Florida Ag Commissioner Blasts ‘Insulting’ Biden DOJ Response To Medical Marijuana Patients’ Gun Rights Lawsuit | Big Indy News
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Florida Ag Commissioner Blasts ‘Insulting’ Biden DOJ Response To Medical Marijuana Patients’ Gun Rights Lawsuit



The Justice Department’s characterization of medical marijuana patients as uniquely dangerous and unfit to possess firearms in its new response to a lawsuit exposed an “insulting” and antiquated perspective, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried told Marijuana Moment on Tuesday.

DOJ had been expected to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which Fried filed in April alongside patients who were denied firearms because they use medical cannabis. But the content of the extensive memorandum attached to the department’s motion, which was filed on Monday’s court-imposed deadline, came as a surprise.

The Biden administration’s Justice Department didn’t just hold the line by denying the therapeutic benefits of marijuana, it also made the case that people who use cannabis would be too “dangerous to trust” to possess firearms. The memo’s reefer madness-era rhetoric has dismayed advocates and amplified frustrations over the president’s unfulfilled promises to enact modest cannabis reforms.

“I find it very insulting,” Fried said of the DOJ’s response. “You’re calling patients that have cancer that are using medical marijuana dangerous. You’re telling veterans who are using medical marijuana [that they’re] dangerous. I think that they missed the ball here—and it’s very disconcerting that this is the direction that they took.”

“There’s so many of us for years—for decades—who have been fighting against this stereotype of marijuana users,” the commissioner, who is running in a Democratic gubernatorial primary for a chance to challenge incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in November, said. “To see the Department of Justice put it down in a 40-page memo defending their motion to dismiss is very disappointing.”

It wasn’t just DOJ’s characterization of cannabis consumers that’s faced criticism. In its attempt to justify the ongoing federal policy prohibiting people who use marijuana from purchasing guns, the department also cited questionable case law going back to the 17th century.

Discriminatory gun bans against groups like Native Americans, Catholics and panhandlers were among the “analogous” examples DOJ included in its memo to defend the present-day marijuana prohibition. The case law-based argument was specifically responsive to the plaintiffs’s revised complaint that accounted for a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gun restrictions in New York.

That ruling generally creates a higher standard for policies that seek to impose restrictions on gun rights. Overall, the Court said that any such restrictions must be consistent with the historical context of the Second Amendment’s original 1791 ratification.

DOJ, referencing the questionable bans from the past, argued in its new filing that “the historical tradition embodied by these laws continues today, with a majority of states ‘restrict[ing] the right of habitual drug abusers or alcoholics to possess or carry firearms.”

The memo goes on to say that cannabis “causes significant mental and physical impairments that make it dangerous for a person to possess firearm.”

Fried said that DOJ’s position “really shows a disconnect between where we are in our country and where the laws are.”

As attorneys for the plaintiffs prepare to reply to the motion to dismiss, advocates continue to put pressure on President Joe Biden to take meaningful executive action on cannabis reform, which the department explicitly recognized in its memo that he has the authority to do.

The commissioner said that it’s unclear to what extent, if at all, the DOJ memo was reviewed by the White House. But in any case, she said that she hopes the lawsuit further encourages the president to act.

“This very clearly states that he has the power to do so,” Fried said. “Hopefully he will see that his department is giving him, again, the authority to do so and laying that out. Hopefully he will take that authority and live up to the promises that he made to the people.”

In a press release on Tuesday, the commissioner said that she “filed this lawsuit to bring attention to how the federal government’s inconsistent and illogical cannabis policies are creating not only confusion, but actual harm.”

“Unfortunately, the issue raised in our lawsuit is just one of the many dilemmas posed that is affecting a massive number of Floridians and even more patients nationwide,” she said. “Though this particular pathway intended to move much-needed cannabis reform forward might be cut off, I will never stop looking for outside-the-box ways we can further this fight until we achieve full and equitable legalization.”

DOJ’s memo on its motion to dismiss also challenges Fried’s standing in the lawsuit, contending that her role as the head of the state’s Agriculture Department does not make her a representative of the state to the extent that she can claim injury. The filing said that the state attorney general would be a more appropriate official to that end.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) has made her opposition to marijuana legalization clear, though, and the commissioner said that she hasn’t approached the other office for join the lawsuit.

“She’s, unfortunately, preoccupied with suing the Biden administration on other issues,” Fried said, referencing lawsuits that Moody has filed or joined that concern other hot-button subjects like immigration and COVID vaccine policies.

Asked whether she would pursue the cannabis patients’ gun rights litigation against the administration if elected governor, Fried said she is “committed to this issue.”

“Regardless of where it sits in the commissioner’s office and when I’m elected governor, making sure that we sign on to the lawsuit to show more support, yes, we would absolutely do it,” she said.

For the time being, however, the current federal policy persists, making it so people are denied gun purchases if they’re honest about their cannabis use while filling out a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) background check form—regardless of state law.

As Fried previously told Marijuana Moment, the lawsuit at hand is not about expanding gun rights, per se. It’s a matter of constitutionality that she and other key allies in the gun reform movement feel would bolster public safety if the case ultimately goes in their favor.

Supporters of the lawsuit argue that the ATF requirement effectively creates an incentive for cannabis consumers to either lie on the form, buy a gun on the illicit market or simply forgo a constitutional right.

In 2020, ATF issued an advisory specifically targeting Michigan that requires gun sellers to conduct federal background checks on all unlicensed gun buyers because it said the state’s cannabis laws had enabled “habitual marijuana users” and other disqualified individuals to obtain firearms illegally.

Fried brought the lawsuit alongside two medical marijuana patients in the state, as well as Neill Franklin, a retired police officer and former executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP) who has declined to use medical cannabis despite its therapeutic value for pain he experiences because of the potential gun rights ramifications.

Another component of the legal challenge is based on a unique interpretation of a congressional spending bill rider known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prevents the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical cannabis programs.

By preventing people like Franklin from using medical marijuana without risking the loss of their right to buy firearms, the federal government is effectively violating that rider by blocking Florida from adding new patients to grow its program, according to the suit.

DOJ said in its new memo that Franklin doesn’t have standing in the case because he hasn’t faced any specific injury. It also said that the protections of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment are limited, and it pointed out that it hasn’t spent dollars to interfere in the implementation of Florida’s medical cannabis program.

There have been previous efforts in Congress to specifically protect medical cannabis patients against losing their right to purchase and possess guns, but those efforts have not been enacted.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a new industry-led campaign filed a marijuana legalization initiative on Monday that they hope will go before voters on the state’s 2024 ballot.

Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative Will Appear On November Ballot, State Announces

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Oregon Governor Says Her Mass Marijuana Pardons Are ‘Truly An Act Of Mercy’



Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) says her recent move to grant marijuana pardons is “very much a racial justice issue.”

The governor spoke about her mass pardon of more than 45,000 people for state-level cannabis possession offenses at a forum hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs on Thursday.

“I absolutely believe that no one, no one deserves to be forever saddled with the impacts of a conviction for simple possession of marijuana when, in Oregon, it is a crime that is no longer on the books,” Brown told the audience, referring to state voters’ approval of a cannabis legalization initiative in 2014. “Certainly we know folks that have faced housing barriers, employment barriers, educational barriers for a conviction of this particular crime, and obviously, at least in my state, it is legal and has been for a number of years.”

“I think we all know the truth, and that is that people of color and our low-income community members have been disproportionately impacted by these crimes,” she said. “And so, for me, this is very much a racial justice issue.”

Brown’s marijuana clemency action—which also involved forgiveness for more than $14 million in fines and fees—came after President Joe Biden (D) called on governors to follow his lead in issuing mass pardons for cannabis possession.

“We are truly a nation of second chances, and I have to applaud President Biden for taking the courageous leadership that he did to pardon over 6,000 folks,” Brown said. “He understands, as I think everyone in this room understands, that our criminal justice system is flawed and inequitable, and it’s certainly outdated.”

Describing the broader use of executive clemency power as “truly an act of mercy,” the governor pointed out that it’s not only useful for correcting injustices but is “an underutilized tool to enhance rehabilitation.”

“I’ve released a number of folks who are incarcerated for drug offenses who were using, and I released them early so that they could get into treatment, so they could get the medical support and services that they desperately needed and were denied when they were behind bars,” Brown said.

Thursday’s event also featured former marijuana prisoner and clemency advocate Michael Thompson, as well as New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin (D) and Princeton professor and former ACLU Deputy National Political Director Udi Ofer.

Thompson had his decades-long cannabis sentence commuted in 2020 by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) and was released from prison. He faced a 42-to-60-year sentence for selling three pounds of marijuana to an undercover police officer and for firearms charges in a case roundly criticized by advocates and the state’s attorney general.

“I want to get others free like I got free,” Thompson said. “When I heard I was going to get released, I didn’t believe it because they were playing so many politics. One minute they’re going to do something, next minute they didn’t.”

“You can’t just keep throwing away human beings. You got them underneath these trap sentences like you had me,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to get out of prison until 2038. But because people, they showed humanity and had hearts and conscience. Some people don’t have no conscience, they’re just strictly political. They only think about their careers. But what about a human life? What about their families?”

“I just want you to know the pain that our families go through. Because I lost my family,” Thompson said. “Everybody don’t have to lose theirs. I don’t know my family anymore.”

The forum was part of the ACLU’s national Redemption Campaign focused on liberating 50,000 people from federal and state prisons via the use of existing clemency powers. According to their website, the campaign is pursuing clemency for people who would face shorter sentences if convicted now under recent reforms, people incarcerated for distribution and possession charges regardless of the substance, those incarcerated for technical probation or parole violations and older incarcerated people.

Biden cheered Brown’s mass cannabis pardon in November, tweeting that it’s “time to right our failed approach to marijuana,” while urging other states to follow suit.

Other governors have also heeded Biden’s call for state-level cannabis clemency.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) declared his support of marijuana decriminalization in October, saying it’s time to “end the stigma” and announcing steps he’s taken to explore his options for independently granting relief to people with existing convictions.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D), meanwhile, signed two marijuana-related executive orders last month: one to protect patients who meet certain criteria and possess medical cannabis legally obtained from dispensaries in other states, and another to regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products. The medical cannabis move is based on the governor’s clemency powers.

But other governors, such as Florida’s Ron Desantis (R), have so far declined to act and are facing pressure from others in state government. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D) wrote to Desantis last week to express her frustration over what she described as a “dereliction of duty” after the final Clemency Board meeting of the year was canceled.

In October, Fried had requested Desantis place cannabis clemency on the board’s agenda for its December meeting. She had hoped the meeting would be used to facilitate pardons for people with marijuana convictions on their records.

Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones (D) separately urged Desantis to take steps to grant clemency to Floridians who’ve been criminalized over marijuana.

Biden Signs Marijuana Research Bill, A Historic First For Federal Cannabis Reform

Photo courtesy of Governor Kate Brown.

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Justice Department Asks Federal Court For More Time In ‘Complex’ Safe Drug Consumption Site Case



The Justice Department is asking a federal court for more time to respond in a lawsuit surrounding the legality of safe drug consumption sites where people could use currently illicit substances in a medically supervised environment. And while the would-be operators of the overdose prevention center at the center of the case have agreed to prior delay requests, they said they “did not consent” to this latest one and will be filing a motion in opposition on Tuesday.

The case, which was raised after DOJ under the Trump administration blocked Philadelphia-based non-profit Safehouse from opening a harm reduction facility, has seen repeated delays over the past three years.

Now the department is asking the court for additional time to submit its response, stating in a motion on Monday that it “believes an additional two months are necessary to permit careful consideration of the government’s harm reduction and public safety goals.”

“The discussions to date, which have involved coordination among multiple constituencies addressing a novel and complex subject matter, have been and continue to be productive,” it said, noting that DOJ had a status conference with Safehouse attorneys last month and “provided an update” to the court.

In February, DOJ said that it was “evaluating supervised consumption sites, including discussions with state and local regulators about appropriate guardrails for such sites, as part of an overall approach to harm reduction and public safety.”

While Safehouse has agreed to past deadline extension for DOJ filings, touting “productive” conversations as the Biden administration continues to review its policy on the harm reduction program, it is opposed to this latest delay.

“We believed we were making progress when DOJ announced in February 2021 that it was ‘evaluating’ its policy toward supervised consumption services and talking to state and local regulators about ‘appropriate guardrails’ that could enable Safehouse and similar public health initiatives nationwide to offer such services without fear of federal criminal and civil enforcement,” Safehouse said in an email to supporters on Monday.

“Safehouse did not consent to today’s DOJ request for more time and will be filing a motion in opposition tomorrow morning,” it said. “We are long overdue for a timeline as to when DOJ evaluations will be complete so that a life-saving initiative can begin.”

“Three to four people die of overdose every day in Philadelphia. Last year’s 1,276 fatal overdoses represented a record high in the city, and those we lost were among more than 100,000 people nationwide who died of overdoses.

Safehouse has been in litigation with DOJ since 2019 in our effort to open overdose prevention centers that include supervised consumption. These centers save lives and provide critical pathways to treatment, housing, and social services.”

DOJ now says it is seeking to file its “Amended Counterclaims for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief” by February 6, 2023. It seems to have filed the request for another delay with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania one day after the most recent court-approved deadline of Sunday.

In October 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request to hear a case on the legality of establishing the Safehouse facilities.

In a recent report, congressional researchers highlighted the “uncertainty” of the federal government’s position on safe drug consumption sites, while pointing out that lawmakers could temporarily resolve the issue by advancing an amendment modeled after the one that has allowed medical marijuana laws to be implemented without Justice Department interference.

While the Philadelphia facility is being held up amid litigation, New York City opened the first locally sanctioned harm reduction centers in the U.S. late last year, and officials have already reported positive results in saving lives.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) pointed out the discrepancy, stating that while “DOJ actively opposed the operation of supervised consumption sites under the Trump Administration, to date the Biden Administration has not sought to invoke the [Controlled Substances Act] against such facilities.”

The report was published days after National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow tacitly endorsed the idea of authorizing safe consumption sites, arguing that evidence has effectively demonstrated that the facilities can prevent overdose deaths.

Volkow declined to specifically say what she would do if she were president and the Trump-era lawsuit was dropped, but she said that safe consumption sites that have been the subject of research “have shown that it has saved a significant [percentage of] patients from overdosing.”

The comments represent one of the strongest positions in favor of safe consumption sites to come from a federal official, and they’re all the more notable given the federal government’s position in the lawsuit that’s so far blocked Safehouse from providing the service.

That said, Rahul Gupta, the White House drug czar, recently said that the Biden administration is reviewing broader drug policy harm reduction proposals, including the authorization of supervised consumption sites—and he went so far as to suggest possible decriminalization.

A study published by the American Medical Association (AMA) in July found that the recently opened New York City facilities have decreased overdose risk, steered people away from using in public and provided other ancillary health services to people who use currently illicit substances.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) put out a pair of requests for applications (RFAs) in December 2021 for an effort that will provide funding for efforts to investigate how that and other harm reduction policies could help address the drug crisis.

Gupta, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), previously said that it’s critical to explore “any and every option” to reduce overdose deaths, and that could include allowing safe consumption sites for illegal substances if the evidence supports their efficacy.

The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Xavier Becerra, has also signaled that the Biden administration would not move to block the establishment safe injection sites, stressing that “we are literally trying to give users a lifeline.”

But a department spokesperson later walked those remarks back, stating that “HHS does not have a position on supervised consumption sites” and the “issue is a matter of ongoing litigation.” In any case, it would be up to DOJ to decide whether to pursue operators of the facilities under the Controlled Substances Act.

In 2021, Rhode Island’s governor signed a bill establishing a pilot program to allow safe consumption sites to operate in the state.

A New York Assembly committee advanced a bill in May to establish a statewide safe consumption site program, allowing regulators to authorize facilities where people could use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.

In a pair of setbacks for advocates, however, Vermont’s governor vetoed a bill in June that would have simply created a working group tasked with crafting a plan to open safe consumption sites and the governor of California vetoed a bill in August to permit a pilot program for the harm reduction centers.

Read DOJ’s latest filings in the safe consumption site case below: 

Fate Of Marijuana Banking Reform Uncertain As Lawmakers Delay Defense Bill Consideration Amid Disagreements

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NDAA and cannabis provisions delayed (Newsletter: December 6, 2022)



Biden HHS sec. tweets Marijuana Moment at 4:20; New top House Dem: Cannabis an “opportunity for common ground”; NJ banking bill; PA pardons problems

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The House Rules Committee was scheduled to take up the National Defense Authorization Act on Monday—along with possible marijuana banking and expungements provisions— but the text is not yet ready amid disagreements over a number of issues.

  • Meanwhile, the offices of several Senate Republicans met with the Department of Justice to discuss outstanding concerns about the cannabis legislation. Also, the “SAFE Plus” package will reportedly include measures on gun rights for marijuana consumers when it is formally unveiled.

Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra tweeted a Marijuana Moment article about the federal scheduling review he’s leading—at precisely 4:20PM. It’s the second time he’s shared cannabis news at the very symbolic hour of the day.

Incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said marijuana is an “opportunity for common ground” and bipartisanship in the new divided Congress next year.

The New Jersey Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee approved a bill to give state-level protections to banks and insurers that work with marijuana businesses.

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons has approved only 231 of the more than 3,500 clemency applications it received under the governor’s Marijuana Pardon Project.

The Virginia Task Force to Analyze and Make Recommendations Regarding Whether Any Statutory or Regulatory Modifications are Necessary to Ensure the Safe and Responsible Manufacture and Sale of Industrial Hemp Extracts and Other Substances Containing Tetrahydrocannabinol that are Intended for Human Consumption in the Commonwealth issued a report recommending stricter rules for businesses that sell hemp-based delta-8 THC products.


A federal court is being asked to overturn a Maine man’s marijuana conviction on constitutional grounds.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) is scheduled to speak at a Michigan Association of Certified Public Accountants cannabis summit on Thursday.

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) tweeted, “The momentum for #cannabis is real. The historic research bill signed by my friend @POTUS and @SenatorHick’s intro of #PrepareAct shows there is growing bipartisan support for a federal framework.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) tweeted, “Glad to see @POTUS sign this important bill into law. I helped pass it out of @EnergyCommerce and on the House floor so we can fill the gap in research on the health effects of marijuana and cannabis products.”


Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) and the state attorney general are asking a federal judge to dismiss remaining claims in a lawsuit that is challenging the state’s ban on sales of certain hemp products.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said he supports decriminalizing fentanyl testing strips.

Florida’s agriculture commissioner tweeted, “As a champion for ending cannabis prohibition, I’m encouraged by the negotiations in Congress. More needs to be done as we move towards equitable legalization, but financial services access, expungement programs, & protecting our constitutional rights, are a great place to start.”

New Jersey’s Senate president spoke about ongoing efforts to ensure fairness and equity in the legal marijuana industry.

Nevada’s Assembly speaker-elect cheered the issuance of marijuana consumption lounge licenses under a bill he authored.

The Ohio House Finance Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on a marijuana legalization bill on Tuesday.

A Colorado representative tweeted photos of a tour she and another lawmaker took of a marijuana cultivation facility.

A New York assemblymember criticized nonprofits that offer substance misuse treatment for applying for and receiving licenses to sell legal marijuana.

A Michigan judge upheld regulators’ decision to suspend a marijuana business’s license over allegedly unacceptable levels of banned pesticides, heavy metals, mold and bacteria.

The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy filed a lawsuit alleging that businesses have been manufacturing and selling THC edibles with illegal potency levels and in shapes that could appeal to children.

Rhode Island’s top marijuana regulator spoke about the rollout of legal recreational sales, saying he doesn’t expect that cannabis use in the state will “increase noticeably.”

California regulators filed changes to rules on marijuana cultivation licenses.

Oregon regulators are considering changes to rules on marijuana plant tagging requirements.

A draft Washington State regulators’ report on marijuana potency was leaked. Separately, the Hemp Commission Task Force sent a report to lawmakers

The Virginia State Crime Commission discussed marijuana-impaired driving and other issues.

Vermont regulators will review recommendations for marijuana license approvals and social equity status on Wednesday.

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights is hosting an event on cannabis policies on Wednesday.

New Hampshire’s Therapeutic Cannabis Medical Oversight Board will meet on Wednesday.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,500 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.


New York City officials posted tips about safer cannabis use.


Former Colombian President Iván Duque said he wishes he was more vocal about pushing for a demand-side solution to the war on drugs while in office.

Cayman Islands lawmakers are expected to consider advancing a marijuana decriminalization referendum this week.

The Uruguayan government is moving to allow pharmacies to sell marijuana with greater THC potency levels.

Guyana’s health minister said that a new law diverting people possessing small amounts of marijuana from incarceration to mandatory counseling has created a need to train more counselors.


A study found that “regular cannabis use appears to suppress the impact of HIV on spontaneous and oscillatory alpha deficits in the left inferior frontal cortex and [dorsolateral prefrontal cortices].”

A review concluded that “the endocannabinoid system is a prominent target for the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid diseases, viral infections, neurological and psychological pathologies, and cancer.”


The Indiana Democratic Party tweeted, “What’s there to discuss? 80% of Hoosiers want to legalize cannabis in some form. It’s past time for discussion – cannabis legalization is a win-win economic opportunity that will create a brighter future for the Hoosier State.”

The Independent Community Bankers of America tweeted, “With the debate over ICBA-advocated cannabis banking legislation picking up as some policymakers express concerns and others confidence in the bill’s passage, ICBA urges #communitybankers to continue speaking out.”

The Washington Examiner editorial board is urging Congress not to legalize marijuana.

A Responsibility.org staffer authored an op-ed about the dangers of marijuana-impaired driving.


NCR Corp. and other providers are reportedly moving to shut down cashless ATMs at marijuana dispensaries.

Aurora Cannabis Inc. repurchased approximately C$102.5 million worth of its convertible senior notes.

A former CannTrust Holdings Inc. director of quality and compliance said the growth of cannabis in unlicensed rooms was “very openly discussed” at the company.

Filament Health says it created medical grade ayahuasca.

Missouri dispensaries sold a record $35.56 million worth of medical cannabis products in November.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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