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For Charlotte’s Web hopefuls, the scramble is on ahead of DOH license deadline

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The mood tonight is like an undergraduate’s finals week for a gaggle of commercial farmers hoping to grow the low-THC cannabis product Charlotte’s Web. 

Wednesday at 5 p.m. marks the deadline to submit applications for the first-ever legal licenses to grow marijuana in Florida.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health — which houses the Office of Compassionate Use, the agency in charge of implementing a 2014 state law authorizing use of the drug to treat certain chronic or terminal conditions — said they had only received two applications as of Tuesday evening, though they will review all applications submitted by the deadline.

That leaves perhaps a dozen or more growers expected to apply for a license to manufacture medical cannabis who are presumably finalizing their applications.

“It’s a ton of work,” agreed lobbyist Jeff Sharkey of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. “It’s all coming to roost now.”

Ron Watson of the Florida Medical Cannabis Association, said that firms are more than likely working overtime to complete the applications, which have blossomed into massive, complex documents sometimes topping 1,000 pages.

Barriers to entry in the Charlotte’s Web statute, like a $5 million surety bond applicants must acquire as insurance for taxpayers in case an operation goes awry, have warded off the vast majority of would-be growers, said Watson, who lost his 8-year-old son to leukemia, a condition approved for treatment under the new state process.

Watson estimated some “five or six” competitors for a license — considered especially valuable for the likely leverage a licensee would hold should Florida expand its medical marijuana regime in the future — were unable to secure the pricey and esoteric performance bonds, further narrowing a once-broad field of applicants.

Some 98 Florida growers were originally deemed eligible by Office of Compassionate Use, a determination that was the subject of a lengthy appeals process.

Lobbyist Taylor Patrick Biehl, also of the MMJBAF and who represents a myriad of growers and related businesses, echoed the predictions of others when he said he expects challenges to emerge in this round of the process, too.

DOH Press Secretary Mara Burger did not elaborate beyond saying that any potential appeals will be handled as provided in the Florida statutes pertaining to administrative procedures — Ch. 120.569 & 120.57 FS — but according to Biehl, what those processes will look like is indeterminate for the time being.

“It’s unchartered ground. There is no precedent to these specific issues,” said Biehl.

While the bedeviling details remain in flux, those very ill seeking relief through medical cannabis will see a small step toward resolution tomorrow evening.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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