Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Delayed medical marijuana draft rule gets new public hearing

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Don Clifford’s vision is getting closer to becoming a reality. Clifford is leading a group of investors who have put up $7 million to build the world’s largest indoor marijuana cultivation facility.  Monday he was in Tallahassee for a hearing on a proposed rule for Florida’s Charlotte Web law.

Regulators and stakeholders have been meeting since August trying to agree to a regulatory structure for the legal cultivation of marijuana and the processing of oil for a medicinal product.

“I think we’re close,” said Clifford, who is turning a former central Florida mattress factory into a greenhouse for the Charlotte Web strain of marijuana.

“I think we are 90 percent of the way down the path to get to the final position on all of this,” said Clifford during a break in the hearing. “I think the process is about to complete itself.”

Clifford would need to partner with a licensed nursery to become part of a legal Florida marijuana industry. Monday’s hearing was on a proposed rule for awarding five licenses to cultivate marijuana and dispense medicinal oil processed from the plant.

It was developed during a negotiated rule-making workshop where 12 representatives of stakeholders and Department of Health officials hashed out a regulatory structure for the production and sale of a cannabis product.

Planting of Florida’s first legal marijuana crop was delayed by a court challenge and regulators and patient advocates are hoping the latest proposal will survive March without a legal challenge and DOH can start the licensing process. Monday’s hearing was to clarify questions about the latest proposal and provide an opportunity for concerns to be aired.

“These questions have been asked seven, eight times already,” grumbled one lobbyist who has attended every hearing, workshop and court proceeding for a proposed rule since last summer.

And as the morning progressed, Clifford’s assessment seemed dead on. Anthony Ardizzone represents a central Florida nursery and wanted a better understanding of how the department will use a scorecard to evaluate license applicants. He explained he was trying to make the rule challenge proof.

Applicants will be scored not on specific criterion – no negative scoring – but on an application as a whole.

“The point is you don’t lose points … because you don’t have that thing. It is the entirety of your business plan, your business model, the entirety of what you have compared to your neighbor applicant,” said Patricia Nelson, director of the Office of Compassionate Use.

“OK, I get it,” said Ardizzone. “In essence it’s a bonus.”

If the rule draws another challenge it may be a year before Charlotte’s Web oil would be available for children suffering from a severe form of epilepsy.

“I know that there are interests that are not the same as my own but we just want Sam to have a chance to live into adulthood and live a normal life,” Dawn Wein of Pensacola told Nelson and about 100 people attending Monday’s hearing.

Her son, Sam, was afflicted with epilepsy at the age of 5. He’s 20 now and had to withdraw from college because of seizures. Side effects from seizure medication have begun to damage his liver. Doctors have recommended drilling holes into his head to cauterize the section of his brain where they think the seizures originate.

Kimberly Muszinski testified about her 3-year-old daughter whose seizures are so frequent that paramedics know the code to open her garage door and the way to the child’s bedroom.

Like Wein, she thought when Gov. Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 last June that by now her daughter’s seizures would be calmed by Charlotte’s Web oil.

“I realize that there are business interests at stake but the focus must be brought back to saving lives,” said Muszinski. “Everyday these children suffer seizures which could be fatal.”

Nelson fielded questions and accepted comments for nearly eight hours with the meeting breaking up before 4 p.m. She can draw on the hearing to refine the proposed rule or publish it as is.

Once the rule is published, it will enter a 14-day period when a challenge can be filed in administrative court. If after two weeks it does not draw a challenge, it will go into effect 20 days later.

The current proposal has a three-week period for nurseries to apply for a license to grow marijuana once the rule is final.

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