Medical marijuana – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Fate of medical marijuana smoking ban now with judge

An attorney arguing to overturn Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana says if a constitutional amendment doesn’t say it can’t be smoked, then lawmakers and regulators can’t stand in the way of patients who want to.

“If you’re the Legislature, why would you pick out smoking and say no? Because this (amendment) allows it,” attorney Jon Mills told reporters.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers on Thursday held a hearing in Tallahassee on the state’s motion to dismiss the case, backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan. He championed the amendment’s passage in 2016. Morgan did not attend the hearing.

The judge did not immediately rule, saying she would get out a decision “as soon as possible.”

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow marijuana to be smoked.

But Mills, arguing against the ban, said the amendment’s definition of marijuana includes the smokeable kind. The text, however, does not expressly permit medicinal cannabis to be smoked.

Lawmakers “want to contradict the Constitution, which says you can” smoke, added Mills, retired dean of the University of Florida law school and a former state House Speaker (1986-88). “Why were they talking about it? Because they just didn’t want people to smoke.”

Deputy Solicitor General Rachel Nordby earlier had told Gievers if there’s no specific requirement in the amendment for smoking medical marijuana, then the state can regulate the use of the drug, including banning smoking.

Plaintiff Cathy Jordan of Manatee County, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, also attended the hearing. Her husband told reporters she’s been treating herself by smoking marijuana for 20 years “under the radar.” Doctors even privately told her to do so, Robert Jordan said.

“The cannabis is keeping her alive. That’s what this all about,” he said. “Legislators shouldn’t be taking the place of doctors, telling us what we can and cannot do … She has to smoke; it keeps her lungs clear.”

Whatever the outcome of the case, Jordan said they’ll find smokeable marijuana “somewhere.”

“But she can’t go to jail,” he added. “It’ll kill her.”

Charlie Crist: Protecting Floridians access to medical marijuana issue of compassion

When Floridians went to the polls in 2016, more than just names were on the ballot.

Included was Amendment 2, amending our state constitution to legalize medical marijuana.

Amendment 2 received the support of 71 percent of voters – surpassing the 60 percent needed for passage. Do you know how hard it is to get more than 70 percent of the people to agree on anything these days? But Floridians understood that medical marijuana is vital to alleviating the pain and suffering caused by serious illness, affecting people in their families, their friends and neighbors.

That’s why it was so disturbing when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would rescind policies enacted under the Obama administration that discouraged enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states like Florida that legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. It is an attack on states’ rights, undermining the will of 6.5 million Floridians, and putting at risk the ability of sick children and adults to receive the medical care they need to get well and reduce suffering.

I strongly oppose this change, and I want to tell you why.

I’m blessed to represent my Pinellas County neighbors in a district that stretches from my hometown of St. Petersburg to the beautiful white sand beaches of Clearwater, where Dani Hall lives with her two sons.

I am honored that Dani will attend the State of the Union as my guest later this month, and for her to allow me to share her story.

Born with a birth defect impacting her lower spine, Dani has endured severe pain and multiple back surgeries over the course of her life. To deal with the pain, she was given narcotics. But they didn’t help, which led to more painkillers being prescribed – at one point she was on 14 different medications. As you can imagine, this left her feeling almost zombie-like, unable to function normally.

Her options with traditional pharmaceuticals exhausted, Dani decided to try medical marijuana. Her pain subsided. She came off all other medications. Just think about that.

Now, Dani can exercise and was able to return to work thanks to the relief medical marijuana provides her. A biologist by trade, with this new lifeline Dani is currently going back to school to become a teacher.

Dani did notice a side effect, however – a welcome one.

As someone on the Autism spectrum, Dani found that her symptoms of severe anxiety and sensory sensitivity were also alleviated.

Dani was hopeful that medical marijuana might be able to help her two sons, who are also on the spectrum. She began advocating Florida officials to legalize medical marijuana so it could be an option to help others in the way it changed her life.

It would be cruel for the Trump administration to take this legal option of healing away from Dani, her boys, and the hundreds of thousands of people – perhaps millions – that medical marijuana helps across the country.

As a person of faith, to me, this is an issue of compassion. The Bible teaches us to recognize the suffering of others and act to help, similar to the “Golden Rule” that I try to live by every day.

I call on Attorney General Sessions to remember the Golden Rule, act compassionately, and reverse course on this harmful policy change. The well-being of countless families just like Dani’s are at stake.


St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Bad pot advice leads to lawyer disbarment

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday disbarred a former Jacksonville lawyer who charged sick people nearly $800 for a “patient identification card” he claimed could keep them from getting arrested for having or growing marijuana.

Several of Ian Christensen’s clients were arrested and prosecuted after following the lawyer’s advice, according to court documents.

Doing business as “Health Law Services,” Christensen and Christopher Ralph charged patients $799 for services that included a visit with a doctor, legal services and documents, as well as the ID card, which was not sanctioned by any government agency.

Critics interviewed by The News Service of Florida in 2014 accused the duo of running a scam. Christensen stopped practicing law in 2015 and no longer lives in Florida, according to an affidavit filed with the court last year.

The justices’ disbarment of Christensen was a far harsher penalty than a two-year suspension recommended by Florida Bar lawyer Carlos Alberto Leon, who served as a referee in the case spawned by a complaint about Christensen filed in June 2016.

According to Thursday’s order immediately disbarring Christensen, several of his clients were arrested and prosecuted after following his advice. In at least three instances, Christensen provided clients with a “grow sign” to post outside their homes indicating they were cultivating marijuana, according to court records.

St. Johns County residents Scott and Marsha Yandell suffered life-altering consequences after following Christensen’s advice, the records show.

In January 2015, police responded to a 911 call at the Yandell’s residence, which had a “grow sign” posted outside. The next day, the Yandells asked Christensen if they needed to dismantle their grow operation, but the lawyer told them they “had nothing to worry about” and that he or someone from the office would contact law enforcement, according to court records.

The following month, a SWAT team raided the Yandells’ home, and they were arrested and charged with manufacture of cannabis, possession of cannabis with intent to sell or deliver, possession of a place or structure for trafficking or manufacturing a controlled substance, and trafficking in cannabis in excess of 25 pounds.

The Yandells’ home, valuables, and vehicles were seized and detained for forfeiture, according to court documents. The Duval County couple hired a new attorney and accepted plea deals of three years’ probation, a $15,000 fine, and 100 hours of community service.

Marsha Yandell, who had been a nurse for 25 years, lost her nursing license and her husband lost his engineering job of 15 years. In addition, their landlord obtained a judgment against them in excess of $25,000 for damages to the home during the raid and lost rent.

In rejecting the referee’s recommendation, the Supreme Court found that disbarment “is the appropriate sanction.”

“The most prominent features of respondent’s misconduct are incompetence and extremely serious harm to clients,” the court wrote.

In a document filed in August, Christensen blamed his wrongdoing on being “inexperienced, young and naïve in the advice he gave and the positions he took in dealing with individuals already involved with marijuana.”

Christensen opened a solo legal practice just three months after being admitted to the Florida Bar in 2013. Shortly afterward, he and colleague Ralph launched “Health Law Services,” which focused on giving legal advice about medical marijuana. Months later, Christensen incorporated “Cannabinoid Therapy Institute,” or CTI. Ralph, who was not a lawyer, was CTI’s director, as well as the “legal administrator and consultant” for Health Law Services, according to court documents.

Christensen referred clients for medical exams at CTI, and the patients would receive “Official Legal Certification” and an identification card if a doctor found it was medically necessary for the clients to use marijuana. Three of the clients found out that the doctor they saw was not licensed to practice medicine in Florida, according to Thursday’s order.

Christensen “advised his clients that they had, and his clients believed, that based on Florida law, the clients had a right to possess, use, and grow cannabis due to medical necessity and that they were protected by the affirmative defense of medical necessity,” the Supreme Court wrote. “The lawyer did not tell his clients that this affirmative defense would not apply, if at all, until after the clients were arrested, charged, and prosecuted.”

Lawyers familiar with the medical necessity defense told the News Service it has been used successfully on rare occasions and that its use is left up to the discretion of a prosecutor or judge.

“Respondent erroneously advised his clients and provided them with legally meaningless ‘Official Legal Certifications’ purportedly authorizing them to grow and use marijuana, based on determinations made by a physician not licensed to practice medicine in the State of Florida,” the court wrote.

Christensen “continued to insist on the correctness of his clearly erroneous legal positions” during criminal proceedings pertaining to his clients and during his disciplinary proceedings, “until he was ordered to show cause to this (Supreme) Court why he should not be disbarred,” the court wrote.

“We will not tolerate such misconduct by members of The Florida Bar,” the justices concluded.

In the August document, Christensen’s lawyer, D. Gray Thomas, argued that his client’s misconduct was not “motivated by greed or bad intent, but rather by naïve, youthful, unmentored overconfidence.”

And, Thomas wrote, Christensen’s medical marijuana-focused practice took place as laws about the issue were evolving.

“The current state of laws poses ongoing legal tensions, as well as ethical tension and ambiguity, for practicing attorneys,” Thomas argued.

But Leon, the referee, rejected Christensen’s defense, saying “none of these contentions is worthy of belief.”

“Mr. Christensen makes these protestations at this late juncture only to prevent potential enhanced discipline and not as the result of any epiphany or genuine remorse,” Leon wrote in a response filed in August.

While marijuana laws are evolving, “no specific training or experience is required to distinguish what is evidently right from what is evidently wrong,” Leon wrote.

“Quite simply, advising clients to grow their own marijuana based on a fake doctor’s advice is wrong and cannot now be said to be subject to interpretation based on the evolution of medical marijuana law,” he added.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Medical marijuana firm sold in $43M deal

A New York-based company has purchased a Central Florida pot operation for $43 million in cash and stock, amid expectations that the industry will explode following the voter-approved legalization of medical marijuana more than a year ago.

iAnthus Capital Management purchased the assets of GrowHealthy Holdings, a Lake Wales marijuana operator affiliated with McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery, except for the marijuana license. The transfer of ownership of the license is pending approval by the state Department of Health.

Under the deal, which involves the marijuana operator and its affiliated businesses, iAnthus is paying GrowHealthy $12.5 million for its Lake Wales real estate and 200,000-square-foot cultivation and processing facility. GrowHealthy, one of the state’s 13 licensed medical marijuana operators, will also receive $30 million worth of shares in iAnthus, which is traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange. iAnthus will also purchase the Lake Wales company’s $5 million bond, required by the state for all marijuana operators.

The New York company also owns marijuana operations in Massachusetts, Vermont, Colorado and New Mexico and has a pending acquisition in New York, according to iAnthus President Randy Maslow.

“Florida is really going to be our number one operation, in terms of size and everything else,” Maslow said.

GrowHealthy started distributing marijuana to patients via delivery in November but has not opened a retail dispensary.

According to a press release Wednesday announcing the deal, the company is planning to open a dispensary in Palm Beach County later this year.

“As one of the largest states in the U.S. with a population of nearly 21 million people and favorable demographics, Florida and its medical cannabis market provide a tremendous opportunity for iAnthus and its shareholders. The state’s population includes a large percentage of older adults who can derive significant benefits from medical cannabis, and the Florida program has witnessed a rapid rise in its registered patient base since passage of the law,” Maslow said in the release.

Voters in November 2016 approved a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana and helped fuel a battle for a limited number of licenses. About 45,000 patients have received state-issued identification cards allowing them to purchase the marijuana treatment, but the number is expected to dramatically increase in coming years.

Progressives poke holes in Rick Scott’s success

Gov. Rick Scott laid out his ambitions — which included cutting taxes, addressing problems created by hurricanes Irma and Maria, and expanding victims’ rights, among other things — during the State of the State speech in the Capitol building on Tuesday, but not too far away, a different, more intimate crowd listened to an alternative message — one that spotlighted Scott’s failures rather than lauded his achievements.

Dubbed Awake the State, the immediate response to the governor’s speech is an annual tradition that seeks to undermine what was telecasted throughout Florida just minutes before.

It’s “the people’s State of the State,” said Barbara DeVane, the head lobbyist for Florida’s National Organization for Women.

The speech featured a lineup of speakers, who each were qualified for their own progressive talking point. Those points ranged from climate change to public education spending to anti-fracking messages to the implementation of medical marijuana, and also were complemented with a healthy dose of liberal sensationalism. One sign read “NO COASTAL DRILLING,” a sentiment concurred by Scott earlier this week.

Still, valid and compelling arguments and observations were made by the group of speakers.

Climate change was not addressed in Scott’s State of the State. Affordable housing for the influx of Puerto Ricans — something Orlando Democratic Sen. Victor Torres said he is championing this year — also was not mentioned by the governor. Additionally omitted: expanding public education.

The group also more than hinted at what will be prioritized by left-leaning advocates in The Process this Session.

Julio Calderon, a representative from the Florida Immigrant Coalition and an organizer for the We Are Florida campaign, laid out a rather timely initiative: preventing the state from banning sanctuary cities, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran has promised to do in this first week of Session.

Calderon said the coalition has been mobilizing individuals to advocate for immigrants in the Legislature. He said that won’t change this year.

“We need to tell the state that we are here and we are here to stay,” Calderon said. “Students, farmworkers, children. They all come with us.”

“Legislation like HB 9 is nothing greater than an anti-immigrant bill,” Calderon said regarding Corcoran’s first-week priority.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, went as far as laying out a 2019 priority: legalizing marijuana.

Farmer said his staff will soon draft a bill that permits “full use and possession of recreational marijuana — the full legalization of marijuana.” 

For that, he received an audible “yea” from someone in the crowd.

Florida Supreme Court

5 Florida legal issues to watch in 2018

From the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to a Tallahassee courthouse, Florida’s high-profile legal battles in 2018 will focus on issues ranging from a water war to medical marijuana.

With thousands of lawsuits moving through state and federal courts, it’s impossible to list — or foresee — all the major legal disputes that that will play out in the new year. But here are five to watch:

Water War

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in a long-running water battle between Florida and Georgia. The crux of the issue: Florida contends that Georgia is siphoning too much water in northern parts of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, damaging the Apalachicola River and the oyster industry in Franklin County’s Apalachicola Bay. But a special master appointed by the Supreme Court recommended that Florida should be denied relief. Georgia has argued that limits on its water use would undermine the state’s economy, including the growth of the Atlanta area and the agriculture industry in Southeast Georgia.

First Amendment

Each year, the U.S. Supreme Court receives 7,000 to 8,000 appeals and agrees to hear roughly 80 cases. But Palm Beach County government critic Fane Lozman beat those long odds, as the Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 27 in a First Amendment case that stems from Lozman’s arrest as he spoke during a Riviera Beach City Council meeting. Lozman accused the city of violating his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him, in part, for his outspoken criticism. Lower courts sided with the city, which argued that a police officer had “probable cause” to arrest Lozman, who had refused to comply with directions from a council member.


Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion‘s death in 2011 during a hazing incident drew national attention and spurred prosecutions of other members of the school’s famed “Marching 100.” But the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 7 in an appeal by Dante Martin, a band member who was sent to prison in Champion’s death. Martin, who was found guilty of manslaughter, felony hazing resulting in death and two counts of misdemeanor hazing, contends the state’s hazing law is unconstitutional, at least in part because it is overly broad. Champion was injured during a band ritual known as “crossing Bus C,” which involved band members being struck repeatedly as they crossed from the front of a bus to the back.

Medical Marijuana

Florida voters in November 2016 approved a constitutional amendment to broadly legalize medical marijuana. More than a year later, however, legal battles continue about how the state should carry out the amendment. Orlando attorney John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the 2016 ballot initiative, has filed the high-profile case, arguing that lawmakers violated the constitutional amendment by passing a measure that bars smoking medical marijuana. A Leon County circuit judge is scheduled to hear arguments Jan. 25 about whether she should dismiss Morgan’s lawsuit. Other pending cases involve issues such as the constitutionality of a law that calls for issuing a highly coveted marijuana license to a black farmer. Another case challenges the constitutionality of a preference for the citrus industry in awarding marijuana licenses.

Education Fight

In the education world, it’s known simply as HB 7069 — a massive bill that House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, shepherded to passage at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session. At least 14 county school boards have filed two constitutional challenges to the law, contending in part that it undermines local control of public schools. The pending challenges, filed in Leon County circuit court, focus on issues such as part of the law that requires school boards to share with charter schools a portion of property-tax revenues used for building projects. School boards filed another case directly to the Florida Supreme Court, though justices said last month the dispute should first be heard in circuit court.

Judge halts black farmer marijuana license

A Tallahassee judge Thursday ordered health officials to stop the process of granting a marijuana license to a black farmer, one of 10 coveted new pot licenses approved by the Legislature this year.

The state Office of Medical Marijuana Use was supposed to grant all of the licenses by Oct. 3, but has not begun accepting applications for some new licenses. Christian Bax, director of the office, blamed the delay on the lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the carve-out for a black farmer.

The challenge is focused on a portion of a new state law that was passed during a June special Legislative Session. The law was intended to carry out a voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida.

Under the law, one of the 10 licenses must go to a grower who had been part of settled lawsuits, known as the “Pigford” cases, about discrimination against black farmers by the federal government.

The law also requires the black farmer who receives a license to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter.

But lawyers for Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, argued that, while he meets the qualification of being part of the Pigford litigation, he has not been allowed to join the black farmers association, effectively preventing him from receiving a license.

The Florida Constitution bars “special” laws, in part, that relate to “grant of privilege to a private corporation.” The lawsuit alleges the medical-marijuana law violates that part of the Constitution.

On Thursday, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson granted Smith’s request for a temporary injunction “on the bases stated by plaintiffs in their motion,” which focused on the part of the law dealing with the black farmers.

“The court granted the motion based on the particular statute that we challenged, and not on anything else,” Wilbur Brewton, a lawyer representing Smith, told The News Service of Florida after Thursday’s brief hearing.

Brewton and lawyers representing the state told Dodson they wanted to have the matter wrapped up by June.

But lawmakers may resolve the issue earlier.

Senate budget chief Rob Bradley told The News Service of Florida he wants to revisit the black-farmer portion of the law during the Legislative Session that begins Jan. 9.

“Based on how I’ve observed this issue evolve, I would like to see the Legislature address the matter in the 2018 Session,” said Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has been instrumental in developing and passing marijuana-related legislation for the past three years.

Bradley intends to co-sponsor a measure (SB 1134) filed by Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, that would strip membership in the black farmers association from the eligibility requirements for the black-farmer license.

“It would open up that particular license to more competitors who meet the definition of being involved in that (Pigford) civil rights litigation. I think it would be in the best interest of the people of the state of Florida to have more competition for that license,” Bradley said.

Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said Thursday agency officials “are currently reviewing the injunction to determine a path forward.”

But marijuana industry insiders said they believe the agency could plow forward with licenses because Smith’s challenge is focused solely on the black-farmer portion of the statute.

Based on Dodson’s injunction, “we believe the department should move forward with the application and selecting process for the remaining MMTC (medical marijuana treatment center) licenses,” Medical Marijuana Business Association President Jeffrey Sharkey said.

“Patients throughout Florida are still waiting to get access to this medicine they approved last November because there aren’t enough licensees in the marketplace,” he said.

Under the June law, health officials were required to issue licenses to applicants who had legal challenges pending as of January or who had scored within one point of the highest-ranked applicants in five regions. The Department of Health granted six such licenses after the law went into effect. The law also opened up the application process and required the health department to grant additional licenses.

Licenses to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana have been one of the most-controversial issues in the rapidly developing industry. The new round of licensing will be the first opportunity for those eager to get in on the lucrative “green rush” to apply for licenses since the birth of the state’s marijuana industry in 2014, when the Legislature authorized non-euphoric cannabis for patients with severe muscle spasms or cancer.

Under the 2014 law, nurseries that had been in business for 30 years or longer in Florida and grew at least 400,000 plants were eligible to apply for a medical marijuana license.

In expanding the number of licenses this year, the Legislature carved out a license for black farmers who complained that they were prevented from applying for the original licenses because none of the black farmers met the eligibility criteria.

Additional licenses will become available as the number of patients in a statewide database increases, but, for now, potential pot purveyors are anxious for the state to get the process started.

And they’re not the only ones.

In October, Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, berated Bax for insisting that he could not begin processing new applications until his office knew what the judge would do regarding Smith’s lawsuit.

“I’m not buying that just because there’s litigation out there you can’t fulfill your statutory duty to issue these additional licenses,” Young, a lawyer, scolded Bax during a committee meeting.

Judge sets hearing in ‘no smoke’ medical marijuana case

A Tallahassee judge will hear argument on whether to throw out Orlando attorney John Morgan‘s lawsuit over the ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers scheduled a Jan. 25 hearing on the state’s motion to dismiss, court records show.

The suit originally was filed in July by People United for Medical Marijuana, the political committee behind the constitutional amendment on medicinal cannabis approved last year.

Morgan, of Morgan & Morgan law firm fame, bankrolled the amendment that was OK’d by a whopping 71 percent of voters. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the smoking ban runs counter to the amendment’s language.

Lawmakers have since approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an implementing bill (SB 8-A) for the amendment that does not allow medicinal marijuana to be smoked.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, who sponsored the implementing bill, has said “we don’t believe you smoke medicine.” Edibles and “vaping”—heating cannabis and inhaling the steam—are permitted.

Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle argues that “the plain language of the Amendment refutes” Morgan’s case.

The plaintiffs, who include patients qualified to use medicinal cannabis, “do not even try to claim that the constitutional text … actually states that smoking must be permitted.”

Indeed, when Morgan spoke to reporters this summer after filing suit in Tallahassee, he said he included the language in an “intent statement,” but not in the text of the amendment.

The amendment says “(n)othing in this section shall require any accommodation of any on-site medical use of marijuana in any correctional institution or detention facility or place of education or employment, or of smoking medical marijuana in any public place.”

Morgan analogized the situation to a pool sign that says, “No swimming without lifeguard on duty.” It’s implied that when there’s a lifeguard around, swimming is allowed, he said.

When asked why he didn’t make it crystal clear, Morgan said the amendment “speaks for itself. Now, if you can’t figure it out, I can’t help that.”

Jon Mills, retired dean of the University of Florida law school and a former state House Speaker (1986-88), is Morgan’s lead counsel on the action.

Mills responded to Harle that the amendment itself “places no limitation on the use of marijuana in a form for smoking,” calling the ban a “direct irreconcilable conflict.”

Saying that the amendment doesn’t overtly address smoking “misses the point,” he added: Banning it “takes discretion out of the hands of patients and physicians.”

Joe Redner’s Florigrown files mammoth medical marijuana lawsuit

An epic 238-page lawsuit filed by Joe Redner‘s Florigrown company—replete with references to Encyclopedia Britannica, ancient Roman medical texts and the Nixon White House tapes—alleges that the state is failing its responsibility to carry out the people’s will when it comes to medical marijuana.

The complaint was filed Wednesday in Leon County Circuit Civil court against the Department of Health, its Office of Medical Marijuana Use and director Christian Bax, state Surgeon General Celeste Philip and Gov. Rick Scott.

The latest action adds to the growing amount of litigation over medical marijuana, which has state lawmakers concerned it’s interfering with the department’s ability to process vendor licenses and patient ID cards, among other things.

Chief among the many suits is another constitutional challenge from attorney John Morgan over lawmakers’ ban on smoking medicinal cannabis. Morgan was the main backer of the state constitutional amendment authorizing marijuana as medicine and approved by voters last year.

Florigrown, which had been denied the ability to be a medical marijuana treatment center, says the state is shirking its duties under the constitutional amendment passed last year that authorizes medical marijuana, and in regulating the drug under state law.

Redner is a Tampa icon, who built an adult entertainment empire after acquiring the legendary Mons Venus club, then became a free speech advocate and frequent political candidate.

He also has been diagnosed with lung cancer and separately sued to be allowed to grow his own marijuana.

Redner’s business partner in Florigrown, Adam Elend, said the company is qualified and ready to supply medicinal cannabis.

“The department is confusing licensing with registering, which is a ministerial function,” he said. The Department of Health, like other agencies under Scott, does not comment on pending litigation. 

Elend added that caps on the number of licenses the state gives to vendors are unconstitutional “because the (state) is charged with creating regulations that guarantee access and the safe use of marijuana by qualifying patients.”

The state also carved out some special categories, such as preferences for black farmers and former citrus producers, which are the subject of other suits.

“There’s no process in place to open up the market,” Elend said.

The complaint and exhibits are below:

State moves forward with disputed pot ID contract

After hearing a litany of complaints from lawmakers, state health officials are moving forward with a contested contract to process medical-marijuana patient identification cards.

State Surgeon General Celeste Philip signed a contract with Jacksonville-based Veritec LLC, citing emergency powers “to avoid an immediate and serious danger to public health.”

Patients have complained about months-long delays in getting the cards, which are required before they can purchase marijuana products from state-sanctioned dispensaries after doctors order the treatment.

Lawmakers have publicly questioned state pot czar Christian Bax about the hold-ups, which he blamed on his office’s inability to move forward with the outsourcing of the ID cards.

After the Department of Health announced its intent to grant the $7.4 million contract to Veritec, losing bidder Automated Health Solutions – which bid about $9.3 million – immediately said it would protest the decision.

The protest threatened to delay for months the outsourcing of the ID cards – ordered by lawmakers in a sweeping bill passed in June. That bill was intended to carry out a voter-approved constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana.

Under Philip’s order, the outsourcing will begin while the administrative challenge moves forward. Along with serving as surgeon general, Philip is secretary of the Florida Department of Health, which is in charge of carrying out medical-marijuana laws.

“We have heard the concerns of patients, caregivers and the Legislature and have determined that expediting the OMMU (Office of Medical Marijuana Use) identification card program is necessary to ensure timely access for patients. The rate of growth of this program has proven that we cannot wait for an ITN (Invitation to Negotiate) protest without impacting patients currently suffering from qualifying medical conditions,” Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said in an email.

In a memo Wednesday about the signing of the contract with Veritec, Philip said the Office of Medical Marijuana Use has printed more than 29,000 patient and caregiver cards. But the health department expects an exponential rise in the number of patients – to between 300,000 and 500,000 – over the next two years.

The number of new patients added daily has nearly tripled since March, from 90 to 264, according to Philip.

And because lawmakers ordered the outsourcing of the ID cards, Bax’s office lacks the staff to address the task, Philip said.

“The card application program is extremely resource-intensive, and further continued diversion of OMMU personnel to serve the needs of the card program will negatively impact OMMU’s core regulatory functions,” she wrote.

Nearly all of the 17 full-time employees and 18 temporary workers hired by Bax are devoted to dealing with the cards either full-time or part time, according to Philip.

She said the office won’t be able to process applications and print cards in a timely manner once the number of patients added to a state registry reaches 350 per day, which Philip said will occur within the next two months. The work overload will result in delays of up to three months before patients get their cards, she said.

“Moving forward with a vendor for the card program and call center will benefit patients, caregivers, and the department,” she wrote.

The outsourcing of the ID cards will allow Bax’s staff “to concentrate on their core functions,” such as regulating medical marijuana treatment centers, working with physicians and facilitating patient access, Philips wrote in the memo.

The ID cards are just one of a series of challenges in Florida’s medical marijuana arena.

The state is also dealing with several lawsuits. One challenge focuses on a law banning medical marijuana from being smoked. Another challenges a ban on “home grows.” A separate lawsuit is challenging portions of the June law that set aside a medical marijuana license for a black farmer who meets certain requirements. And a fourth is centered on a preference in the law for up to two applicants from the citrus industry.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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