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State to split 14 medical marijuana license challenges among three administrative judges

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings has split up the fourteen challenges to the state’s newly-awarded medical marijuana licenses, re-assigning the three Central Region challenges to Judge Elizabeth W. McArthur and the four Northeast region cases to Judge R. Bruce McKibben.

Initially, the challenges all had been assigned to Judge W. David Watkins, who had presided over several medical marijuana law cases in 2014 and ’15 while the Florida Department of Health struggled to set up the state’s limited medical marijuana program.

Watkins will remain busy, keeping the seven challenges filed in total in the state’s other three regions, Southeast, Southwest and Northwest.

The challenges all were filed Dec. 11-14, mostly by companies that lost when the state selected one nursery company in each region to be licensed to grow marijuana. Most challengers charged that the state’s licensing program was unfair or made mistakes.

Watkins was initially assigned all the cases Dec. 22. The Northeast Regions cases were reassigned to McKibben Dec. 30, and the Central Region cases to McArthur Dec. 31. No reasons were stated in the dockets for the reassignments.

The challenges have created yet another delay in the state’s medical marijuana program. Created by the Florida Legislature in the spring of 2014, it was written to legalize the production of non-euphoric medicines extracted from marijuana. The medicines would be available for sale to treat patients with epilepsy, a few other neurological disorders and cancer. Lawmakers had hoped the products would be available last winter.

The products still are months away from the market, not including the delays caused by the latest round of legal challenges to the license awards. The administrative judges’ decisions can be appealed.

No dates have been set yet for the administrative court hearings. However, in at least one case a date could come soon. Colorado resident Daniel Banks, who stated that he was to be the research and development director for San Felasco Nurseries, filed a challenge to the license awarded to Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in the Northeast Region. McKibben has set a teleconference for Tuesday to discuss setting a hearing date for his case.

McKibben also is presiding over challenges to the Chestnut Hill license by San Felasco and by Loops Nursery and Greenhouses, and a supporting case filed by Chestnut Hill, and he appears to be consolidating those cases. The court dockets state that he filed orders to consolidate the cases, though the orders themselves have not yet been publicly released.

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Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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