MEDICAL MARIJUANA, SPECIAL INTERESTS, AND HOW OWNING YOUR OWN “CANNABUSINESS” IS STILL JUST A PIPE DREAM

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Despite 71% of Florida voters statewide agreeing to “legal[ize] medical marijuana for individuals with specific debilitating diseases or comparable debilitating conditions as determined by a licensed state physician,” it seems the Florida legislature blew smoke in the face of those voters this past week when they failed to pass any “framework for carrying out a voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.”

The original version of HB 1397, the original House Bill, would have banned smokable versions of marijuana while also supporting special interests, mainly the seven dispensaries currently licensed in Florida that many refer to as a “cartel”. As the bill went back and forth through negotiations between the Florida House and Senate, it became clear late in the legislative session that negotiations were being derailed due to two main issues: The number of dispensaries that could obtain a license and the amount of retail stores each licensed dispensary could have. From what was discussed, the House wanted a system that would favor current license holders, where 10 new licenses would be issued by July 2018 with a cap of 100 storefronts per license, while the Senate favored a system that might allow a more competitive market, where 10 new licenses would be required by this Fall with a cap of 10 storefronts per license. Under the House’s proposal, the seven already existing dispensaries could have setup 700 storefronts before any new licenses were even issued, allowing them to corner the market in Florida before any competitors could even receive a license. The Senate’s version would have capped the number of stores the already existing licensed dispensaries could have in Florida and allow a bit more competition in the market much sooner, by this Fall.

On May 5, the Florida Cannabis Action Network sent out a message to supporters regarding the failure of both the Florida House and Senate in enacting a workable framework that did not pander to special interests. “The House and Senate both gave lip service to working in the interests of patients while taking tens of thousands of dollars from the ‘Have’s’ (those who have a license) and the ‘Have Not’s’ (those who want a license).” Those hoping for a more diverse marketplace for medical marijuana should also not look to the Florida Department of Health (DOH) for such framework. The DOH has been criticized by many for its past roll-out of the 2014 law regarding access to low-THC marijuana, and its draft version of its proposed rules after the passage of Amendment 2 are seen as overly restrictive.

Considering one analysis has valued a Florida cannabis license at around $200 million, it’s no wonder why the already existing dispensaries are highly motivated to pressure legislatures into passing a framework that would allow them to keep their shares of the pie in Florida for as long as possible. With all that money at stake, those companies can afford to lobby members of the House and Senate, which is a reason some believe special interests have played such a prominent role in preventing an actual framework geared toward a more open market from coming into effect.

For many hoping to open their own medical marijuana related company, such hopes might stay a pipe dream…for now.

Trump’s Latest Executive Order: A De Facto Muslim Ban Or Constitutional Exercise of Executive Power?

Trump tweeted Sunday that the order was “not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.” The recent Executive Order signed by President Trump provides for a temporary travel ban into the United States for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days and bars all refuges from anywhere in the world for 120 days. The Executive Order states that such action is necessary to protect the US as “[n]umerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas, or who entered through the United States refugee resettlement program.” However, if protection from known countries with terrorist ties was the purpose, why were Saudi Arabia and Egypt (where the founders of Al Qaeda and many other jihadist groups have originated) left off the list? Could President Trump have been influenced by the Trump Organization’s business ties to those countries?

The 9/11 attackers were from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Lebanon and Egypt, none of which are included in the 90-day ban. Although “[i]t appears that existing restrictions in place during the Obama administration informed Mr. Trump’s list”, both Egypt and Saudi Arabia were left out of the travel ban despite their ties to the 9/11 terrorists and their inclusion on the list of Tier 1 Countries of Particular Concern by the US Government. Interestingly, the Trump Organization has business ties to both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which some speculate may have influenced the decision to leave those countries off the list.

The Trump Organization’s business dealings aside, many groups are calling the Executive Order unconstitutional. These groups point to a provision in the Executive Order that provides an exception for religious minorities applying for visas; this exception, they argue, is a violation of the Establishment Clause as such may be tantamount to a “[p]otential religious test by prioritizing refugees facing religious persecution, which experts believe was intended to help Christians coming from predominantly Muslim countries.” The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit on behalf of two Iraqi refuges that were detained at JFK International Airport alleging violations of the Establishment Clause as well as violations of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Further, although a president’s power as outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is broad in the immigration context, the INA also states that “no person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, has stated that that “Trump’s new policy would run afoul of at least one if not all three of (the) restrictions — nationality, place of birth, or place of residence — depending on how it was applied.” Despite the quick turnaround on the filing of these lawsuits, all these challenges will take time, time that many currently stuck in airports across the country do not have right now.

For those detained at airports, immigration and civil rights lawyers around the country have been pouring in to assist by filing habeas corpus petitions. As habeas review does not depend on underlying due process rights, judges instead focus on whether a detention is authorized. Based upon these filings, several federal judges have issued temporary restraining orders against the Executive Order and Judge Ann Donnelly from the Eastern District of New York recently issued a temporary nationwide stay, blocking the government from removing the immigrants that are currently being detained at airports around the country. However, these are only temporary measures, and many constituents are calling for President Trump to fix the order now.

Even those supporters in Congress of some travel restrictions have criticized the Executive Order and want to see it revised, including exemptions for “green card holders and those who’ve assisted the U.S. armed forces.” U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have stated in a press release that although they support the government’s “responsibility to defend our borders” the US “must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.” Both Senators believe the Executive Order will become “a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.” And they may be right. Experts have said that such executive action has only given ISIS and other anti-Western terrorist organization more fuel for the fire of their movement and may assist in persuading more people for their cause.

For me and many others around the world watching these events unfold, whether Trump has the executive power to enact such sweeping immigration reform is largely irrelevant. The executive Order signed by former President Roosevelt interning Japanese Americans (62% of which were US citizens) was also constitutional and justified at the time by fear and protectionist sentiment. However, just because something may be legal and within the scope of executive authority does not make it right or just.

Traveling to Cuba: What You Need to Know Before Planning Your Next Trip

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In December 2014, President Obama announced that the US will begin to take steps to increase its relations with Cuba. Part of this includes increased trade between the two countries, but, moral quandaries aside, the real question on everyone’s mind (at least those venturous types) is, when can I visit Cuba and get that b-e-a-utiful sand between my toes and experience the vibrant culture? Well, as of August 2016, there are now regular flights to Cuba from the United States from certain airlines/cities; however, it is still technically illegal to travel to Cuba…unless you fit into an exception.

At least right now, there are still restrictions in place that prevent straight tourism (aka sun and sand vacations), but amendments to the regulations of the Department of Treasury and Commerce have made it possible for those living in the US to travel to Cuba and obtain general licenses for these 12 limited reasons:

  • (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing regulations and guidelines.1

Basically, there’s no need to pre-apply anymore as everything is self-managed. If you fall into one of the above categories, then all you need is a valid passport and a Cuban tourist card, which can be obtained from your travel agency, tour operator or airline.

For those not opposed to open trade and tourism between the US and Cuba, I’m sure you can almost picture sipping a Cuba Libre on those white, sandy beaches and delving into Cuba’s rich history from the source. But, what exactly classifies as “educational” and “research” activities or the “transmission of information”? These do seem pretty broad. We know since 2012, Obama has allowed people-to-people programs to reinstitute educational and cultural exchange programs to Cuba, but what if you are not willing to pay for these special programs? Can you still go? It remains to be seen how broad these categories will be interpreted, but some speculate that as long as you go to talk with the people of Cuba, learn about their culture, and discuss the US with them, then you might be on your own cultural and educational tour. Wayne Smith, a consultant at the Center for International Policy in Washington and a former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, told the Huffington Post writer Roque Planas, “As far as the educational trips go, all you have to do is sign a piece of paper saying you’re going to learn about some aspect of Cuban life. . . It’s very easy. Virtually anyone who wants to travel to Cuba now can do so.”2 Despite Mr. Smith’s confidence in the lackadaisical enforcement of the new guidelines, it is too early to tell if planning your own trip alone and with a broad interpretation of what an educational trip is would be worth the fine.

If you do think you fit into one of these 12 categories, make sure you can back it up with valid justifications or else you could be faced with an audit or fines by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Your safest (and most expensive) option is to book your travel through a people-to-people type company with experience in traveling to Cuba. However, you can now also get your visa at the airport check-in counter for flights leaving from the US, which costs an additional fee. Call you airline before you travel to verify.

What method of travel you choose, it is clear that travel to Cuba is easier, and now is the time to discover this gorgeous country and its rich history. Buen viaje!

Copyright © 2017, Lauren Marsicano. All Rights Reserved. All content of this blog is the property and copyright of Lauren Marsicano and may not be reproduced in any format without prior express permission. Contact LawByLauren@gmail.com for more information or to seek permission to reproduce content. This blog is intended for general information and educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. The reader should consult with knowledgeable legal counsel to determine how applicable laws apply to specific facts and situations. Articles posts are based on the most current information at the time they are written. Since it is possible that the laws or other circumstances may have changed since publication, please contact independent legal counsel to discuss any action you may be considering as a result of reading this article. Marsicano + Leyva PLLC is located at 777 Brickell Ave., Suite 500, Miami, FL 33131.

Hello world!

Welcome to LawByLauren! I am a Florida Bar licensed attorney working in South Florida at the law office of Marsicano + Leyva located in Miami, FL. On this blog, I will be posting weekly content that is informative with a dash of fun. My goal is to empower YOU by engaging you into the discussion and educating you on these issues. If you would like to see a specific topic discussed, email me at LawByLauren@Gmail.com, and I will do my best to have it featured here.

Happy reading!

Copyright © 2017, Lauren Marsicano. All Rights Reserved. All content of this blog is the property and copyright of Lauren Marsicano and may not be reproduced in any format without prior express permission. Contact LawByLauren@gmail.com for more information or to seek permission to reproduce content. This blog is intended for general information and educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. The reader should consult with knowledgeable legal counsel to determine how applicable laws apply to specific facts and situations. Articles posts are based on the most current information at the time they are written. Since it is possible that the laws or other circumstances may have changed since publication, please contact independent legal counsel to discuss any action you may be considering as a result of reading this article. Marsicano + Leyva is located at 777 Brickell Ave., Suite 500, Miami, FL 33145.