Promoting the pot industry in Florida

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Cannabis plants from a marijuana grow house. By Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (May 2011).

Backroom Briefing: Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida
By Dara Kam and Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Pointing to a need for education, a handful of the state’s medical marijuana operators have formed a trade association designed to “foster a thriving medical marijuana industry.”

Members of the newly minted Florida Medical Marijuana Trade Association include some of the state’s largest pot companies.

The group’s president is Chris Ferguson, a former director of the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use who now is a vice-president of Verano Holdings, which operates in Florida as MuV.

The association’s goal “is really to foster a thriving medical-marijuana industry,” Ferguson told The News Service of Florida in an interview.

Companies that have joined the group include Verano, AYR Wellness, Curaleaf, Fluent, Green Thumb Industries, Surterra and The Cannabist Company, the association said in a news release. Trulieve, the state’s largest medical marijuana operator, is not a part of the group.

Along with Ferguson, the association tapped Shamarial Roberson, an epidemiologist who is a former deputy secretary at the Department of Health, to serve as executive director.

Roberson said the association will advocate for “research and advancement” on the medical marijuana front.

“There’s a need for a coordinated effort on medical marijuana to look for those options for research,” Roberson said. “Having a trade association really helps to push out the message to make sure education is there.”

The association’s creation came as cannabis insiders and investors anxiously await a decision from the Florida Supreme Court about a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana for people age 21 and older. The court heard arguments about the proposal but has not ruled on whether the measure meets legal requirements to go before voters in November. Justices have until April 1 to issue an opinion.

The association also kicked off as the number of medical marijuana operators, currently at 25, is poised to nearly double.

State health officials for the past year have been sifting through a batch of more than six dozen applications for 22 new medical marijuana licenses. The applications were submitted more than six years after Florida voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment broadly authorizing medical marijuana and after lawmakers in 2017 approved a framework for the industry.

The association will advocate for medical marijuana companies “by promoting pro-patient and pro-business policies and regulatory initiatives, fostering collaboration and best practice sharing and promoting education, training, and public awareness for the many benefits of medical cannabis,” a news release said.

Ferguson said the group wants to highlight marijuana’s medicinal qualities and pointed to recent actions by the Biden administration that could lead to the “re-scheduling” of marijuana, which is classified by the federal government in the same group of drugs as heroin.

The move “shows that the federal government is keenly aware that there are medicinal properties,” Ferguson said. “We’re very hopeful about that.”

‘HEADLINE GRAB’

New College of Florida brushed off sanctions by the American Association of University Professors, which said the state university has created “unacceptable conditions” for faculty members.

“The AAUP lacks the authority to sanction New College of Florida, or any college or university for that matter,” New College spokesman Nathan March said in an online post. “The recent announcement from the AAUP is a headline grab, echoing the sensationalistic tone of their report issued over two months ago.”

March noted that New College President Richard Corcoran pushed back against the group in December, when it released a critical report about measures approved by the Legislature, Gov. Ron DeSantis and higher-education officials and an effort by conservatives to remake the Sarasota school.

“Their persistent targeting of New College for any change they disagree with is clear evidence that New College is at the forefront of reforming higher education,” March said.

On Monday, the association criticized school leaders for an “aggressively ideological agenda” instituted “without meaningful faculty involvement.”

HOUSE CLIMATE CHANGE

House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, announced Wednesday the thermostat was being raised in the chamber after several lawmakers brought space heaters to the floor because of “frigid” conditions. He said the space heaters raised concerns about an electric overload.

“We want to keep you warm, but we don’t want our board to go out as we’re voting on your bill,” Renner said, referring to the electronic board that shows votes.

Renner also advised people seeking warmth to use blankets.

SOCIAL MEDIA POST OF THE WEEK

“I am grateful our concerns were heard. ‘Fetal personhood’ — legally designating a fetus as a person with rights, including the right to life from the moment of conception — diminishes the rights of women and mothers, opening the door for further restriction on abortion and reproductive medicines like IVF. Thankfully, it appears personhood will not be the law of the land in our state.” — Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book (@LeaderBookFL), after a controversial bill about allowing parents to file civil lawsuits seeking damages for the wrongful death of an “unborn child” stalled in the Senate.

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