Carlos Guillermo Smith knows hate crimes are real

Chicago’s police chief is accusing”Empire” star Jussie Smollett of using the “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career” by paying two men to stage an attack on him last month.

The allegations concerning Smollett, who is black and gay, sparked an international avalanche of commentary, but one state representative who’s weighing in has more than a passing interest in the matter.

“I decided to finally tell this very deeply personal story because the reality is that hate crimes are real. Homophobia is real. Bigotry is real. And hate violence is on the rise against many groups. Anti-semitism is on the rise. Hate violence against transgender women of color is on the rise, especially in Florida,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said in a telephone interview Thursday evening.

Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is openly gay, spoke with us after he tweeted about his experience as a survivor of “senseless hate violence” when he was a University of Central Florida senior in 2003.

In a telephone interview Thursday evening, Smith recounted the evening 16 years ago when a keg party turned into a gay-bashing attack on him and his roommate, Heath Frank.

The attacker, identified as “Eduardo Alessandro Mongio” in court documents provided by Smith, was “lingering around” and “acting kind of weird” at the crowded party, Smith said.

Other witnesses later said they heard Mongio making homophobic remarks, but “I never heard any of that,” Smith said.

But at some point a bloodied Frank came back inside the apartment, Smith recalled.

“He was red in the face. He was crying. I’m like, Heath, what’s wrong? He said, it’s nothing. Let’s go. Let’s go,” Smith said.

But when they went outside, Mongio confronted Smith and started punching him in the head and face.

“I didn’t know what was going on. But I got banged up pretty bad. When the dust settled, everyone was telling me about how the guy was making all these homophobic slurs about our group, because hey listen, we travel in cliques. We queer people, we stick together,” Smith said. “I don’t remember if the guy was drunk or what his deal was but he started lashing out at . It was like a full-fledged gay-bashing.”

Smith, who was still trying to piece together the events of more than a decade-and-a-half ago, said the police were called and Mongio was arrested. Once in the cop car, according to the police report, Mongio threatened to “get that fucker” and repeatedly referred to Smith and Frank as “faggots.”

“But I remember, the next day, I was so down on myself. I was humiliated. I was embarrassed. It’s hard to describe the feeling that you have when you’ve survived hate violence and you’re not sure what to do with it, especially when you’re young. I was like, what just happened,” he said.

Former state Rep. Joe Saunders, who was one of Florida’s first openly gay legislators and who was one of Smith’s close friends at college, told Smith the campus was “stunned” by the attack.

Saunders quickly penned “his first press release” and organized a rally where students — including Smith, who later worked with Saunders at Equality Florida — demanded that the university update its non-discrimination policy to include LGBT students.

Mongio was charged with two counts of “battery, evidencing prejudice,” and disorderly conduct. Prosecutors later dropped the hate-crimes enhancer — which could have added another five to 10 years to Mongio’s sentence — and the disorderly conduct charge after he agreed to plea no contest to the battery charges. He was sentenced to 312 days in the Orange County Jail followed by a year of probation.

And Mongio’s sentence also required sensitivity training, an anger management course, and a letter of apology to Smith, according to the court record.

Smith said he “felt compelled to speak out” as the controversy around Smollett exploded.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to become of the Jussie Smollett case. But I can already see there’s a narrative out there that hate crimes aren’t real. No. They are. And they’re on the rise. Especially with the election of Donald Trump, who wears hate for other groups on his sleeve,” he said.

Smith said he feels “like justice was served” in his case. But he knows that’s not every other survivor’s experience.

“Even though it hasn’t defined me as a person, it absolutely is part of my experience as an out gay man, as an activist, as a lawmaker who cares deeply about issues of fairness and equality,” he said. “I think that people who now know this about me, they understand why I’m such a passionate advocate for my community. It doesn’t define who I am but its part of my experience.”

Rick Scott gets hung up

He’s back. Sort of.

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With no fanfare we’re aware of, the official portrait of Florida’s 45th governor, Rick Scott, appeared on the wall beside other recent chiefs of state in the hallway.

The portrait of Scott, who’s now a U.S. senator, shows the former governor seated on the desk in what used to be his office. The background features a Florida flag and a picture of his wife, Ann.

Here’s a little Florida history about the portraits, from the Museum of Florida History:

Beginning with Governor Francis Fleming in the 1890s, every chief executive of Florida has had an official portrait painted and hung in the state capitol building. Over the years, an interesting variety of artistic styles has accumulated. In the mid-1950s, the state legislature commissioned Tallahassee artist Clarabel Jett (1908–96) to create oil-enhanced photographs of all Florida governors whose portraits were not yet in the state collection. In 1986, the legislature transferred custody of the portrait collection to the Museum of Florida History.

All of the Governor’s portraits are represented at the Historic Capitol. The more recent governors’ portraits appear in the first-floor hallway of the new Capitol, beginning with Claude Kirk (1967-1971). In keeping with the tradition of official governors’ portraits, our current governor, Ron DeSantis, will not commission his portrait until the end of his term.

By Jim Turner.

#Nosmokeisajoke: Florida laughing stock over MMJ smoking ban

Pot exclamation point!.pngLawyer Michael Minardi, the general counsel for Florida NORML unloaded on a Florida House committee yesterday over the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Minardi, whose website proclaims he’s “The Gold Standard of the Green Industry,” joined other MMJ smoke proponents to shake the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee into axing the prohibition.

Before hearing from the advocates, committee Chairman Ray Rodrigues made a significant concession by stripping a provision that would have required docs to get approval from a “case review panel” before they could order smokable marijuana for patients.

The House plan now would restrict patients to buying pre-rolled joints with filters from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The advocates aren’t crazy about that provision, but hey, they can always rip off the filters and stuff the weed into a bong or whatev once they get it home, per Ray Rod.

Minardi told the committee that smoke is the number one choice for patients in other states where medical marijuana is legal. (It’s much cheaper than tinctures or vape oils). The committee also heard from patients who admitted they’re smoking weed so they can benefit from the “entourage effect” you can only get from whole flower.

“Patients are going to continue to use flower whether or not you do this (legalize smoking) or not. They’re going to either get it from the black market, as they already are, because they know it’s what works for them. Every other state in this country is laughing at us, saying that we gave our patients tinctures, and we have wax and shatter on the shelves, and not flower,” Minardi said.

“Do you understand the impact of that and how ironic that is? You’re giving them the hard stuff, but not letting them have the beer but take a shot of tequila. That’s what that’s equivalent to,” he went on.

We’re pretty sure that most of the members of the committee have no clue what “wax” or “shatter” is, but who hasn’t had a Dos Equis followed by a shot of Cuervo Gold?

Lawmakers are taking the wrong approach with filters, if they’re concerned about screening toxins out of joints, according to Minardi.

“A bong hit is the best way to do that,” he advised.

The pre-rolled, filtered MMJ “cigarettes” are sure to be a negotiation point between the House and Senate as they try to meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ March 15 deadline to nix the smoking ban.

Sen. Jeff Brandes’ proposal, approved by the Innovation, Infrastructure and Technology Committee yesterday afternoon, doesn’t have any restrictions on whole flower sold at dispensaries, and would allow patients to buy equipment at smoke shops.

The buy-your-bong-at-a-bong-shop provision will likely be another item on the negotiation table.

Gaetz takes on Cuomo after going viral over Parkland exchange with Parkland dad

After making international news for scolding the parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teens who were among the 17 students and faculty gunned down a year ago, Congressman Matt Gaetz spent nearly 11 minutes in a verbal slugfest with CNN’s Chris Cuomo last night.

Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican who is one of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top advisors, made national news after a heated exchange with Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin (Guac) Oliver, was among the 14 slain students killed at the Parkland school a year ago.

The confrontation between the former Florida House representative and the grieving dad came during a congressional hearing on gun violence. Oliver repeatedly yelled out when Gaetz, a fierce ally of President Donald Trump, brought up The Wall as a critical solution to the issue. Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was also among the victims and who was sitting next to Oliver, also loudly objected to Gaetz’s take.

Video of Gaetz pointing his finger at Oliver and Guttenberg, and questioning whether  the men should be booted from the committee went viral.

Last night, Gaetz — a strong NRA proponent — told Cuomo he “wasn’t trying to get Mr. Oliver thrown out” of the committee.

Gaetz said he was concerned for a woman who was “violently raped in a gun-free zone” who was seated in front of Oliver.

“He didn’t mean to intimidate her, but they did,” Gaetz said.

When pressed by Cuomo about why he brought up illegal immigration during a debate about gun violence, Gaetz said he “wanted to highlight the fact that there are victims of gun violence who would be in a better position today” with a wall across the southern U.S. border.

“I did not want to throw the guy out,” he said. “A wall will mean fewer people will die at the hands of illegal aliens.”

Oliver later told CNN he found Gaetz’s remarks at the committee hearing, at which universal background check legislation was discussed, was “pretty offensive.”

“No. 1, I don’t think you’re qualified for this. No. 2, you’re asking us to waste time. You are wasting time from us really to go ahead and solve the problem,” Oliver said. “If this is how this is going to work, I have to stop this guy. I have to let the nation know he’s wrong.”

Watch Oliver on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.

Speaker Oliva: Florida pot system “not terribly free market”

img_0971(1)He’s not calling it a cartel, as Gov. Ron DeSantis did right out of the gate.

But House Speaker José Oliva does admit the state’s vertically integrated medical marijuana system — which requires operators to grow, process and dispense cannabis and related products — “isn’t terribly free market.”

“I couldn’t possibly be a defender of free markets and call that structure a free market,” the Miami Lakes Republican, who made his fortune in his family’s cigar business, told reporters at The Associated Press’s annual pre-session gathering in the Capitol today.

“The limiting of licenses and the limiting of dispensaries is probably the greatest affront to the free-market argument,” he went on.

Whether the Legislature will agree to change the current system during the upcoming session, however, remains a mystery.

When asked about revisiting the state’s MMJ regulatory structure, Senate President Bill Galvano gave a tepid response.

“I expect that bills will be filed in that regard,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

Despite his free-market concerns, Oliva was even less enthusiastic, using a lot of double negatives to describe the House’s position.

“I’m not entirely sure that that’s not something that we will be revisiting this year, because it affects access and it could certainly affect price,” Oliva said. “We’re still trying to get an idea of what kind of demand there really is for this. But I wouldn’t disagree … It hasn’t been a terribly free-market process.”

Shortly after taking office, DeSantis bashed vertical integration and the caps on licenses.

But this week, the governor appeared to walk back his opposition to those issues, focusing instead on his demand that the Legislature do away with the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana.

Here’s what Oliva said when we asked him if doing away with vertical integration would destabilize a market in which licenses have sold for tens of millions of dollars — including one transaction in which a license sold for $63 million in cash earlier this month.

“If the question is, would having a more free-market approach destabilize the private market, in particular the value of these licenses, well, sure, that’s what markets do,” the speaker said, making us feel a little foolish for asking the question, TBH.

“If the question is, will it destabilize the market and its ability to bring forth products that are safe and traceable and consistent, I don’t think it will do that. So, yeah, if you put more houses on the market, chances are you’ll have to lower the price of your house,” he concluded.

Oh, and about that repeal of the smoking prohibition the governor wants?

DeSantis may be forced to carry through on his threat to drop the appeal in the lawsuit over smokable medical marijuana, based on what the legislative leaders said today.

To put it mildly, Oliva’s not keen on allowing patients to smoke their medicine.

“Is one to believe that an 8-year-old child should be smoking marijuana and inhaling smoke into their lungs? I’ve been in the smoke business my entire life, and I’ve never heard anyone say it’s good for you,” he said.

The speaker indicated the push for smokable MMJ is just a ploy to open the door to recreational weed.

“Is medicine a façade and a masquerade for recreational marijuana? If it is, that won’t be very supported by the House. If we really want to look at marijuana, and what ailments it can truly relieve and people it can actually benefit, then that’s what we’re looking at,” Oliva said.

Fried: State should crack down on rogue pot docs

img_1116State medical boards should take action against Florida physicians who are inappropriately recommending medical marijuana for their patients, Florida Cabinet member and state Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried said Tuesday.

“Our priority is making sure we have professionals inside of this program,” said Fried, a Democrat and former medical marijuana lobbyist who ran for the statewide Cabinet post last year  on the promise of making medical marijuana more easily accessible to those who qualify.

“But, of course, if any doctors are getting in the program and are unethically prescribing and recommending the medical marijuana, that’s something that we need to look into and that’s something for the Board of Medicine to have some swift action on,” she added.

The News service of Florida reported in December that a new state analysis prepared for the Legislature shows that the number of Floridians using medical marijuana continues to grow despite a slow rollout.

In the first nine months of 2018, more than 136,000 patients across the state received certifications from 1,070 physicians to receive medical marijuana.

In all, those patients received 174,254 certifications — some could have received multiple certifications — for a host of medical conditions that qualify them to use marijuana. That included 41,143 certifications, or nearly 24 percent of the overall total, for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report, issued by the Physician Certification Pattern Review Panel, also shows that physicians in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Palm Beach counties accounted for more than 30 percent of the medical marijuana certifications between January and Sept. 30.

The average medical-marijuana dose ordered was 372 milligrams per day, according to the data. But in Highlands County, where 470 patients were certified to receive the drugs, the average dose was 3,956 milligrams.

And in Nassau County, where two patients were reported as being certified, the average dose ordered was 17 milligrams.

Thirty-one states allow patients to use medical marijuana, including nine states that also have approved marijuana for recreational purposes.

Lawmakers in 2017 passed a state law authorizing the use of medical marijuana, which was approved by Florida voters in November 2016.  The new law required Florida’s two medical boards to form a joint committee that examines and analyzes the ordering patterns for physicians who certify patients. The panel is required to annually submit a report to the governor and legislative leaders. The new report is the first time such a document has been produced and submitted to the Legislature.

The Legislature is expected to address medical marijuana when it meets in its regular 60-day legislative session that is scheduled to begin March 5.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana runs afoul the intent of amendment, and has given lawmakers until March 15 to repeal the smoking ban.

— By The News Service of Florida staff writer Christine Sexton.

The Florida connection to that Super Bowl-banned weed ad and a $63 million pot deal

img_1116CBS generated a lot of buzz by just saying no to a Super Bowl ad trumpeting the benefits of medical marijuana, and of course, #BecauseFlorida, there’s a connection to the Sunshine State.

Acreage Holdings, the Canadian-based MMJ company backed by former Speaker of the House John Boehner, was willing to pay $5 million for a 60-second ad, according to reports. But CBS put the ixnay on the spot.

But the Super Bowl kerfuffle isn’t the only news Acreage made this month.

Acreage Holdings paid $63 million — in CASH $$$$ — to acquire Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami, Inc., also known as Green Owl Pharms, according to a press release issued by the company.

“The combination of policy and demographics in Florida makes it one of the largest growth cannabis markets in the U.S. and we could not be more pleased to close this deal,” said Kevin Murphy, Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Acreage.  With the fourth largest population in the U.S., Florida is expected to quickly become the fifth largest cannabis market with an estimated $1.1 billion in retail cannabis sales by 2022, according to Arcview Market Research.

It’s worth noting that Green Owl hasn’t started selling anything yet, and according to the latest update from OMMU, hasn’t even started cultivating cannabis.

Nature’s Way sued the state failing to get a license way back when from what’s now the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. But, after an administrative law judge scorched the state for using a flawed system to decide which applicants were granted the coveted licenses, the Department of Health settled with Nature’s Way in July and granted them a license.

More from the Jan. 4 press release announcing Acreage — whose legal team includes Florida regulatory whiz John Lockwood — had closed on the Nature’s Way deal:

Acreage paid the shareholders of Nature’s Way $67 million plus assumption of certain transaction expenses of the sellers, with $63 million payable in cash, of which $10 million had previously been escrowed in November at the time the parties signed the definitive transaction agreement.  The remaining $4 million in consideration will be paid in units of a subsidiary of Acreage, High Street Capital Partners, LLC.  The units are exchangeable for Subordinate Voting Shares of Acreage at the election of the holder.

Nature’s Way holds a vertically integrated operating license to operate a cultivation and processing facility as well as up to 30 medical cannabis dispensaries, which Acreage anticipates will carry The Botanist retail banner and soon-to-launch cannabis products. Acreage anticipates that it will invest significant financial capital throughout Florida to build out its cultivation and retail operations.

Acreage already operates in more than a dozen states, including Colorado, California and Massachusetts, according to the company’s website.

The pot license sales keep coming, despite a decided shift in attitude toward MMJ from new Gov. Ron DeSantis, who quickly made separated himself from his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. DeSantis blamed lawmakers for creating “cartels” through the state’s current vertical-integration system, and has given them until mid-March to do away with a ban on smoking medical marijuana.