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Medical Marijuana Chaos Continues in Florida as Judge ‘Eviscerates’ State Law

Medical Marijuana Chaos Continues in Florida
PHOTO Allen Allen


Medical Marijuana Chaos Continues in Florida as Judge ‘Eviscerates’ State Law

Challenges to the rules imposed by lawmakers on 2016 voter-approved medical cannabis access are coming hard and fast.

Strict limits on medical-marijuana use and on who can grow and distribute cannabis in Florida are not surviving challenges in court.

More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis in November 2016. The amendment itself was short on specifics, leaving lawmakers, Gov. Rick Scott, and state health regulators to cook up details.

Among the rules they came up with were a ban on marijuana smoking — the simplest and most popular form in which the drug is consumed, for both medicinal and recreational purposes — and strict limits on how many companies could cultivate cannabis.

Earlier this summer, an appeals court struck down the ban on marijuana smoking. A final decision will be made by the state Supreme Court, after Scott chose to appeal the lower court ruling.

And earlier this week, a judge dealt another blow to the cannabis status quo in Florida—this one much stronger.

As noted, Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson’s ruling declared several “major provisions” of the law “to be unconstitutional,” including:

  • Florida’s requirement that cannabis providers be vertically integrated, with the same company growing, processing, and selling cannabis (a practice that other states specifically prohibit, as to prevent monopolies and their attendant price-gouging);
  • An arbitrary limit on how many companies can produce cannabis in Florida, which to date has created a stampede among deep-pocketed investors for one of the coveted licenses, the value of which was inflated thanks to this artificial scarcity;
  • Special preference for medical-marijuana growing licenses granted to “owners of former citrus processing facilities.”

Unlike other states, Florida’s medical-marijuana law was not merely a voter initiative — it was a constitutional amendment. That meant that it needed to be approved by two-thirds of voters — but it also means that the provisions contained within are even more binding.

Broadly speaking, because the constitutional amendment did not specifically allow for such restrictions on marijuana cultivation, sales, and use, the Legislature violated the constitution by imposing them later, Dodson ruled.

“Such limits directly undermine the clear intent of the amendment,” he wrote.

Dodson’s ruling comes in a challenge brought by a company called Florigrown, which was rejected in a bid to become “a medical marijuana treatment center,” the term in Florida for a vertically integrated cannabis provider.

Florigrown is partially owned by Joe Redner, a Tampa-area strip-club owner and the plaintiff in other cases challenging the restrictions placed on medical marijuana in Florida by the state Legislature.

A lower court earlier this year also ruled that Redner and other medical-marijuana patients could grow their own cannabis at home. As with the new allowance for patients to smoke cannabis, that too is awaiting a hearing and final ruling by the state Supreme Court.

Florida officials — and by extension, Gov. Scott, who is facing a challenge from a pro-marijuana Democrat — have appealed Dodson’s ruling, which means the current law will stay in place pending a ruling from the state Supreme Court.

However, the ruling does show that there is agreement in the judiciary with the contention that “the current system threatens the availability and safe use of marijuana,” as Florigrown CEO Adam Elend said in a statement.

“Under this broken system,” he continued, “there’s no way for the department to predict supply or calculate how many dispensaries are needed for the number of patients on the registry.”

TELL US, do you agree that Florida’s restrictions on cultivation, sales and use were unconstitutional?

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