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Florida Judge Rejects Lottery Cultivation Scheme

Cannabis Plant against a purple and blue background


Florida Judge Rejects Lottery Cultivation Scheme

Photo by Mendez Enrique

Florida’s notorious Amendment 2 may have failed at the election box, but the state has an existing medical cannabis law that has gotten little press outside of its boundaries. The CBD-only law, SB 1030, passed the Florida Assembly in May and the state Department of Health (DOH) has until Jan. 1, 2015 to implement the bill.

The law is painstakingly specific with respect to how cannabis should be grown in Florida, establishing “five dispensing organizations to ensure reasonable statewide accessibility and availability as necessary” and further stipulating that growers “must possess a valid certificate of registration issued by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”

But, it becomes even more specific than that, stating the agricultural registration must be issued “for the cultivation of more than 400,000 plants, be operated by a nurseryman… and have been operated as a registered nursery in this state for at least 30 continuous years.”

This culling factor left a pool of 75 nurseries that could potentially apply for permission to grow cannabis in Florida. Obviously, not all nurseries were interested in becoming cannabis cultivators but there were still a sizeable number of companies interested in joining the green rush to become among Florida’s first legal cultivators. How to choose which ones? Amazingly the DOH decided to conduct a lottery.

The plan came under immediate fire and, inevitably, a lawsuit was filed. Costas Farms, Plants of Ruskin, Three Boys Farm and the Florida Medical Cannabis Association argued that the Department of Health exceeded its authority by proposing a lottery and on Nov. 14 Judge W. David Watkins of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings agreed, dismissing the lottery idea as “arbitrary and invalid.”

The Watkins ruling is a relief to many who viewed the lottery scheme as a disaster.

“The department has to write measurable standards in selecting the five licensees,” said Florida Medical Cannabis Association’s executive director, Cerise Naylor. “You can’t throw somebody who is only marginally eligible into the bag.”

Removing the specter of cannabis cultivation by chance is generally agreed as a good thing by most but the ruling does effectively nullify five months of work and promises to delay the start of Florida’s Compassionate Medical Cannabis Program. There are some who feel that is the point. Florida’s Surgeon General, and head of the DOH, spoke against the bill last spring and legislators who sponsored the bill report the Department was unwilling to work with the Assembly in drafting the legislation.

Why they persisted with the lottery when there was so much public input against it is beyond me,” said Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation), one of the original sponsors of the bill.

The patients, as usual, seem to be the last on anyone’s list of people to consult. One parent of a child with intractable epilepsy told a Sarasota TV channel, “The state of Florida officially doesn’t want anything to do with medical marijuana, I think that’s pretty clear.”

What do you think about Florida’s decision? Tell us in the comments.

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