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Baywood scores quick victories in Charlotte’s Web rule battle

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State Sen. Rob Bradley may want to consider performing some CPR on SPB 7066.

Many speculated the legislative fix for last year’s Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 was dead when Bradley said it was in a “holding pattern.”

The comment came after the Department of Health prevailed in a series of legal challenges blocking its plan to implement the low-THC law.

The court victories created “less and less momentum” for a legislative fix, Bradley explained.

Well, Thursday morning a series of rulings by administrative law Judge W. David Watkins signals the momentum is shifting.

DOH had filed five motions; seeking the outright dismissal of the final challenge blocking a proposed regulatory structure for the 2014 Act and against the four points of the challenge presented by Baywood Nurseries.

Watkins ruled against DOH on all five motions.

In his opening argument, Baywood attorney Charles Moure said the negotiated rule-making process DOH employed after its first set of regulations were tossed by Watkins unfairly tilts the playing field – application process for five licenses to grow marijuana and dispense medicinal oil – in favor of the “big boys” and against small, family-owned nurseries like his client, which has been a Florida nursery since the 1927.

“We contend (the process) creates a situation, not the entire 98 (qualified nurseries) but less than 10 percent or 20 percent can truly apply,” said Moure.

DOH countered that the department was guided by Watkins’ earlier ruling invalidating a proposed rule and followed a deliberate, thoughtful process when it assembled a committee of stakeholders to write regulations for a medicinal marijuana industry.

“Yes, they all had their own interests,” said DOH’s Eduardo Lombardo about the growers, investors, and patient advocates DOH invited to write the rule. “That’s the point of a negotiated rulemaking. You are supposed to get a group of people with different perspectives looking to have things done in slightly different ways and get them in a room and hash it out.”

Watkins adjourned for a lunch break after the opening statements. His questioning of DOH and Baywood attorneys indicated an interest in Baywood’s objections to DOH’s interpretation of financial requirements and bond performance is unfair to smaller growers, making it “onerous” for them to apply for a Charlotte’s Web license and participate in a medicinal marijuana industry.

SPB 7066 seeks to clarify provisions of the 2014 law, bypassing the rulemaking process by becoming effective upon the governor’s signature. Patient advocates had pushed for a legislative fix once DOH missed a Jan. 1 deadline to have rules in place.

Bradley had said implementing the Charlotte’s Web law was a top priority of his for the 2015 legislative session. Advocates tried to hijack his glitch bill by expanding the conditions eligible for treatment and increasing the amount of THC in cannabis products.

The result was the bill went into a holding pattern after DOH scored three consecutive court victories.

Thursday morning DOH lost five straight.

When Watkins adjourned the hearing for lunch, a couple of lobbyists were seen heading down to the Capitol. It would be safe to assume that they are looking for a way to bring SPB 7066 in for a landing.

“If we have to give up THC for now, then let’s give it up,” one was overheard telling a colleague.

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