"Medical marijuana is best left to the scientists and medical professionals." -- Sheriffs Association
(Updated from 1/29) With support in Tallahassee accelerating, the road to medical marijuana needs a passing lane. A St. Petersburg senator proposed a bill Jan. 26 to make medical marijuana legal in Florida, possibly in less than a year. The "Florida Medical Marijuana Act" was quickly hailed by cannabis allies but state sheriffs weighed in Wednesday, flagging the bill.
Florida for Care and United for Care profess different philosophies but share one goal and now the same boss: Ben Pollara, who steered United for Care's unsuccessful campaign for Amendment 2 last year. The initiative was supported by 58 percent of voters and even conservative radio talk host Dan Maduri bowed this week, “It’s coming, Florida. It’s coming.” It's not hard to see why. A partial who’s who in Florida cannabis:
Sen. Jeff Brandes: A St. Petersburg Republican who opposed Amendment 2, his Senate bill offers strict definitions of medical conditions (eight) that qualify for medical marijuana. It also tightens language that was criticized in Amendment 2 for giving physicians too much leeway in diagnoses.
Speaking: “I’ve talked to the governor directly. I’ve talked to the Senate president. I’ve talked to the leadership in the House … and I think they’re open-minded. I’m not going to say it’s a slam dunk.”
Ben Pollara: The new executive director of Florida for Care and manager of United for Care, short for People United For Medical Marijuana (PUFMM). A founding partner of LSN Partners, Pollara was a member of President Obama’s 2012 National Finance Committee.
Speaking: “Florida for Care is working in the legislature to try to pass a medical marijuana bill this session; that would be our ideal scenario. [But] if they don’t act during the session then we’ll get on the ballot in 2016.”
Incidentally: Florida for Care was formed as a 501(c)(4) education and advocacy group under the U.S. tax code. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that 501(c)(4) groups do not have to disclose their financial donors.
Rep. Greg Steube: A Republican from Sarasota, Steube submitted Brandes’ proposal for a possible parallel bill in the House. His father is Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
Speaking: “I would much rather have a piece of legislation in a statute that the Legislature can constantly come back and tweak, versus having a constitutional amendment, that is being decided by the Department of Health or the court system.”
Incidentally: Steube’s bill (HB 4005) to allow guns on state university campuses was approved Jan. 20 by a House committee.
Jeff Kottkamp: Kottkamp, a Republican from Lee County, will advocate for Florida for Care, which supports a legislative answer for medical marijuana. He was lieutenant governor from 2007-2011 under Charlie Crist when Crist was a Republican. Kottkamp was head the Office of Drug Control and shaped a Statewide Prescription Drug Task Force in 2010 to fight abuse, pill mills and Florida’s “Oxy Express.”
Speaking: “I didn’t meet with John Morgan. I’ve been dealing with Dan Rogers, [former] executive director of Florida for Care. I’ll be lobbying for the legislation, not the [new] ballot amendment.”
Incidentally: Florida for Care opposes potential constraints on THC levels and says any legislation that restricts potency will be a Tallahassee deal-breaker. FYI: When President Obama proposed ending NASA’s Constellation Program, Kottkamp challenged him to a debate on the future of the space program.
Jon Mills: Serves as chairman of Florida for Care’s board of commissioners. Mills, the House Speaker in 1986-88 and a state representative (D-Gainesville) for 10 years, authored Amendment 2 and the revised initiative.
Speaking: "There is nothing that's different in the intent and the actual impact [of the revised amendment]. What this will do is to clarify things that will make it really impossible to misinterpret."
Incidentally: Mills, a constitutional law professor, was national co-chairman of Gary Hart’s 1998 presidential effort and produced an Emmy-winning show about the Everglades.
Speaking: “[In 2014] I don’t support the amendment but if it’s a ‘yes’ vote, I want to make sure it’s implemented in the best way possible.”
Incidentally: Diaz De la Portilla is a son of Cuban exiles; a great-grandfather served in the Cuban Senate and the other was Cuba’s Minister of Justice.
Sheriff David Shoar: The St. Johns County Sheriff and president of the Florida Sheriffs Association told The Tampa Bay Times that medical marijuana was inevitable in his opinion. Shoar also said statewide support by sheriffs was possible under tightly worded rules. He apparently spoke too soon. The Florida Sheriffs Association voted 38-2 Feb. 3 to oppose the bill, saying “medical marijuana is best left to the scientists and medical professionals at the Food and Drug Administration," according to a press release.
Speaking: "If we continue saying, 'No, no, no,' we are going to get [an unchangeable amendment]. Why not get a seat at the table?"
Incidentally: Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre, a native New Yorker, is a member of Florida for Care's board of commissioners. He presumably was one of two sheriffs in favor of Brandes' bill. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the legislative committee for the sheriffs association, rescinded earlier approval after seeing "the devil in the details," according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Jeff Sharkey, Taylor Patrick Biehl: Sharkey is managing partner and Biehl policy director for the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, which formed in 2014 when Amendment 2 was still going strong. Sharkey has 25 years of lobbying experience and held senior positions in Florida government. Biehl is also a Tallahassee insider and headed government affairs for the powerful Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.
Speaking (Biehl): "It’s no secret that if [legislators], coupled with the stakeholder and advocate, cannot find consensus this coming session, a measure will be back on the ballot in 2016.”
Incidentally: Sharkey and Biehl represent Florida music icon Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Holdings.
John Morgan: A TV celebrity and Orlando personal injury attorney, Morgan led, financed, beseeched and rallied the troops for Amendment 2. He has made good on his promise to re-file a revised amendment for 2016. Morgan is mostly letting others talk, in hopes lawmakers will act.
Speaking: “A lot of it was [made in the media] about me and it should be less about me and more about the patients."
Incidentally: A go-to Democratic money man, Morgan first entered the national fundraising scene in 1994 when he was appointed to Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign finance committee.
Hasta la vista