Charlotte’s Web in court makes a Jan. 1 start date unlikely

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Miami-based Costa Farms and Plants of Ruskin are challenging the Department of Health’s rules for Charlotte’s Web, a low-THC strain of marijuana which has cannabinoids used to treat seizure patients and others suffering from debilitating diseases.

An administrative judge has scheduled hearings for Tuesday and Wednesday and will determine whether DOH has the authority to implement the regulations it proposed.  The legal challenge likely will delay the Jan. 1 start date lawmakers authorized for cannabis oil to be available as medicine.

DOH had planned for the rules to be implemented Sept. 30 and then a 15-day application period for the five Charlotte’s Web licenses to be awarded. Even that schedule would have made it difficult for growers to start dispensing the medicine at the start of a new year. Marijuana has a 90-to -100 day growing period and time needed to process the plant into a medical product.

There are four challenges to the proposed rule, Costa Farms, Plants of Ruskin, the Florida Medical Cannabis Association and 3 Boys Farms, all revolving around the same set of issues. The suits need to be resolved before DOH can issue the five licenses lawmakers authorized for the cultivating, processing and dispensing medicinal marijuana.

Taylor Patrick Biehl of the Medical Marijuana business Association of Florida has constructed a timeline to estimate when the process will begin moving forward. He cautions that the dates are a rough estimate.

“This is a reasonably informed estimate,” Biehl said in an email exchange. “We have had discussions with lawyers involved in the rule challenge. “

Administrative Judge W. David Watkins is presiding over the case and either will uphold the DOH proposal or uphold the complaint and declare the proposal invalid.

Here are the dates to mark as the process moves forward.

Oct. 14 & 15,  Judge W. David Watkins holds hearing on challenge filed by Costa Farms and Plants of Ruskin.,

Oct. 29 is the deadline for the court to provide all parties transcripts of the hearing. Petitioners then will use the transcript to submit proposed orders to Watkins.

Then, relying on Biehl’s estimates, the process moves forward with these rough estimates of procedural deadlines.

During the week of Nov. 8 petitioners will  file their order – recommended outcome to  the judge. Watkins will then issue his decision between Nov. 15 and Nov. 30.

If, Watkins upholds DOH’s proposed rule then the rule could become effective Dec. 20 – ruling released Nov. 30 and DOH then files it with the Secretary of State office on the same day.  Under this scenario the application deadline for the five Charlotte’s Web licenses would be Jan. 4. DOH plans for a 15-day  application period. .

 A schedule becomes more uncertain if Watkins were to rule against the department and in favor of the challenge.  Then, by the second week of December DOH would file a notice of change which requires a 21-day notice for a public hearing on the rewritten rule.

Once a hearing is held and if DOH determines no further changes will be made then DOH can file the rule for adoption 14 days later. However if DOH decides to make further revisions then the rule can be filed 21 days after a notice of change is published, which moves the process into late January.

At this point, affected parties could once again challenge DOH’s proposal.

It is important to note that Watkins’s decision could come between Nov. 15 and 30. That two week period along with other flexible deadlines makes impossible a prediction of whether a license application period will end in either early January or February.

And it may be optimistic to assume that DOH and the nursery industry can resolve their difference in time for the 2015 legislative session when lawmakers could also be dealing  Amendment 2. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow doctors to use the plant itself to treat patients.