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New group seeks to steer medical marijuana between control, free market

As at least one key lawmaker pushes to open Florida’s coming medical marijuana industry to a free market and the current seven licensed companies fight to keep it tight, a new advocacy group is emerging saying it wants to help develop a middle ground.

Smart Medicine For Florida will be pushing for regulations that would assure quality, safety, and security while also seeking a market open enough to assure fair pricing and the voices of patients and doctors, said the new group’s leader, Brian Hughes.

The new group will be emerging in coming weeks with details as the Florida Legislature begins in ernest to transition from the very limited, low-THC marijuana medicine production and distribution program that began in 2016 to the much broader one authorized when voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2 in November, essentially legalizing all forms of medicines derived from marijuana.

That legislative debate could pingpong between interests that still want to regulate medical marijuana into non-existence, to rising advocacy for a free-market.

“We intend to be a voice in the middle of this debate about what’s gong to happen with Amendment 2,” Hughes said. “It feels like there’s a space for patients and doctors and people regardless of where they stood on Amendment 2.”

Amendment 2 allows for virtually all forms of marijuana medicines from edibles to smoke, to treat any disabling medical conditions. That’s a huge step from the program authorized by the Florida Legislature in 2015, which allows only oil extracts, only from plants essentially devoid of the THC chemical that can make people high, and only for patients with epilepsy, a few other neurological disorders, and certain cancer treatments.

With the limited market that had been envisioned for the current program, it was limited to just seven highly-regulated statewide producers. Already some lawmakers are saying that does not make sense for a future market that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year now that Amendment 2 has been approved.

Among them, state Sen. Jeff Brandes is calling for a free market. His Senate Bill 614 sets that up with no vertical integration of marijuana businesses. And now he has called out the House of Representatives on expectations that it will follow the same philosophy.

“The House of Representatives has been a steadfast supporter of the free market. The House stands against government intervention that picks winners and losers, and opposes onerous rules and regulations that distort the private sector,” Brandes said in a statement.

“The laws in place today governing Florida’s medical marijuana system restrict market participants, and it is tailor-made for a few influential businesses to dominate the industry,” Brandes continued. “The result of this type of market distortion is often higher prices, shortages of goods, and a lower quality product for consumers. Given the free market track record of the House, I am confident that they will not buckle under the pressure of the special interests of the existing cartel who wrote the current broken medical marijuana law.”

Hughes said his group wants to see what ideas emerge from the Florida Legislature and to work with those. He cautioned against any wide-open market that could lead to a situation like California’s which have become notorious for pot shops masquerading as medical dispensaries.

“The voters approved a medical marijuana policy that provides medicine to patients. They did not approve recreational use. Florida is not California and doesn’t want to become California,” Hughes said. “Creating the wild west of weed in Florida and claiming it’s about free markets is not a responsible way forward.

“Medical marijuana is a drug,” Hughes added. “So policymakers have a responsibility to ensure it is appropriately regulated for patient safety and medical quality while at the same time ensuring reasonable access to those in need. Done the right way, this will end the illicit market that exists to keep marijuana off our streets and out of our schools.”

Florida officials, voters clash over medical marijuana rules

Three months after Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, state health officials and prospective pot-seeking patients are at odds over proposed rules that would spell out who could get marijuana.

State officials have recommended restrictions on what type of patients can qualify for medical marijuana, and where they can obtain it. Their suggestions, however, have prompted a wave of opposition across the state, with nearly 1,300 residents attending what are normally low-key bureaucratic hearings to press for less restricted access to marijuana.

“Patients, doctors, caregivers and activists all had a unified message which is rare,” said Ben Pollara, who is the campaign manager for United for Care. “They want impediments removed and a free market place.”

Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of voters last November, was enacted on Jan. 3. It allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments than what was currently allowed in state law. The rules have become a flashpoint because the amendment requires the state to adopt them by July 3 and have them in place by September.

The state held hearings in several locations and Thursday’s two hours of public testimony in Tallahassee mirrored what happened earlier this week in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Orlando. Most who spoke statewide are also concerned about high prices and limited availability so far of marijuana products. Only five of the seven organizations approved to dispense cannabis are up and running.

Activists want a requirement eliminated that a patient must be under a prescribing physician’s care for at least 90 days. They also believe it should be up to doctors to deem when medical marijuana is necessary and not be confined by the conditions enumerated in the amendment or by the Board of Medicine.

Doug Bench, a former judge who testified in Tallahassee, said that people often delay seeing a doctor until they urgently need treatment.

“When you are ill you, you put it off. You don’t want to hear what the doctor says and by the time you finally go you need it now,” Bench said.

The current law – which was approved by the state legislature in 2014 – allows for non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. It was expanded last March to allow patients with terminal conditions to gain access to higher strength cannabis.

The department will review all comments it has received and agency officials will then publish another proposed rule. How quickly that rule gets published depends on subsequent public comments or any legal challenges.

The Florida Legislature will also get a chance to weigh in. There are two bills in the Senate with the House of Representatives expected to release its version before session opens on March 7.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Saying voter intent ‘ignored’ on medical marijuana, Tampa Bay Times is just plain wrong

The Tampa Bay Times is just plain wrong about something, and it has stuck in my craw for nearly a week now.

Last Thursday, a Times headline read: “Voter intent on medical marijuana ignored.” Two days later, columnist John Romano followed suit with virtually the same narrative.

“Ignored?”

The clear inference of the editorial – notably, the word “ignored” – utterly fails to acknowledge reality.

“Ignored” clearly and purposefully claims the will of those who voted for the constitutional amendment has been intentionally disregarded or not considered. Whether you agree or disagree with the direction things are headed, clear evidence suggests Amendment 2 is NOT being ignored.

If the amendment were indeed being ignored, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) would have done nothing. Nada.

Instead, the DOH – absent legislative guidance and before rule hearings or public testimony – took a fairly dramatic stance expanding access to medical cannabis. The Department publicly stated physicians can now order medical marijuana for those patient conditions identified in the amendment.

That’s not ignoring. That’s the Department of Health taking a pretty bold step forward. (Applause?)

Typically, state agencies have limited authority to make such a determination. But in this case, the DOH action – taken within days of Amendment 2’s enactment – allows for the expansion of conditions precisely as directed under the newly passed amendment.

One could make the argument that this is the exact opposite of “ignored.”

Further, DOH did not (and does not) have authority to simply wipe away statutes put in place explicitly to handle an array of issues that deal with a substance that is (may I remind everyone) STILL illegal at the federal level.

The agency could not have, for example, issued an edict allowing anyone to grow marijuana or to sell it as that person saw fit. And they cannot just wipe away licensure requirements or legislatively mandated training requirements for physicians that are currently still on the books. Instead, they let the current statutory framework for growing, distributing and selling to stand – concepts that are clearly articulated under the law as it stands now – taking the bold step of allowing physicians to immediately begin ordering medical cannabis for a new group of patients.

Seriously, what more do the good folks at TBT want?

Second, and equally bizarre: they roundly criticize lawmakers.

This accusation – plainly false – simply makes no sense.

Lawmakers are, right now, in the business of meeting, taking public testimony and considering various viewpoints. They drafted bills, weighing different options and are moving forward with great speed, even though the start of the legislative session is still weeks away.

There have been three public hearings and, as of this writing, two separate Senate bills are being floated, and we can expect one from the House any moment now.

Again, what more do they want?  Session hasn’t even started.

Let us keep in mind that 70 percent of voters did NOT vote for recreational marijuana usage. Voters said “yes” to the PHYSICIAN-directed use of MEDICAL marijuana for patients with extreme conditions. The proponents repeatedly and steadfastly maintained that we would not have widespread use of marijuana but that it would ONLY be available for the severely ill.

One must presume that the critically ill are under the treatment and care of a licensed and, hopefully, fully trained physician.

The paper’s position that the Board of Medicine should have no role in the administration of medicine is not only misguided, but entirely inconsistent with the promise made by those who supported this amendment.

As a father and a citizen of this state, I am genuinely terrified that Florida could become the next California – or worse. We have seen what happens when imperfect, but well-intended, laws are exploited.

Once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s almost impossible to put it back in.

I don’t want to live in a state where anybody with a smartphone can feign virtually any illness and have pot delivered to their front door. I am fairly confident that most who voted in support of Amendment 2 will agree.

Of course, we will never know exactly what anyone who voted for (or against) it was thinking.

But here is what we do know.

You may not like the way things are headed. You may prefer Sen. Brandes’ approach over the one from Sen. Bradley. You may think DOH moved too quickly or was too narrow in their interpretation. Fine. Fair enough.

But saying the Department of Health has “ignored” Amendment 2, or imply that lawmakers have done likewise, is simply – and demonstrably – wrong.

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Modern Health Concepts, PalliaTech team up as Florida’s medical pot industry grows

A South Florida medical marijuana dispensing organization is thinking ahead, entering into a strategic partnership to help plan for future growth.

Modern Health Concepts, a South Florida-based medical cannabis provider, announced last week that shareholders successfully formed a strategic partnership with PalliaTech Inc.

Created in 2010, the Massachusetts-based company began as a medical device company and was one of the first to develop and patent a medical cannabis vaporizing unit able to deliver a single metered dose to patients. It now operates vertically-integrated cannabis companies in several states.

“We admire what Modern Health Concepts has done to date to successfully evolve this industry and are excited about this partnership,” said Joseph Lusardi, CEO of PalliaTech in a statement. “We are encouraged by the commitment and dedication Modern Health Concepts has demonstrated regarding their vital role in this industry, and we are proud to partner with them and invest in growing their ability to provide medicine to many Floridians for years to come.”

Affiliated with Costa Nurseries, Modern Health Concepts is one of seven approved medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The company, according to its website, plans to begin offering vaporizing cartridges early this year.

The partnership comes as state lawmakers and the health officials begin the process of implementing Amendment 2, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Health initiated the process of developing rules for Amendment 2. Under the ballot language, the agency has until July 3 to create rules and regulations to implement the new medical marijuana law.

Under the preliminary rule, medical marijuana treatment centers — which would be the same as dispensing organizations — must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

But a proposal by Sen. Rob Bradley looks to change state law as it relates to the number of treatment centers allowed in the state. Under his implementing bill, the Department of Health would be required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry.

It then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to partner with PalliaTech to augment our operations and enable us to grow at a much faster rate with the end goal to better service increasing demand from patients in need,” said Richard Young, CEO of Modern Health Concepts, in a statement.

Trulieve to open medical marijuana dispensary in Tampa

Trulieve is expanding into Tampa.

The medical marijuana dispensing organization announced Tuesday it will open its third dispensary Thursday in Tampa. The company currently has dispensaries in Tallahassee and Clearwater.

“This is an exciting start to the new year for Trulieve and the patients we serve,” said Kim Rivers, the company’s CEO in a statement. “As the first licensee to be authorized to dispense medical cannabis in Florida, we are pleased to serve an expanding Tampa market. We are also excited to be opening our newest dispensary.”

Trulieve is one of seven dispensing organizations currently authorized by the Department of Health to grow and distribute medical marijuana. According to the company, the new dispensary will have both low-THC and high-THC medical cannabis available in a several forms, including oral capsules and vaporizers.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health initiated the process of creating rules and regulations governing Amendment 2.

Under preliminary rules, medical marijuana treatment centers — which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

That could mean the seven nurseries currently authorized to grow and sell medical marijuana would have a corner on the market.

Lawmakers have indicated they’re planning to weigh in on Amendment 2 implementation, and last week Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill that would, among other things, allow for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email to FloridaPolitics.com last week the agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

In addition to dispensaries, Trulieve also offers a statewide delivery service. The company is scheduled to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Thursday at the new dispensary.

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Drug Free America urges caution as lawmakers discuss Amendment 2 implementation

Drug Free America is urging Florida lawmakers to “proceed with caution” as they begin crafting legislation to implement the state’s newest medical marijuana law.

“While we were opposed to Amendment 2 for a number of specific reasons, we recognize Florida voters have spoken,” said Calvina Fay, the executive director of Drug Free America, in a statement. “We also recognize lawmakers will soon convene and consider implementing language … that will dictate policy for generations to come. We strongly urge them to exercise extreme caution moving forward.

On Thursday, Sen. Rob Bradley filed Senate Bill 406, the Amendment 2 implementing bill. The bill comes just days after the Department of Health initiated the process of developing rules, as outlined under the ballot language.

The bill, among other things, allows for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

“In 2014, the Florida Legislature legalized low-THC medical marijuana, and in 2016 expanded the medical marijuana system to provide legal access to marijuana for terminally ill Floridians,” said Bradley in a statement last week. “Floridians want even more options, speaking loud and clear at the polls in November by passing Amendment Two. This bill significantly expands the current medical marijuana system to give Floridians the relief they have demanded, and it does so safely and quickly.”

Under Bradley’s bill, the Department of Health is required register five more medical marijuana treatment centers within six months of 250,000 qualified patients registering with the compassionate use registry. It then allows for more five more treatment centers to receive licenses after the 350,000 qualified patients, 400,000 qualified patients, 500,000 qualified patients, and after each additional 100,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

Existing law does allow for some growth, authorizing the state health department to issue three more licenses once 250,000 qualified patients register with the state’s compassionate use registry.

“As we’ve seen in states like Colorado and California, measures intended to open the door just a little, results in the door opening far too wide,” said Fay. “Because marijuana – and this is not a surprise to anyone – is subject to abuse, has a robust black market, and is the drug of choice for too many of our nation’s youth, the ‘market’ will rapidly and dramatically take advantage of every loophole that can be exploited.”

Fay said growers have indicated they will have “far more capacity than is needed for the foreseeable future,” and warned that further expansion could “create an undue burden on already overwhelmed officials for effectively regulating this industry.

“For these reason, we ask lawmakers to proceed with caution, recognize that the for-profit marijuana industry will exploit loopholes, and to please keep treating marijuana as a dangerous drug that requires strict safeguards and controls,” said Fay.

Bradley’s bill, which was co-introduced by Sen. Dana Young, hasn’t received its committee assignments yet. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t be talking about medical marijuana this week.

The House Health Quality subcommittee is scheduled to hear from several experts — including officials with the Florida Police Chiefs Association and Florida Sheriffs Association — during its meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. While a companion to Bradley’s bill hasn’t been filed, House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues is expected to carry the House implementing bill.

Amendment 2 implementation bill filed in Florida Senate

A bill filed Thursday in the Florida Senate, if passed, would expand the medical marijuana system in the Sunshine State, complying with 2016’s Amendment 2.

However, some critics — inside the Senate and outside as well — have raised concerns, suggesting the bill will not have the smoothest glide path.

Senate Bill 406, filed by Orange Park Republican Rob Bradley, would codify Amendment 2, establishing parameters for prescribing physicians, the treatment of minors, mandated yearly examinations for medical marijuana patients, and a requirement of a caregiver registry.

“In 2014, the Florida Legislature legalized low-THC medical marijuana, and in 2016 expanded the medical marijuana system to provide legal access to marijuana for terminally ill Floridians,” said Bradley in a press release Thursday.

“Floridians want even more options, speaking loud and clear at the polls in November by passing Amendment Two. This bill significantly expands the current medical marijuana system to give Floridians the relief they have demanded, and it does so safely and quickly,” Bradley added.

Sen. Dana Young, chair of the Senate Health Policy committee, is a co-introducer of the legislation. She also worked closely with Bradley on the bill.

“This bill faithfully honors our solemn obligation to the people of Florida to implement Amendment Two,” Young said. “Suffering Floridians will have now real options with no unreasonable delays.” The Health Policy Committee heard testimony from numerous Floridians at a recent committee meeting in Tallahassee.

The bill would amend language in Section 381.986 of Florida statute, changing the title to “Compassionate use of low-THC cannabis and marijuana.”

A definition of “medical cannabis” is stricken from the bill, replaced instead with a statement that “marijuana” means what it says in the Florida Constitution.”

“Medical use” of marijuana, in the language of the bill, does not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana that was not purchased or acquired from an MMTC registered with the Department of Health.”

Qualifying doctors are allowed to prescribe medical cannabis and “a delivery device,” if they ascertain that a patient has a qualifying condition, and that the health benefits of cannabis use outweigh the risks.

To qualify, they will have to take a four hour course from the Florida Medical Association, or the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association.

Patients will be allowed a 90 day supply of marijuana, up from 45 in the previous statutory language.

Prescribing cannabis to non-qualified patients will be a misdemeanor of the first degree for prescribing doctors. That same penalty would be imposed on anyone who “fraudulently” claims the kind of debilitating condition that qualifies.

As well, qualified patients who smoke in public, on school grounds, in school buses or other vehicles also will be found guilty of that first degree misdemeanor.

The bill also has provisions for caregivers, who may help administer the cannabis to patients. Caregivers must be over 21 years of age, and must pass a level 2 screening unless related to the caregiver.

Additionally, a patient may have one caregiver at a time, outside of a hospice or nursing home setting.

The department, meanwhile, will register caregivers, physicians, and patients, and have rules set up by July 3, and a system up and running by Oct. 3. By that date, patient and caregiver identification cards will have been issued.

The bill also has provisions for expanding the industry.

Six months after the threshold of 250,000 patients is hit, five more Medical Marijuan Treatment Centers will be brought on line. The same will happen after 350,000 patients, 400,000 patients, and for every 100,000 patients thereafter.

Rules for processing and dispensing cannabis are also established in this bill.

Among them, that dosage info should be labeled with the recommended dose, and that no recreational-style delivery devices, such as bongs and rolling papers and the like, will be made available by the dispensing organization.

All transactions are to be cataloged and recorded, and MMTCs will have 24 hour video recording with archives kept for 45 days in controlled areas, ranging from grow and storage rooms to point of sale locations.

While the Bradley/Young nexus will be formidable, Sen. Jeff Brandes — an advocate of opening up the MMTC market to more providers — doesn’t think this bill goes far enough.

“I am encouraged that Senator Bradley’s proposal expands access to medical marijuana for more patients, and I am further encouraged that his proposal begins to chip away at the unnecessary regulatory hurdles burdening Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers. However, I believe the voters of Florida voiced their overwhelming support for a new approach to the regulation of medical marijuana in this state, not a revision to the existing framework,” Brandes said in a statement Thursday.

“I am continuing to work on what I believe is the most free-market option to address the implementation of Amendment 2. I look forward to releasing my proposal in the coming weeks and working with Senator Bradley as well as my fellow colleagues to implement the will of the Florida voters,” Brandes added.

Ben Pollara of United for Care also had some thoughts on the legislation.

“Senator Bradley’s bill is an encouraging start to the legislative process of implementing the medical marijuana amendment. His approach certainly stands in stark contrast to the proposed rule issued earlier this week by DOH by respecting the basic elements and language of the constitution,” Pollara noted.

“The two most important elements of implementation are respecting the sanctity and primacy of the doctor-patient relationship under the law,” Pollara added, “and diversifying and expanding the marketplace to best serve patient access.”

The caveats were inevitable, of course.

“Bradley’s bill does a mostly excellent job respecting the doctor-patient relationship. However, the bill doesn’t sufficiently expand the licensing of medical marijuana treatment centers to serve the estimated patient population, nor does the proposed expansion occur quickly enough to keep up with a patient population that will quickly boom across the state. It also leaves in place the current requirement of vertical integration that stifles innovation, diversity and ultimately patient access,” Pollara added.

Long story short? The future of medical marijuana in Florida is going to be robustly contested at least through this session.

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DOH begins Amendment 2 rule-making

More patients might be eligible for medical marijuana under Amendment 2, but a preliminary draft of new rules doesn’t appear to allow for immediate growth in the industry to meet demand.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health released the preliminary text of proposed rule development. The release comes ahead of five public hearings schedule for early next month, giving Floridians a chance to weigh in on the agency’s rules and regulations governing the state’s medical marijuana program.

But the update appears to do little to establish new rules, instead creating a system that could bring new patients into the state’s existing medical pot program.

“Any proposal which seeks to mold the spirit of Amendment 2 into the narrow and flawed law on the books today should be rejected, and a more comprehensive strategy must take priority. The people of Florida overwhelmingly voted for a new direction in medical marijuana, and we must heed the will of the voters,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican. “I will support no bill, nor any rule, that maintains the established state sanctioned cartel system we have today, and I urge my colleagues to join me in proposing a free market solution for Florida.

Under the proposed rule, only patients with one of 10 specific medical conditions, like HIV/AIDs or cancer, are eligible for medical marijuana. The rule does allow for use, as long as the Florida Board of Medicine identifies which debilitating conditions it can be used for.

That’s contrary to the ballot language, which allowed physicians to order medical marijuana for a patient for if they believe “the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”

“The proposed rule issued today by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) stands in direct contradiction with Article X, Section 29 of the Florida Constitution, the expressed intent of the authors of that section, and the will of the overwhelming majority of voters who approved the amendment,” said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for the United for Care campaign. “If DOH’s rule is implemented as written, it will be in clear violation of Florida law.”

The proposed rule also requires patients, physicians, medical marijuana treatment centers and caregivers to be registered in state’s online Compassionate Use Registry; and requires medical marijuana treatment centers to follow the same record keeping, security, product testing, and other safety standards currently spelled out in state law and rules.

“I believe the Department is being appropriately cautious and awaiting the Legislature’s direction,” said Taylor Patrick Biehl, a lobbyist at Capitol Alliance Group who represents the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. “The eligible patient population grows significantly under Amendment 2 — potentially tenfold. I’m confident that both the Department and the Legislature recognize the need to create affordable, safe and accessible medicine to the deserving patients.”

The preliminary rule also states all medical marijuana treatment centers, which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

That rule means the seven nurseries currently authorized to grow, process and sell medical marijuana will have the corner on the market. Those nurseries are already growing the low THC cannabis authorized under a 2014 state law.

There is potential for more dispensing organizations to come online in the future, but not until 250,000 qualified patients register with the compassionate use registry.

The ballot initiative gives the Department of Health six months after the amendment goes into effect to write the rules governing medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3.

“The legislature has demonstrated a willingness and desire to implement this amendment in a reasonable manner that respects the plain language of the constitution, and reflects the mandate of the electorate,” said Pollara. “Why DOH would choose to engage in a policymaking exercise which ignores both the law and the role of the legislature in implementing the law is a mystery. Perhaps the actions of DOH shouldn’t surprise, given their history of incompetence in the administration of Florida’s medical marijuana laws.”

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email to FloridaPolitics.com that the agency “initiated the rulemaking process as directed by Amendment 2.” She went on to say the state agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

The Legislature has indicated it will tackle Amendment 2 during the 2017 Legislative Session. Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, is expected to carry the medical marijuana bill in the House. And last week, the House Health Quality subcommittee held a two-hour meeting where experts, including Christian Bax with the Office of Compassionate Use, participated in a panel discussion on the implementation.

The workshops are open to the public, and anyone can comment. The meetings will be held:

— 2 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the Duval County Health Department, 900 University Blvd. North in Jacksonville

— 10 a.m. on Feb. 7 at Broward County Health Department, 780 SW 24th Street in Fort Lauderdale

— 9 a.m. on Feb. 8 at the Florida Department of Health, Tampa Branch Laboratory, 3602 Spectrum Blvd.

— 6 p.m. on Feb. 8 at the Orange County Health Department, 6102 Lake Ellenor Drive in Orlando; and

— 4 p.m. on Feb. 9 at the Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way, Room 148 in Tallahassee.

Those who can’t attend in person, can offer public comment on the Department of Health website.

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Treadwell Nursery hires Gunster lobbyists Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti and J. Larry Williams

Treadwell Nursery appears to be sticking with Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart.

Joanna Lee Clary Bonafanti and J. Larry Williams registered with the state to lobby the Florida Legislature on behalf of the Central Florida nursery on Dec. 13. The nursery, which was one of several applicants seeking a permit to grow and distribute medical marijuana, enlisted the help of two other Gunster team members earlier in 2016.

State records show Derek Bruce and Cameron Yarbrough registered to lobby the Legislature on the nursery’s behalf in August and July respectively. In October 2016, the nursery also enlisted the help of Jeffrey Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl with Capitol Alliance Group.

In April, Treadwell Nursery filed a petition for formal administrative hearings in response to the Department of Health’s decision to approve San Felasco Nurseries as a northeast Florida dispensing organization.

The nursery challenged how the Department of Health responded to a new state law, saying it had no criteria or timing outlined about how and when it would award additional licenses.

Treadwell Nursery, a more than 40-year-old family owned nursery in Central Florida, was one of eight nurseries in the central region to apply to be a dispensing organization. The nursery lost out to Knox Nursery. A second nursery in the region, San Felasco Nursery, won its administrative challenge and was eventually issued a licenses.

The fight over who can grow and distribute medical marijuana will surely heat up in the coming months, as state lawmakers and health department officials begin to craft rules and implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, which went into effect on Jan. 3.

The new law allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use higher strength medical marijuana if recommended by a licensed physician. According to the Associated Press, there are nearly 1,500 patients in the state registry and about 340 physicians have registered.

The industry is also expected to experience significant growth in the coming years. A recent report from New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research showed Florida’s market will grow to $1.6 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 140 percent. The report notes that the Sunshine State could make up 14 percent of the medical marijuana market by 2020.

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Ray Rodrigues: House bill won’t include tax on medical marijuana

The Florida House will push to make medical marijuana tax exempt, according the sponsor of the yet-to-be filed bill implementing Amendment 2.

While lawmakers are in the early stages of drafting an implementing bill, House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues said the House does not plan to include a tax on medical marijuana in its proposal. The Estero Republican will be sponsoring the House bill during the 2017 Legislative Session.

“Obviously our goal is to honor the intent of the constitutional amendment that more than 70 percent of Florida voters approved,” said Rodrigues. “The only thing I can firmly commit to is, I reviewed the Senate testimony that was offered in the Senate Health committee, and Ben Pollara, who led the organization that put the amendment on the ballot, said … it was his hope that Amendment 2 would be treated with the same seriousness as we treat medicine and all other health care decisions.”

“We respect that and, to that end, the one thing I can say about the House bill is we’re going to treat medical marijuana like medicine and we will not contain a tax on medical marijuana,” he continued.

Rodrigues said he is in the early stages of crafting the legislation, but does not currently have legislation in bill drafting. He said he hopes to meet with all of the stakeholders before drafting the legislation. But when it comes to the legislation, Rodrigues said he thinks everything will be on the table.

“I think the key is to come out with a product that honors the constitutional amendment, but also provides the regulations that are necessary to safeguard Florida citizens,” he said.

Rodrigues’ comments came after a two-hour House Health Quality Subcommittee meeting Wednesday, where lawmakers heard from Christian Bax, the director of the state’s Office of Compassionate Use, and other medical marijuana experts.

The constitutional amendment, which received support from 71 percent of Florida voters, allows Floridians with debilitating medical condition, determined by a licensed physician, to use medical marijuana. The amendment went into effect Jan. 3, but state lawmakers and the Florida Department of Health are now tasked with adopting rules and implementing the amendment.

Bax said the Department of Health will begin the rule-making process in the coming days. The agency, he said, plans to hold workshops in five regions throughout the state to create an open dialogue about the needs.

“The Department of Health remains committed to executing the will of Florida voters,” he told the committee.

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