Jeff Brandes

#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.

Brandes — and his mom — head back to college

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is heading back to college this week.

 The 1999 Carson-Newman University graduate will deliver the winter commencement address at his alma mater on Friday, where his mother — Mary Tibbets Brandes — will be presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Brandes’ mother is a 1971 graduate of the private Baptist school. She would later become the first teacher hired at Northside Christian School in St. Petersburg, eventually becoming the head of the school.

“The Brandes family has a long association with our university and the Carson-Newman family is proud to claim them as our own,” University President J. Randall O’Brien stated in a release on the school’s website.

The school notes that Sen. Brandes has “earned a reputation for innovative approaches in education, job creation and transportation matters.”

Brandes is the senator who for years pushed for statewide app-based ride-sharing rules and continues to call for laws that would open the roads to driver-less vehicles.

The state lawmaker, who received the school’s “Outstanding Young Alumnus Award” in 2015, graduated with a bachelor of science in business administration from the Jefferson City, Tennessee school that also produced Millard Caldwell, Florida’s 29th governor, and University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes. Stokes served as Florida State University’s interim president prior to the 2014 appointment of John Thrasher.

By Jim Turner.

Quick pot bites from the floor

Lawmakers are set to pass a roll-out of Amendment 2, the constitutional proposal overwhelmingly approved by voters last year that legalized medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients.

Yesterday’s debate over the pot legislation — which would add 10 MMJ licenses to the state’s current 7 operators and set a cap of 25 dispensaries per operator (sort of) — included some exchanges that elicited groans, giggles and gasps from the 5th floor press galleries and others observing the fireworks.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, who sponsored an amendment that would have allowed patients to smoke marijuana products said the smoking ban is unconstitutional.

“There’s going to e a lawsuit and we’re going to lose,” he said.

Clemens also rejected arguments that patients shouldn’t be allowed to smoke pot because smoking isn’t healthy, pointing out that some patients are terminally ill or suffer from diseases like ALS.

“Are we really going to tell those folks that we’re worried about your lung health 30 years down the road when you’ve got six months to live? That’s absurd,” he said.

Questions about who would benefit from a component of the bill that would give preference to current or one-time citrus processors who want to gain entree into the pot industry were largely left unanswered.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, offered an amendment on the floor that would have stricken the provision from the bill, using an olfactory analogy to prove his point.

“You and I know this doesn’t smell right,” Brandes, who has pushed a broad expansion of the marijuana market.”There are industries that go in and out of business all the time.
You should allow a process that allows everyone to compete.”

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who once served as president of the chamber, backed him up.

“Enough’s enough,” Lee said, adding that the provision should have allowed health officials to also give preference to other facilities “situated for reuse” in blighted or economically depressed areas. “But my guess is this is for one company. We’re just about soon to find out who it is. For me enough’s enough. Enough’s enough.”

That drew an explanation from Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

“First of all, the way this language is written is for no one that is guaranteed a license. It is very specific that says you have a better opportunity,” Simpson said in what was, for him, an unusually long response.

Simpson said health officials might give the citrus processors “two additional points” when scoring the applications, and that the provision could help a failing industry.

In certain parts of the state, “you will see these large factories that used to be orange (producers) with hundreds of jobs and sometimes thousands of jobs,” Simpson said.

“Dade City, Florida, had two of these facilities. Both are gone. And today we have more than 20 of these facilities where farmers and groups of farmers have tens of millions of dollars of capital tied up in these facilities and now they are shuttered. This amendment simply says that in the process of adding to license holders they can have a consideration of favorability, all other things being equal,” he said. “These are food-grade facilities. These aren’t just farmers with stands on the side of the road.”

In the lower chamber, a discussion of the ban on smoking included in the legislation prompted an intra-party dispute.

Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat who was instrumental in the passage of the state’s 2014 low-THC marijuana law, read from the language of the amendment, which said that smoking can be forbidden in public places.

She noted that lawmakers are being hammered by proponents of the measure who insist that the amendment allows patients to smoke pot products, a campaign that’s generated the hashtag #nosmokeisajoke.

“It’s very easy to get sidetracked and come up with hashtags and campaigns,” Edwards, a lawyer, said. “I do not want us to be sued. Nobody here wants to be sued because you know what? A lawsuit benefits one attorney, one firm. It does not help us get this to the patients quicker.”

Rob Bradley predicted the medical marijuana legislation would evolve into an annual examination, much like fights over alcohol laws.

“We are going to open this law and revisit it and tweak it every year. There’s an alcohol bill every year. …and there’s going to be a marijuana bill every year,” Bradley, who’s been in charge of the pot legislation for the past three years.

Bradley also defended an element of the bill that allows local governments to ban dispensaries but, cities and counties can’t limit the number of retail outlets if they permit them at all.

“I’ll be very frank. This language makes some of the incumbents mad. This language makes some of the counties and cities not particularly happy,” he said.

The provision was intended to “strike a balance” between local control and guaranteeing access to medical marijuana to patients, Bradley said.

“This is not a joke. This isn’t Cheech and Chong. This is serious medicine, and it should be treated as such,” he said.