty-one percent of respondents similarly view alcohol as “very harmful.” By contrast, only 26 percent of those surveyed ranked marijuana as “very harmful.”

Eighteen percent of those surveyed opined that cannabis was “not harmful at all.” By contrast, only two percent of respondents believed the same about alcohol and only one percent said so about tobacco.

For more information, contact Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.

After strong 2018 for medical pot, Florida activists hungry for more

2018 turned out to be a pretty good year to be in the legal marijuana business, but that’s not stopping some Sunshine State activists from entertaining high hopes for the future.

Legal marijuana was a $10.4 billion industry in the U.S. in 2018, with a quarter-million jobs devoted just to the handling of marijuana plants, said Beau Whitney, vice president and senior economist at New Frontier Data, a leading cannabis market research and data analysis firm.

In Florida, where medical marijuana was made legal in 2017, more than 174,000 prescriptions were filled from January through September, according to a new report from the Physician Certification Pattern Review Panel.

And while advocates of medical marijuana touted its potential use for cancer patients, it turns out they only account for 10 percent of those who received the prescriptions. More than twice as many went to people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and even more to people experiencing chronic pain — though the report notes there is some overlap in its figures (some patients suffered from more than one treatable illness).

Broward County led the state in the number of certifications for post-traumatic stress disorder, with 4,597. PTSD accounted for 35 percent of all certifications for medical marijuana in the county, according to the data.

Steven Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach physician who chairs the certifications review panel, said the PTSD certifications caught his attention and that he wanted to make sure nothing was afoul.

“If there are people who are taking advantage of the law by using a broad condition, I have some concern about that,” he said.

Activist Norm Kent, a Broward attorney who once served as president of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he has concerns too — marijuana should be more available, not less, he said. After the Republican-led state legislature drew criticism for its handling of legalization, Kent said he and fellow activists are looking to put the issue to voters again.

“The people are going to put legalization for recreational use on the ballot in 2020,” Kent vowed. “We’re not going to settle for anything less.”

Approving pot for recreational use would put Florida in line with 10 other states where it’s no longer a state crime for adults to light up.

By then, Florida can expect its legal cannabis market to reach $880 million, according to New Frontier Data. The state’s share of the market is expected to be around 12 percent by 2025.

But those projections don’t take changing laws into account — Michigan only approved marijuana for recreational use in November, making it likely Florida’s market share will go down as Michigan’s gets higher.

Kent said he sees momentum building for legalization on the federal level.

“One half of Republican senators in D.C. come from states where marijuana is legal,” he said. “In 2016, we needed 60 percent of the vote to make medical marijuana legal. We got 72 percent. Marijuana is more popular than any candidate for congress.”

https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-ne-florida-marijuana-outlook-20181228-story.html

Law firm draws heat for claiming medical pot legal

A Jacksonville law firm’s claim that marijuana is already legal as medicine in Florida has other supporters of medical pot crying foul.

Health Law Services, formally incorporated as IJC Law Group, is telling clients that Florida’s alternative health-care laws already say that doctors can prescribe otherwise-illegal drugs such as marijuana if they determine it is the only practical medicine for the patient.

So, the firm argues, Florida does not need to change the law or impose a constitutional amendmenttomake marijuana a legal treatment.

“It is clear that our Florida statute allows for the lawful possession of cannabis if somebody is in the possession of a prescription,” said Christopher Ralph, legal administrator at Health Law Services.

The firm arranges, for $799, to send clients to doctors. If they find a medical necessity, the firm provides a letter certifying that the client has received a marijuana prescription and warning law enforcement officers against violating the client’s rights.

The firm has signed up a couple of hundred such clients, including some in Central Florida, Ralph said.

But that legal interpretation and approach has led to arrests of Health Law Service clients. And it has brought rebukes from other medical marijuana advocates who say the law firm is giving people bad legal advice that could land them in prison.

“They are misleading clients and the public into believing that citizens have a right to use marijuana medicinally, when all they have is the right to assert that as a legal defense in court of law after they have been arrested and prosecuted,” said Norm Kent, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who has been practicing marijuana criminal defense law for 40 years. He also is past president of the nation’s largest marijuana advocacy group, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“They are charging people $800 for medical ID cards that are worthless,” he said.

On Monday the firm also drew a blast from St. Johns County Sheriff David B. Shoar, who called a news conference about last month’s arrests of a St. Johns County couple in possession of certification letters and 40 marijuana plants. Scott and Marsha Yandell, both 45, are charged with four felony marijuana charges, including trafficking.

“If there was a law that allowed for medical marijuana, I guess everybody in the state has missed it,” Shoar said. “And two, they weren’t trying to just produce medical marijuana. This was an industrial grow house.”

Health Law Services, whose president is lawyer Ian Christensen, is defending the Yandells.

Ralph, a non-lawyer who speaks for the firm, said the Yandells did what they were supposed to do to meet the state’s alternative health-care laws. Law enforcement and court officials, he said, simply need to be educated about the law. He said the letters are intended to do just that on behalf of each client.

Florida law does provide for a medical-necessity defense, but it is a tough sell to prosecutors, judges and juries, Kent and others said.

That defense was used to win a felony marijuana possession trial in Broward County this month. Other cases have led prosecutors to drop charges. But other attempts have sent people to prison.

Lawyers such as Kent and Michael Minardi of the law firm Kelley Kronenberg, who won the Broward case on March 2, take on such clients only after they have been arrested, rather than advising clients in advance that they can grow marijuana and win if arrested.

“I think they’re playing with people’s lives,” Minardi said.

Florida Man Says State Ban on Homegrown Medical Marijuana Unfair

June 16, 2017 Alex Pickett

(CN) – A Florida man with stage-four cancer is suing the state for the right to grow his own medical marijuana.

In a lawsuit filed June 15 in the Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Joseph Redner argues that he should be allowed grow his own marijuana to create infused oils, butters and juices.

Under current rules, the Florida Department of Health only allows licensed dispensaries to grow and distribute the plant.

Redner is registered with the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use and can use medical marijuana from a dispensary. But he says that with a compromised immune system, he should be able to control the substances that go into his body.

The complaint also points to the definition of marijuana in Florida’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, which specifically mentions “all parts of any plant of the genus cannabis, whether growing or not.” Under current regulations, patients will not receive the whole flower of the plant, or seeds, but marijuana processed into oils, tinctures or edibles.

The suit does not ask for damages.

“We are confident that our position … is strong and valid,” Redner’s attorney Amanda Derby said in an e-mail. “The Department of Health’s ban on home cultivation for personal use directly contradicts the rights afforded to medical marijuana patients, as enumerated in the Florida Constitution.”

After the amendment passed in November by more than 70 percent of voters, a host of groups lobbied the Florida legislature to implement certain rules on the number of nurseries, dispensaries and even the methods of ingesting.

In a bill passed earlier this month, state legislators capped the number of nurseries and dispensaries, and banned smoking the drug. Gov. Rick Scott has said he will sign the law. The Florida Department of Health will continue to develop rules based on the legislation, including an “emergency rulemaking” process for the first six months of implementation.

“This will enable the department to quickly implement the time-sensitive requirements of the legislation,” said Mara Gambineri, communications director for the Department of Health.

“Following emergency rulemaking, the department is committed to working collaboratively with the public through traditional rulemaking to establish a patient-centered medical marijuana program,” she said.

Gambineri would not comment on the lawsuit, citing departmental policy.

Currently, the states medical marijuana registry lists more than 16,000 patients and 800 doctors certified to prescribe cannabis.

Redner, 77, is best known locally as Tampa’s strip club king and self-proclaimed inventor of the lap dance. For the last three decades, Redner has challenged numerous city ordinances against nude clubs and won. The rabble rouser has unsuccessfully run for local office several times – most recently for the state senate – and has long been a proponent of medical marijuana.

Redner’s lawsuit is one of the first challenging the state’s interpretation of the constitutional amendment, but it will not be the last.

“Nationally, in states that have passed medical marijuana, there has been a multiplicity of lawsuits filed on a variety of legal claims,” said Norm Kent, a South Florida lawyer who practices in criminal defense and constitutional law. “Florida is unique, because our citizens didn’t pass legislation; they passed a constitutional amendment, which placed a legal commandment for the legislature.

“What these lawsuits are going to show is that the legislature passed rules and regulations that are more restrictive than the citizens provided for,” said Kent, who is also vice-chair of the pro-marijuana organization NORML. “The rules and regulations that have passed, and the Department of Health is implementing, are fundamentally unconstitutional.”

However, Kent is quick to note some medical marijuana proponents are also asking for more than the amendment calls for. He also expects many attorneys to file lawsuits in this budding field as an income generator.

“Each one has to be analyzed individually,” he said.

The conditions qualifying for medical marijuana prescriptions may also come under fire. Currently, the law allows a prescription for cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or a condition of the “same kind or class.” That vagueness may lead to more lawsuits.

Nurseries who did not receive a license are also certain to sue the state, as many did when the state approved licenses to grow a low-THC form of marijuana in 2014.

Orlando attorney John Morgan – the top financier of the medical marijuana amendment and a possible gubernatorial candidate – recently tweeted he plans to sue over the smoking prohibition. Morgan argues the constitutional amendment bans smoking medical marijuana in public, which infers users are allowed to smoke in private.

Karen Deeb Goldstein, executive director of the state chapter of NORML, also vigorously opposes the prohibition on smoking.

“The whole act is therapeutic, from rolling a join to lighting it,” she said. “It’s part of the therapy.”

That’s why Goldstein is part of a new group, Regulate Florida, which plans to introduce another ballot measure in 2018 that regulates marijuana like alcohol. The group’s petition allows retail sales for people 21 years and older.

It would also permit limited growing.