Dept. of Health has until Dec. 15 to decide whether to appeal Charlotte’s Web ruling, legislative fix may be in the future

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The Florida Senate sponsor of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 is frustrated and concerned that a January 1, 2015, deadline to implement the law will be missed. The House sponsor is also disappointed.

It’s been three weeks since an administrative law judge directed the Department of Health to rewrite regulations for a medicinal marijuana law. The only word since from DOH has been this statement:

“The Department of Health will consider all options that will most expeditiously get this product to market to help families facing serious illnesses,” said Nathan Dunn, DOH communications director.

But apparently no meetings have been held and, in a filing with Judge David Watkins, the DOH indicated it may appeal Watkins’ ruling that it had exceeded its delegated legislative authority in its proposed rule for the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014.

DOH has until Dec. 15 to decide and all the legal wrangling frustrates state Sen. Rob Bradley, who sponsored the measure.

“We need to get this substance into the hands of these suffering families as quickly as possible.  That is why we put a January 1st deadline in law,” said Bradley. “It’s too early to tell how long this administrative and legal process is going to last but if it is not resolved by the time we get to session in March then I anticipate that we will seek a legislative fix.”

Costa Farms, which successfully challenged proposed regulations for implementation of the Florida Charlotte’s Web law, agreed Thursday to a DOH motion to extend the time for Watkins to rule on Costa’s request to be reimbursed for attorney fees and costs.

Watkins agreed with Costa DOH had exceeded its authority by expanding the pool of applicants and inserting a lottery in the licensing process for the five licenses available to nurseries wanting to grow marijuana and dispense a medicinal oil extracted from the plant.

Watkins issued his final order on the challenge Nov. 14 and Costa filed a motion seeking attorney fees Nov. 26.

DOH responded to that motion Wednesday by noting it has until Dec. 15 to decide whether to file a Notice of Appeal of the Final Order. An appeal would further push back the start date when Charlotte’s Web oil would be available for seizure and cancer patients.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz sponsored the House companion for the Charlotte Web’s law and said he was disappointed the Jan. 1 deadline to have regulations in place will be missed but does not think the Legislature needs to get involved.

“(What) is most needed and that is the Department of Health writing the rule that withstands judiciary scrutiny,” said Gaetz.

Gaetz, not speaking directly about the motion filed Thursday, added that he thought DOH staff had done a “yeoman’s job” in producing the rule but that some “folks at the department perhaps need to rethink a few assumptions.”

“We all have to remember that they drafted the first rule under tremendous time constraints with no appropriated resources to do so and without the benefit of any experts in the field working for the department,” said Gaetz.

In its motion, DOH counsel wrote “the parties will benefit from additional time to consider available legal options, to submit appropriate motions and responses, and to reach agreement where possible.”

Costa’s motion Thursday agreed to the extended time as requested with the “informal understanding that the Department will promptly confer with all counsel and parties to discuss its intended future course, including the scope of any appeal, any planned new rule development and fee and cost issues.”