Jacob Schrull produced this update.
Hourly News Update
Jacob Schrull produced this update.
Michelle Manzione produced this update.
Medical marijuana could potentially be legalized in Florida if voters pass Amendment 2 this November.
The amendment would legalize medical marijuana for those who meet specific qualifications. As November approaches, both sides are urging voters to make it out to the polls.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd warns Amendment 2 is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
“The amendment is not what everyone thinks it is,” he said. “This may lead us down a road that we can’t just turn back around.”
Judd said he is not necessarily against the potential use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but this amendment is loosely written and allows for loopholes.
“I’m not a doctor or a scientist,” he said, “but there is plenty of research showing smoking marijuana can lead to more health problems.”
Judd pointed out the Florida Sheriffs Association supported “Charlotte’s Web” legislation, a 2014 bill using the nickname for a type of medicinal marijuana pill high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabidiol. These types of marijuana are sometimes provided as pills to children to help treat seizures because it is a non-smoked form of the drug.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana contains more than 100 cannabinoids, a large family of chemicals related to the plant’s main psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabidiol, or THC. The mind-altering constituent helps stimulate appetite and may reduce nausea, pain, inflammation and spasticity. The other main cannabinoid of current interest is CBD, which is non-psychoactive and may be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation, controlling epileptic seizures as well treating psychosis and addictions.
Judd said loopholes in the amendment worry him. Specifically, the leniency of qualifications to be a care-giver, someone who can legally obtain medicinal marijuana for someone else who meets the qualifications. Judd also expressed concern about doctors being able to prescribe the drug more loosely to children.
“We can’t let brilliant lawyers draw up language like ‘other conditions’ to give doctors a blank check to write prescriptions for people suffering from chronic conditions of stress and irritability,” he said.
Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair has a similar view on the amendment’s wording and potential loopholes.
Blair said the opportunity for minors to receive medical marijuana prescriptions is not worth the potential risk of transitioning to harder drugs.
“Marijuana is addictive, and it is a gateway drug,” he said. “In almost every drug case I have seen, the drug almost everyone has started on was marijuana.”
Drugs, he said, drive crime. Even though prescription pills are legal for medicinal use, they can still end up in minors’ hands. He said the safety and well-being of the public are his main concerns.
“Potential medicine for sick and dying people is not what I am against,” Blair said. “The amendment’s language just needs to be more tightly written to avoid an increase in drug-related crime.”
However, not everyone is skeptical of the language. United for Care Director Ben Pollara said the language in the amendment was carefully chosen. United for Care is an organization in favor of legalizing medicinal marijuana.
“The Supreme Court has already decided that the language was sufficient enough,” Pollara said.
Doctors would still be held to a strict medical standard for writing prescriptions.
“Amendment 2 will allow doctors to give patients an alternate option to more addictive pain killers that may have more detrimental side effects without being looked at like drug-dealers,” he said.
Charlotte’s Web was a start, but legislators still haven’t gone far enough in, Pollara’s opinion.
John Morgan, an attorney at Morgan & Morgan and a United for Care supporter, stands with Pollara. He believes if the amendment is worded too strictly, it could kill the potential for good.
At an appearance Morgan made on Sept. 10 at The Swamp Restaurant near the University of Florida, he said the potential for medicinal purposes is there, but since marijuana is a Schedule I drug, it’s much harder to do research. Schedule I drugs have no recognized medicinal purpose and a high potential for abuse, according to the Controlled Substance Act.
Morgan said Charlotte’s Web didn’t go far enough because the bill was so tightly regulated that it never accomplished its purpose. He said the responsibility falls on the user to make sure marijuana is not abused.
“They say we’re worried about it getting to the hands of children, the same argument against the gun people,” Morgan said. “Once we pass this, lock up your medical marijuana with the guns, and kids won’t get either one of them.”
With November quickly approaching and both sides trying to drum up support, time will tell whether proponents will gain enough support in the polls or if marijuana will remain illegal.
Five new hotels will open in Gainesville over the next few years: the Hotel Indigo, the Hyatt, the Element, a Home2 Suites and a TownePlace Suites.
The influx has some people concerned about the consequences for existing hotels and the local economy.
“I think there is a need for hotels. I don’t think there is a need for five hotels,” said Megan Eckdahl, president of the Alachua County Hospitality Council. “The only downfall is that we were in such a low for so long that we’re now starting to be able to raise our rates and gain the occupancy level.”
The total occupancy for hotels in Alachua County was 58.1 percent for July 2014, according to the Smith Travel Research report. This is a small increase from 57.8 percent in July 2013. The average daily rate was also very similar to the previous year, increasing from $77.79 in July 2013 to $79.52 in July of this year.
Occupancy and average daily rates during the week are much lower than on the weekends. Gainesville hotels hardly reach capacity on the weekends. Having an additional 500 rooms does not bode well with hotels.
Eckdahl said she fears developers act too quickly when they see events that increase hotel traffic, such as Gator football games and University of Florida graduations. These events only take place a few weekends per year.
Tony Trusty, general manager of the UF Hilton, agrees that filling rooms is difficult without major events, especially during the week.
“There are more weekdays than there are weekend days,” Trusty said. “If you’re feeding a family and eat really good on Saturday and Sunday, but they starve during the week, you wouldn’t want to add more children to the family.”
One of his main concerns is that all five of the future hotels are limited-service, as opposed to full-service. Limited-service hotels are less expensive, but offer guests fewer amenities and generally no meeting space.
Trusty asserts that by building more limited-service hotels, the clientele is being spread thinner rather than increasing. This will create more competition among hotels, forcing them to lower their average daily rates.
“We are heavily laden with select-service…we need to build more full service hotels,” Trusty said. “That grows your average rate and gives you the capacity to have bigger conferences because everybody has the necessary space.”
The UF Hilton is one of only three full-service hotels in Gainesville. Even though it would mean more competition, Trusty said it would be best for the community to have more full-service hotels. It would create more business and the additional bed tax would increase county funding.
Others are more optimistic. John Pricher, executive director of Visit Gainesville, said he believes that Gainesville’s newer industries will attract visitors to help sustain the hotels, on both weekends and weekdays.
“We’re seeing our corporate travel starting to increase,” he said. “Especially with the innovation things going on by campus. That market is growing for us and I think we’re going to see it more and more.”
While more hotels encourage others to compete, smaller businesses and local bed-and-breakfasts may struggle to stay afloat. Trusty said he believes some will close.
However, Cindy Montalto, owner of the Magnolia Plantation, said she does not think new hotels will affect Gainesville’s bed-and-breakfast destinations.
“I don’t think that they’ll really have much effect on my business,” Montalto said. “Some new hotels have even brought me more business because I look at their rates and go $20 below so people want to stay here.”
Other small hotels have already closed to make room for new businesses. One of the five hotels, Home2 Suites, will soon replace the iconic Bambi Motel on 13th St. The extended-stay hotel is set to open in 2015 and will have 95 to 100 rooms. (AP Street)
Another two of the five hotels will be extended-stay. Element Gainesville, an environmentally conscious hotel, will open in March of 2017. The 123-room hotel will be located on Archer Rd. by 16th Ave. The third, a 96-room TownePlace Suites, is replacing the Holiday Inn West on the corner of Newberry and Tower Rd. It is set to open in December.
The Hotel Indigo will be a part of a new neighborhood, Celebration Pointe, located on Archer Rd. just west of Interstate 75. It is scheduled to open in 2016. The 120-room boutique hotel will serve locally-sourced food, providing a unique experience that guest won’t receive at a normal hotel.
The fifth is reported to be a Hyatt located behind the UF Hilton near The Grove, a student-housing community.
Although the new hotels will disrupt the current industry in Gainesville, both Eckdahl and Pricher agree that existing locations will develop new strategies to attract customers.
“I think the hotels will do well, they’re going to be just like a shiny new object,” Eckdahl said. “Some guests will stay with the new and some will come back to their previous choices.”
The Department of Corrections launched a Transparency Database on all Florida inmate deaths from the last 14 years.
The database, launched Sept. 9, shows the status of investigations and the manner of death. According to Jessica Cary, Director of the Office of Communications at the DOC, the purpose of the database is to provide information about what happens and to show the appropriate details in order to be transparent.
According to the database, closed cases can be listed as an accident, suicide, homicide or undetermined death. Some cases are still open, so the manner of death is still pending.
Through the use of this technology, Cary said that the DOC has an opportunity to provide greater access to the functions of the department, especially in cases when an inmate dies in one of the facilities.
“There has been some interest on inmate deaths,” Cary said. “This way we’re able to provide all of the information in one location so that anybody who’s interested can look and see, and hopefully it will help answer any questions they may have.”
For closed, non-natural deaths that took place in 2014, summary reports are included. Cary said that investigative case summaries from previous years that are not still under investigation will continue to be added in the coming days and weeks.
Redactions to the case summaries are present due to protected health information, security information and security system plans, Cary said.
DOC is responsible for 49 major correctional institutions that hold more than 100,000 inmates across the state of Florida, according to the database. Over half of the population has been convicted of a violent crime.
These crimes include murder, sexual offense or an aggravated battery. The rest of the population are convicted of crimes like burglary and theft or drug possession, sale or trafficking, according to the database.
“I think [the database] provides a really good snapshot of this [inmate] population,” Cary said. “You’re looking at a population that does not necessarily resemble the demographics of Florida’s general population.”
Florida’s population of inmates is overwhelmingly male. Of these inmates, 93 percent are men, and 21 percent are at or over the age of 50, according to the database.
Many of those inmates have not received regular healthcare prior to custody and may suffer from existing conditions like mental health issues and alcohol or drug addiction.
Chief Deputy at Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office, Ron Colvin, said he sees where the database would help ease any suspicions that might arise about a case.
Colvin said he wasn’t sure the database would affect him or his law enforcement agency since they don’t investigate in-custody deaths at a state prison.
All inmate deaths are investigated by the DOC Office of Inspector General. In an attempt to be transparent and accountable, Cary said all non-natural deaths are investigated by Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
When asked about the transparency database, Steve Arthur from FDLE responded with an email and said, “It would be inappropriate for us to speculate on this matter.”
Cary said the new transparency database is simply another way to provide the public with additional information regarding inmate mortality.
“It would be something that would make it easier for people look up [information] and see what has happened,” Colvin said. “It’s good for families and media who hear something. It gives them a site to go to where they can find out some bit of information.”