Friday, May 25, 2018
Politics

Five months after medical pot's big ballot win, anti-drug group helps decide drug's fate

TALLAHASSEE — An anti-drug group opposed to medical marijuana is helping craft Florida laws on pot's expanded use — a cause its founders tried and failed to defeat during last year's elections.

The St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation is one of several anti-drug groups tied to conservative financiers Mel and Betty Sembler that opposed constitutional amendments legalizing medical marijuana in 2014 and 2016. The Semblers, who founded Drug Free America, gave $1 million for a political committee called Drug Free Florida, which fought against last year's amendment that provided greater access to the drug.

Yet despite 71 percent of voters supporting medical marijuana, their foundation is having a say in the legislation that will determine the drug's availability. Drug Free America's executive director, Calvina Fay, lauded current legislation during a March meeting, thanking the House sponsor for including so many of the group's suggestions in the bill.

The group and its lobbying arm, Save Our Society from Drugs, sent state lawmakers a list of suggestions that it says will prevent Florida's medical cannabis program from being abused. About half of the 43 suggestions made it into HB 1397 pushed by the Florida House's majority leader, Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

According to a review of the list, the overall effect of the recommendations would be to make it harder to access medical marijuana.

The role Sembler's group is playing troubles those who support the drug's medical use.

"The suggestion that Drug Free America should be involved in the implementing language is absolutely ludicrous," said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care and one of the writers of amendment. "If your whole goal is to say 'no' to something why should we take your advice in implementing it?"

In an op-ed published last week in the Tampa Bay Times, Pollara said the House bill is contrary to the will of the voters. To make matters worse for Pollara, his organization sent suggested language to the House that did not make it into the bill.

Rodrigues said no single group is influencing the bill and that he considered recommendations and suggested language from groups with a wide assortment of views. Records kept by his staff show he met with at least 70 cannabis lobbyists and activist groups since December.

"I would say there are 40 or more organizations or individuals who could look at our bill and say, 'We helped write that bill,' and say it with a straight face," Rodrigues said.

Whether those groups support medical marijuana didn't play a role in how he viewed them, he said.

"The organizations I could care less about," Rodrigues said. "What I'm interested in is the policy."

Chief among the Drug Free America recommendations that made it into Rodrigues' bill is one requiring doctors to have a three-month relationship with their patients before recommending marijuana to them. Patients and advocates say this needlessly delays treatment.

Another Drug Free America suggestion is a key feature of both House and Senate bills: The prohibition of smoking as a way for patients to consume marijuana. There's broad consensus in Tallahassee supporting the smoking ban and has been for several years. The ban is included in the Senate bill (SB 406) though its sponsor, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said he didn't meet with Drug Free America.

Chronic pain is another significant feature of the legislation. Patients who complain of chronic pain, but have no other medical conditions that would qualify them for the drug, likely won't be allowed to use it.

Drug Free America worries that giving marijuana based on chronic pain alone could be a pathway to abuse of the drug, but the prohibition wasn't among a list of recommendations the group said it provided to Rodrigues and other lawmakers.

Arizona, California and New York allow patients with chronic pain to use the drug, which legalization advocates say is less harmful than opioids like heroin and prescription drugs like oxycodone.

Drug Free America wanted a requirement that two physicians would be needed to recommend cannabis to a minor. It also wanted state-funded campaigns on drug prevention and impaired driving. Both are in Rodrigues' bill, which puts $3 million into anti-drug campaigns.

The group also wanted strict standards on edible marijuana. Rodrigues' bill banned it altogether.

Fay says she is happy the House took up some of her organization's suggestions but that it is "an absurd allegation" to suggest Drug Free America was the driving force behind the House bill.

"Of course we didn't write the bill," she said. "There are some people that are whining that we would even weigh in on this, which is ridiculous. That's what we do: We are a drug policy and prevention organization."

The Semblers created Drug Free America in 1995 after a controversial drug treatment program they founded called Straight Inc. was shut down following accusations of abusing teen participants and holding them against their will. The foundation does not engage in treatment but instead focuses on advocacy and shaping drug policy.

Though Drug Free America has publicly said it supports Rodrigues' bill, some of the stringent rules it wanted to see did not make it into the legislation.

The group wanted to ban the use of cannabis within 1,500 feet of schools and playgrounds and on state university campuses, limit the potency of products that dispensaries can sell and force doctors to give women a pregnancy test before recommending marijuana.

Contact Michael Auslen at [email protected] Follow @MichaelAuslen.

     
Comments
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18