Charlotte’s Web workshop reveals web of complex regulatory issues

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Florida’s new medical marijuana law drew a standing room audience of investors, lobbyists and growers of around 200 to a Tallahassee conference room.  The Department of Health released a proposed set of regulations last week which was up for discussion Monday during the first public workshop on implementing SB 1030.

“I expect these ideas will be discussed and massaged over the coming months but I don’t expect any delays in issuing licenses so that sick Floridians can get access to medical care, “said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the House sponsor of the measure.

Expected to be discussed and massaged as the process continues are DOH’s proposals concerning:

  • A lottery to award five licenses authorized by SB 1030
  • How many retail facilities a dispensary may have
  • Access to the Compassionate Use Registry
  • How growers will get starter seeds, seedling or product legally into the state

Doctors can start ordering a cannabis extract to treat patients Jan. 1, 2015. DOH needs to have rules in place and award five licenses to cultivate process and dispense a medicinal marijuana product in time for the growers to begin operation and to be able to deliver a product by the end of this year.

The Charlotte’s Web law is intended to help patients with severe epilepsy and those who suffer from seizures, muscular diseases and cancer.  The National Cannabis Industry Association estimates medical marijuana will be a $785 million industry in Florida.  And that is why Hillsborough County grower Roy Davis attend Monday’s workshop.

“It appears to have the potential of being a very lucrative market, so I’m interested in their rules,” said Davis who owns Capital Wholesale Nursery. “It’s been a very rough 10 years and it would be a way for us to recover from the recession.”

Lawmakers divided Florida into five regions for the cultivation and processing of medicinal marijuana and authorized one license for each region. If any region produces more than one application then DOH proposed a lottery to determine the order the applications are reviewed with the first completed application examined awarded a license.

“A lottery for pediatric medicine is just not appropriate,” said Paige Fiji, the mother of the little Colorado girl for whom the Charlotte’s Web law is named.  “I think a much safer and more responsible vetting process can be found.

Fiji suggested DOH take a closer look at Nevada’s and Colorado’s regulations.

A second licensing issue growers and investors appear to have with the Department is DOH’s interpretation of SB 1030 that it can restrict dispensaries to one retail location.  A parade of public speakers said the interpretation is not reasonable, a disservice to patients with one suggesting that given the numbers, Central Florida with a population of 8.1 million and Northwest Florida with a population of 1.6 million,  the rule would be arbitrary and capricious – something the courts frown upon.  The rule, in effect, creates monopolies that are geographically the same size but one would have four times the population to serve.

Jennifer Tschetter, general counsel for DOH chaired the meeting and explained the lottery emerged from a rule-making process focused not on doing a qualitative analysis but on getting a “product to patients as quickly as possible.”

In addition to how the licenses would be awarded, Monday, public testimony also raised concerns about a proposal to allow just five members of a licensee’s staff to access the Compassionate Use Registry.  The dispensary will be required to document who receives its product, how much a patient ordered and when.

“You’re going to have someone responsible for more than 500 patients,” said Kerry Herndon, who called the proposal “totally inadequate.” Herndon owns nurseries in Apopka and Homestead.

“Why, we have 125,000 in just epileptic children. From a data entry standpoint it isn’t going to work,” said Herndon.

Robert McKee, a Broward County attorney and grower, raised the question of how can Florida legally get the strain of marijuana lawmakers authorized into the state.

“We are on a tightrope of legality,” said McKee, of the McKee Law Group. “When the source materials for this are not in Florida (then) we have no one who can do it legally. There has to be some sort of permitting or federal action to get that plant from Colorado to here.”

McKee said the governor could get a special exemption from the federal government, “the kind universities have to do research.”

The interest in the rules governing implementation of the medicinal marijuana law is heighten by an unrelated constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Amendment 2 would allow for the medicinal use of marijuana, the plant – not just an extract. Whoever is awarded a Charlotte’s Web license will have a head start on developing a commodity if voters approve the initiative.

The rule-making process for the Charlotte’s Web law reveals a handful of complicated issues regulators must sort through when there is a change in public policy, allowing something that once was illegal.

“The criteria I have are the best delivery system for a quality product at a reasonable price; that’s the mission,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, one of the Senate sponsors of Charlotte’s Web law, discussing the issues raised during the workshop.

“It is important we get this right. The whole world is watching what we do with this,” said Bean.

The workshop lasted about six and a half hours and DOH will schedule at least one more before adopting a set of regulations.

“There has been a lot of feedback on issues within the draft rule and all that information is going to be taken into consideration for a potential revision,” said Nathan Dunn, DOH’s communication director.

Dunn said there will be a 14-day public notice announcing the next workshop on Florida’s medicinal marijuana law.