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A game of chicken … and medical marijuana

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

This is what a game of chicken in the public policy arena looks like.

Will stakeholders allow a proposed rule for medical pot, so a legal marijuana industry takes root? Or will concerns grow over financial requirements and a clash between federal and state authorities, leading to court cases and even further delays?

Medicinal marijuana advocates who look to end Florida’s prohibition on cannabis took a significant step Monday when the Department of Health holds a hearing to clarify proposed regulations for the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2013.

The document is a product of a negotiated rulemaking session called by DOH after its first proposed rule was challenged by nurseries and other business interests. A South Florida investor requested the hearing for the rule which would become final if it survives March without drawing a challenge

In a letter to the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee the Office of Compassionate Use Director Patricia Nelson defended the proposed regulations. In it, she siad the agency was fulfilling the “statutory duty” to construct a framework to award licenses for growing marijuana, process oil from the plant and dispenseing a product “without placing unlawful or invalid minimum criteria on the Applicants.”

Stakeholders raised questions on the scorecard method of ranking applicants, bond requirements and DOH’s interpretation of the law. They worry about the mandate that growing, processing and dispensing all take place on a continuous piece of nursery property, as well as seemingly allowing multiple locations without any of the properties owned by the licensed nursery.

“The law says what it says. The judge said what the law say but they still seem confused,” said Louis Rotundo who thinks some people simply don’t like the way the law is written. He represents the Florida Medical Cannabis Association, one of the groups which challenged the first set of regulations but Rotundo now wants to see the current proposal implemented.

 “I believe these rules meet the requirement of the law,” said Rotundo who compared the DOH’s approach to awarding the five licenses lawmakers authorized to defending a graduate school thesis. He said instead of mandating procedures DOH is asking applicants to explain what they think is the best way to proceed.

“If you want to see the best application let me tell you what I’m going to do and you can measure them one against another. That is measurable criteria,” said Rotundo.

The lack of measurable criteria for awarding the licenses was among the reasons a judge invalidated the first rule in November. Lawmakers had instructed DOH to have the regulatory structure in place by Jan. 1, 2015 which would have enabled Charlotte’s Web oil to be sold by summer.

However failure of nurseries, investors and regulators to reach a consensus on regulations has prevented the planting of Florida’s first legal marijuana crop. Legislative leaders have been clear they want last year’s law implemented before considering a glitch bill for the 2014 law or expanding the illnesses covered or strains of marijuana authorized.

“If we can’t get that one implemented (the 2014 law) what is the use of having a conversation about further marijuana laws,” said Speaker Steve Crisafulli.   We need to get what we have currently out there working . . . and then we can have a conversation about whether or not there’s a problem with the statute.”

The hearing could reveal the foundation for a challenge to the proposed set of regulations; it’ll smoke out who is considering going to court to stop the rule from going into effect and on what grounds they intend to challenge.

“(If it’s) the law they don’t like then they will have their opportunity to make their case during the legislative session,” said Rotundo. “If it’s the rule they don’t like, well, we’re having a meeting Monday and let’s see what gets said.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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