'Flower' fight: Citrus preference sparks medical marijuana rule challenge - Florida Politics

‘Flower’ fight: Citrus preference sparks medical marijuana rule challenge

A Tampa orchid nursery seeking to break into the medical marijuana market is challenging the Department of Health‘s plan to give a preference in how it awards new licenses to grow the plant.

Louis Del Favero Orchids filed a challenge Friday to a proposed rule from the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which regulates the drug.

At issue is a provision in state law that gives preference in granting medical marijuana provider licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories. It’s part of legislation that implemented the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state.

For up to two licenses, according to state law, “the department shall give preference to applicants that … own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”

Del Favero says in its filing it bought “facilities that were used in citrus processing specifically for the purpose of converting those facilities for use in processing medical marijuana.”

Now, the company suggests it could have a white elephant on its hands.

The state’s proposed rule, the challenge says, “would provide no additional points to most applicants that qualify for the citrus preference” and “provides no assurance that the preference will actually result in any licenses being issued to applicants” that qualify.

Del Favero also argues that the department goes too far in using the word “property,” rather than “facility” as in law, saying it’s “granting the citrus preference to a broader group of applicants than the statute permits.”

But it’s not clear lawmakers intended on applicants simply buying an old packing plant to take advantage of the preference.

Sen. Rob Bradley—the Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the legislation during a 2017 Special Session—has said the preference was born to benefit longtime citrus producers who took a hit in recent years from the citrus greening malady.

“If you travel parts of the state, it breaks your heart to see these old orange juice factories, jobs lost,” he said then. “Transitioning some of those facilities to something new is good.”

He also told the News Service of Florida last year that “some of those old-line facilities and businesses are deteriorating much like the city of Detroit. This would allow them to have an opportunity to redesign or repurpose their facilities.”

Bradley declined immediate comment when reached Monday, saying he wanted to review the filing.

Added Devin Galetta, interim communications director for the Florida Department of Health: “The department received the petition this afternoon and is in the process of reviewing.”

Del Favero is no stranger to marijuana litigation.

In one instance, it filed to intervene in a lawsuit last year by Sarasota’s Tropiflora, which argued the citrus preference was an “unconstitutional special advantage” that puts the company at a “disadvantage” in competing for licenses to be what the state calls a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

That suit had been set for trial later this month, but Tropiflora withdrew it without explanation in May.

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.
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