Michael Minardi, the general counsel for Florida NORML, unloaded on a House committee this week over the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.
Minardi, whose website proclaims he’s “The Gold Standard of the Green Industry,” joined other medical-marijuana smoking proponents in urging the House Health & Human Services Committee to pass a bill that would eliminate the ban.
Before hearing from the advocates Tuesday, committee Chairman Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, made a significant concession by eliminating a proposal that would have required doctors 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 patients could rip off the filters and stuff the weed into bongs, as Rodrigues acknowledged.
Minardi told the committee that smoking is the number one choice for patients in other states where medical marijuana is legal. Smoking is much cheaper than tinctures or vape oils.
The committee also heard from patients who admitted they’re smoking weed so they can benefit from what is known as 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,” Minardi said. “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.”
“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 added.
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 marijuana “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.
A proposal by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, approved this week by the Senate Innovation, Infrastructure and Technology Committee, doesn’t have any restrictions on whole flower sold at dispensaries and would allow patients to buy equipment at smoke shops.
Florida’s new tourism czar, former Sen. Dana Young, is pitching lawmakers to continue setting aside $76 million a year for Visit Florida and is promoting the agency’s ability to overcome negative publicity while drawing record numbers of visitors.
Young, a Tampa Republican tapped by DeSantis to run the public-private tourism agency, said this week that an expected eighth consecutive year of record tourism will be announced before the end of February, even with the problems of red tide outbreaks and Hurricane Michael in 2018.
Constant news coverage of damage in the Panhandle from the October hurricane, including scenes of flattened beach communities, created the equivalent of $35 million in negative media, Young said. Stories about Florida’s waters being filled with red tide accounted for an additional $22 million in negative media.
The red tide perception problems went beyond coastal areas.
“We did a study of red tide and the visitor response to red tide, and in that survey we asked, ‘What city would you be less likely to visit because of red tide?’ They said Orlando,” Young told the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.
“It shows people don’t know the geography of Florida, especially the international visitors,” Young continued. “They hear red tide, they believe it’s the whole state. They hear that there’s a hurricane and believe it’s the whole state.”
State estimates indicate Florida had 118.8 million visitors in 2017, up from 112.4 million in 2016, The state reported 106.6 million visitors in 2015, 98.5 million in 2014, 94.1 million in 2013, 91.5 million in 2012, and 87.3 million in 2011.
DeSantis has recommended lawmakers maintain Visit Florida’s funding at $76 million.
It’s not the same as watching former Attorney General Pam Bondi in high heels heft a displaced dog at the start of a state Cabinet meeting, but dog adoption efforts continue with a statewide elected official.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is taking the leash on the Cabinet’s role as a pet-adoption service with the Humane Society by posting a “Pup of the Month” on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
First up is Mariah, a 50-pound, 2-year-old “sweet and spunky shelter dog,” who as of Thursday remained unadopted.
Patronis has a way to go to match Bondi’s efforts. Over six years, Bondi found homes for more than 70 dogs that she paraded at the start of Cabinet meetings.
SHAW’S POLITICAL PEOPLE
Former state Rep. Sean Shaw, the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for attorney general last year, is keeping himself politically active by launching a progressive center intended to “fight for workers’ rights, civil rights and quality of life.”
Called “People Over Profits” and headquartered in Tampa, the non-profit will focus on providing workers with a living wage, ensuring that health care is a right and that people can enjoy clean air and water, according to an announcement Wednesday.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “This week brings one of the most anticipated days of the year for baseball fans: pitchers and catchers report. Florida welcomes our @FlaSpringTrain Grapefruit League teams, which includes the last two World Series champions, and wishes them good luck in 2019!” — Gov. Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis).