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In Jacksonville, Christian Bax defends medical marijuana rulemaking process

Amendment 2 was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016, yet nearly two years later, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use is still workshopping rules.

The road show came to Jacksonville Tuesday afternoon, to a Southside hotel in the absolute doldrums of renovations.

From peeling wallpaper in the single-occupancy bathroom to a stale, moldy smell in the conference room itself, the facility had myriad issues.

The subject of the Tuesday afternoon workshop was testing lab certification and standards.

Spoiler alert: the discussion on this is not near a conclusion.

Christian Bax, the director of the program, noted that the rulemaking process would go through the spring and summer.

As thunder boomed outside, speakers voiced their concerns on laboratory testing first, with numerous speakers representing laboratory interests wanting specified quality attributes in their product, and rigorous testing through a competent, accredited laboratory with ISO Standards.

Testing of both pesticides and potency dominated much of the discussion over the course of the afternoon.

Jody James of the Florida Cannabis Action Network wondered what the fees were actually for and how they impact the consumer paying a premium for industry certification.

“Obviously the fees of the lab program would be going for the cost of sending our inspectors out,” Bax said.

James wondered if the proposed program as it expands might have the “fox guarding the henhouse.”

“It’s important to us to be able to take the product to a third party and test it themselves,” James said, rather than rely on politically-connected companies to handle the testing.

Bax urged those on hand to offer solutions to potential testing problems, rather than just spotlight the problems.

“We would like concrete suggestions,” Bax said.

Dr. Wilson King, medical director of Treadwell’s Nursery in Eustis, advocated for testing at a reasonable cost.

“Unnecessary costs from financially burdensome rules,” King said, are passed on to the consumer.

King urged tests of bigger batches — 15 grounds, with plants of the same strain and growing conditions being considered the same.

Another speaker challenged the department to be less “opaque” regarding questions on testing and other rules, and to be clearer about who the state is working with to write regulations — be it other states or independent contractors.

“We would like to see the state act a lot more proficiently in putting these regulations together,” he said.

Bax noted that in larger markets, there are sometimes just a handful of labs, fighting for survival.

“You have an incentive to race to the bottom with these labs, with the labs that play ball getting a lot of customers,” Bax said, adding later that he wanted to ensure such “perverse incentives” aren’t baked into the Florida structure.

Bax noted the department wants to improve communication, reiterating that during the spring and the summer, the department would like to get as many rules set up as possible.

“What you see is what you get as far as rulemaking,” Bax said. “There’s not a whole lot of conversations or meetings happening with the industry outside of public record.”

“There are lots of different models around the country … lots of expertise … we want to harvest that knowledge as much as possible,” Bax added, noting that Washington and California models have been examined with an eye toward potential issues

“We’re not just going to paper over issues we’ve seen in other states,” Bax said, including unsustainable regulatory structures.

“There are over 85,000 patients in the state of Florida … we are growing quite quickly,” Bax said, noting that “the department has no authority to operate outside of the legislative framework.”

Bax, when we asked him after the meeting, said that he didn’t think that the department needed further guidance from the Legislature. The department continues to notice and workshop rules at an acceptable pace, with 13 rules noticed last month, he said.

That said, he understands why the Legislature would withhold pay for senior staff in DOH next fiscal year.

Bax says the “department shares frustration with the timeline.”

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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