Pensacola, Florida
Friday October 19th 2018

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Thumped by Trump

By Rick Outzen

On Thursday, Jan. 4, two members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet announced initiatives that could have detrimental impacts on Florida, a state that helped the Republican billionaire win the White House in 2016.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he had rescinded the “Cole Memo” and two additional memos related to marijuana enforcement policy. He directed all U.S. Attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to “use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis, and thwart violent crime across our country.”

“It is the mission of the Department of Justice to enforce the laws of the United States, and the previous issuance of guidance undermines the rule of law and the ability of our local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners to carry out this mission,” said Sessions in a press release.

Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) quickly condemned Sessions’ stance. He called the decision “disappointing and cruel” and “a huge step backward for states’ rights, for common-sense reform, and for the American people.”

While serving in the Florida House, Gaetz sponsored the Compassionate Care Act that legalized non-euphoric marijuana for children suffering from severe seizures. In 2016, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that allows patients with illnesses, such as cancer, AIDS and Parkinson’s Disease, to purchase cannabis with doctor approval.

“I have seen children, in my district and nationwide, who have been helped by medical marijuana when all other treatments have failed,” said Gaetz. “Has AG Sessions seen a child with juvenile epilepsy? Has he seen a child have a seizure? I have.”

He added, I’ve seen tears stream down a mother’s face as she cradled her daughter in her arms, watching her little girl’s eyes roll back in her head, her skin turning blue from lack of oxygen.

I’ve also seen this same little girl smiling and laughing, playing sports and having friends — her epilepsy made manageable by medical marijuana. Attorney General Sessions thinks she’s a felon. I think she’s a hero.”

In April, Rep. Gaetz introduced legislation that would move cannabis from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug—moving marijuana from an opioid-like status to a steroid-like status. The move would open the door for research and access to the drug for a wide range of medical uses.

On “Pensacola Speaks,” he said that the Attorney General had thrown a wrench in the system in a lot of states that have created systems for the appropriate labeling and accurate testing of medical marijuana to ensure it’s a reliable product for patients and doctors.

“To treat people who’ve gone through that process the same as you would treat some drug dealer is outrageous,” he said. “It is offensive to the Tenth Amendment, which would clearly, in my opinion, put this as an issue to be determined by the states.”

National Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Aaron Smith also spoke out against the AG decision and pointed out that President Donald Trump has promised during his campaign to “not interfere with state cannabis programs, which have been overwhelmingly successful in undercutting the criminal market.”

“This news from the Department of Justice is disturbing, especially in light of the fact that 73 percent of voters oppose federal interference with state cannabis laws,” said Smith.  “In addition to safely regulating the production and sale of cannabis, state-based cannabis programs have created tens of thousands of jobs and generated more than a billion dollars in state and local tax revenue to date.”

He warned, “Any significant change in federal enforcement policy will result in higher unemployment and will take funds away from education and other beneficial programs. Those revenues will instead go back to drug cartels and other criminal actors.”

Gaetz is concerned about the impact on research and development of medicinal uses for marijuana.

“I think that the real harm in this will come in the investor community,” he said. “Funding for that research will be a lot harder to come by as a consequence of the Attorney General’s decision, and the victim there is the patient.”

Gaetz also remembered Trump’s “enlightened” view on medical marijuana during his campaign and believed it won him votes among Millennials.

“To see his Attorney General really pivot off of that shows me that the Attorney General isn’t necessarily serving the President well in this regard,” he said.

Drill, Baby, Drill
On the same day of Sessions’ announcement, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke proposed the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history. The Draft Proposed Program includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas – 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic Region.

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” said Secretary Zinke.

The Sierra Club Florida vowed to fight the plan.

“This senseless, exploitive move threatens Florida’s $67 billion tourism industry, from the white sand beaches of Pensacola to the mangrove shorelines of the Florida Keys, from Miami Beach to Amelia Island,” said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida Chapter director.

He added, “The threats to the state are not only the visual blight of the offshore rigs and their accompanying industrial onshore storage and transportation but the numerous small leaks and major spills making their way to Florida beaches and poisoning fisheries and iconic marine life such as manatees and dolphins.”

Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who are expected to battle for Nelson’s Senate seat, said they also intend to fight the plan.

“Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling — which is something I oppose in Florida,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

Nelson called the proposal “an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment.”

He said, “This proposal defies all common sense, and I will do everything I can to defeat it.”

Gaetz also spoke out against drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida shores and worried about its impact on our military bases.

“This is totally inconsistent with the notion of rebuilding and restoring our military, central to President Trump’s campaign theme,” he said. “We’re working together as a Florida delegation to find a legislative solution to try to block this effort by the Department of the Interior to be placing oil rigs potentially nine miles off our shores within the next five years.”

This proposal would take our nation back decades, literally digging us deeper into old and increasingly obsolete forms of energy. Fossil fuels are on their way out for a range of economic and environmental reasons, and any increase in drilling is a direct threat to Florida’s beaches and the health of the Gulf.

Christian Wagley, a coastal organizer for Gulf Restoration Network, spoke for many Floridians.

“Nobody in Florida wants this,” he said. “The business community, residents, the military—they’re all aligned in opposition to drilling in the eastern Gulf.”

Wagley added, “The pushback is going to be massive. The people of Florida have not forgotten the experience of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Why even propose something as thoroughly opposed as this?”