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After more than a year of delays, Florida finally awards medical pot licenses

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The five nurseries in Florida approved to grow and distribute medical marijuana were announced Monday by the Department of Health, putting an end to a months-long wait by parents and their sick children who need the drug to control severe seizures.

The approved nurseries by region are:

Those nurseries now have 10 business days to post a $5 million performance bond, according to a press release. If a nursery doesn’t post a bond, the department will pick the next highest-scoring applicant by region.

Approved nurseries must ask for authority to grow within 75 days, and actually begin planting within 210 days of getting that permission, the department said.

The plan is that nurseries will grow the marijuana, which will be made into an infused oil to ingest.

A number of lawmakers, including state Rep. Matt Gaetz, have vented in recent weeks about the Health Department’s delay into putting into motion the medical marijuana law passed last year. The last deadline was Oct. 31.

After Monday’s announcement, Gaetz tweeted, “I am thrilled that today Florida issued licenses to legally grow #MedicalMarijuana for the sick and dying #HelpIsOnTheWay.”

State Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat who sponsored the medical marijuana legislation, also lauded the announcement.

“At last, families seeking the relief only this drug can offer are a step closer to help,” she said in an email. “It’s a shame that more than 15 months after the Legislature took this important step, the bureaucracy is catching up.

Last year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The Department of Health was charged with setting up a system to make sure sick kids can get the drug. But long rule-making delays, including some caused by legal maneuvering, have hampered the process.

A three-member panel of state officials was tasked with selecting five approved pot providers out of 28 nurseries who turned in applications due July 8.

That panel had its own hiccup when one member stepped down after it was learned her certified public accountant license was inactive.

Applications, reviewer score cards, and a map of approved nurseries with approval and denial letters are available for public viewing by clicking here.

The department now has to make rules for nursery inspections; a workshop will be held Dec. 9 at the department’s Tallahassee headquarters.

Other efforts are in the works, including a renewed try at a constitutional amendment for medical marijuana and bills filed for next legislative session that would allow stronger varieties of medicinal pot than the “Charlotte’s Web” strain currently authorized.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia now have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but selling marijuana is still technically a federal crime.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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