Medical marijuana regulators withdraw licensing fee rule


State regulators have given up for now on a contentious rule requiring a hefty fee from medical marijuana suppliers.

The Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, had first proposed in April a “supplemental licensing fee” of $174,844 from each provider.

But the office on Monday, without explanation, announced it was withdrawing the proposed fee from further consideration.

It already had drawn a legal challenge from Liberty Health Sciences, a state-licensed “medical marijuana treatment center” (MMTC).

Its lawyer had argued the state set the fee too high.

“I understand the department will conduct future rulemaking proceedings on this subject and my client looks forward to discussing their concerns,” said John Lockwood, the company’s Tallahassee-based attorney.

In an email, Health Department spokesman Devin Galetta added that the department “is working to ensure that input presented by stakeholders during the rulemaking process is addressed.”

The fee in question was to be an “annual payment by a registered (provider) to cover the (state’s) costs of administering” the law governing medicinal cannabis.

Lockwood said in a filing with the agency that the calculation requires the state’s 13 currently licensed MMTCs “to bear the burden of the supplemental licensure fee when the fee should be borne by at least 17 MMTCs” — which would bring it down to around $133,000, a 24 percent decrease.

The money from the fee would help fund the Coalition for Medical Marijuana Research and Education within the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa.

Lawmakers gave it a mission “to conduct rigorous scientific research, provide education, disseminate research, and guide policy for the adoption of a statewide policy on ordering and dosing practices for the medical use of marijuana.”

Liberty Health Sciences’ other challenge on a “variance procedure” for MMTCs is still pending; a hearing is set for next Friday. Both challenges were filed in the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings.

The idea behind the latter rule, for one example, was to allow providers who had originally applied to use a certain marijuana processing procedure to later ask to use a newer, better technology.

But Liberty’s challenge there suggests it could also cause administrative nightmares by “requiring an MMTC to request a variance before hiring or firing any employee or manager.”

Liberty Health Sciences is a subsidiary of Canadian-based DFMMJ Investments, which itself was formerly partly owned by Aphria, a Canadian producer of medical cannabis products. Liberty has dispensaries in Summerfield, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Port St. Lucie.

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor 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 [email protected]

One comment

  • Alexander Hamilton

    July 13, 2018 at 11:34 pm

    The cannabis industry should tread lightly here. One of the arguments in favor of legal cannabis is generation of taxable revenues from its sales, which in the case of this fee is intended to support much-needed research into medical use of cannabis. The outcome of this research would likely support continued efforts to increase public access to cannabis and associated commercial opportunities. However, if cannabis businesses (so-called medical marijuana treatment centers in the State of Florida) and their legal representation subvert this process, public backlash might perturb progress and widespread acceptance of the industry. If the cannabis industry is perceived to be protecting profits at the expense of public health advancement and science, the industry could lose tenuous and much-needed public support especially in a state like Florida.

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