Lawmakers grudgingly OK more money for marijuana regulators - Florida Politics

Lawmakers grudgingly OK more money for marijuana regulators

The Legislature opened the state’s wallet again Thursday, granting a request from the state’s medical marijuana regulators for another $13 million in operating costs.

The approval from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission didn’t come without some grousing, however. The Department of Health, under Gov. Rick Scott, regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU).

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa told department officials she had “lost some sleep over this,” mentioning her and other lawmakers’ frustration over the slow-going of the office, including delays in issuing medicinal cannabis patient identification cards. 

Legislators had pushed back earlier this year when they included a provision from House Republican Jason Brodeur in the 2018-19 budget to withhold more than $1.9 million in Department of Health salaries and benefits until regulators fully implement medical marijuana.

Moreover, $1.5 million of the extra money requested Thursday will go to outside lawyers hired by the office to represent it in ongoing litigation.

For example, the state is appealing two high-profile cases: Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner’s circuit court win to grow and juice his own medicinal cannabis, and plaintiffs backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan who won a decision allowing them to smoke medical marijuana.

“Let’s stop wasting taxpayer dollars” on suits the state shouldn’t be appealing, Cruz said. “Please start taking this seriously,” she added, calling the office’s actions part “intentional ineptitude” and part “simple sabotage.”

Other OMMU needs include covering the cost to review applications for four new provider licenses now that the number of medical marijuana patients is over 100,000, and to procure “a computer software tracking system that traces marijuana from seed-to-sale,” according to the request. (Details from the request are here.)

The Commission, which acts as a joint committee of the Legislature, is charged with reviewing and approving the equivalent of mid-course corrections to the current year’s state spending plan. The budget went into effect July 1. 

But Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who chaired Thursday’s meeting, said lawmakers “should have dealt with these issues” during the 2018 Legislative Session “while the budget was being prepared.”

“I’m disappointed that we are dealing with this now,” added Bradley, the Senate’s Appropriations Committee chair. “But we’re dealing with it. And we need to get these things done.”

In other action, lawmakers:

— Approved a request from Secretary of State Ken Detzner for authority to distribute $19.2 million from the feds for heightened elections security. All 67 counties have applied for funds, he said. The money may be spent on “cybersecurity” needs, among other things.

— OK’d a request from the Department of Emergency Management to dole out $340 million from a federal grant to farmers and grove owners to aid the citrus industry’s recovery from recent hurricanes. The money will go toward “purchasing and planting replacement trees,” ” repair of damages to irrigation systems,” and to repay growers for “economic losses.”

— Agreed to nearly $3.2 million more for the state Office on Homelessness to “support local homeless agencies in their efforts to reduce homelessness throughout Florida.”

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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