Growers and lobbyists not high on second draft of pot rules

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Editor’s note: The following is cross-posted from PoliticsOfPot.com.

More than 204 growers, investors, lawyers and lobbyists Friday participated in a daylong workshop with state regulators who are defining regulations for a medicinal marijuana industry. At issue was a second draft of rules, released earlier in the week and included revisions suggested during a public hearing held in July.

“The Department has made great strides with this draft but it needs more improvement concerning, distribution, who is an applicant and how a licenses is awarded, said Louis Rotundo, representing the Florida Medical Cannabis Association. “ Clearly, right now we’re not there yet.”

At times, the discussion of marijuana regulations went deep into the weeds.

DOH’s Office of Compassionate Use produced the eight-hour hearing to give stakeholders an opportunity to comment on its latest proposed rules. Growers questioned the use of a lottery to award licenses, the feasibility of the timeline to award licenses, the lack of an authorized source for a starter crop and the department’s definition of an infrastructure for distribution.

Lawyers questioned the department’s definitions of product for the purpose of testing, applicant and distribution infrastructure.

“They should test what goes to the patient, not the plant, not the finished plant but the product itself,” said Robert McKee of Sanctuary Cannabis.

The Charlotte’s Web law authorized use of a specific strain of marijuana low in THC which produces an intoxicating effect and higher in CBD which treats muscle spasms and prevents seizures.  Lobbyists and growers are seeking “clarity” on how to get a starter crop into the state.

Even though 22 states have authorized the use of medicinal marijuana the plant remains illegal under federal law. And different speakers noted that this places workers at risk of federal prosecution all along the process in producing a state-authorized cannabis product.

“Even if the risk is one half of 1 percent, are you willing to risk everything, risk federal prosecution for a source material coming from out of state,” McKee asked.

Once a starter crop is imported into the state it may take another 210 days before a medicinal oil can be extracted from the plant.

“The timeline is not practical,” said Tom Ryan, an attorney who specializes in medicinal marijuana issues. “A licensee is unable to own a plant until they are a licensee. The timeline can’t start until we get the plant here.”

There are 151 days until January when doctors can begin treating patients with marijuana. Rules regulating the cultivation, processing and possession of medicinal marijuana products will go into effect 20 days after DOH adopts them.  Then applicants would have 15 days to apply for a license, leaving 126 days for the department to evaluate applications, award five licenses and for the licensed growers to acquire, cultivate and process marijuana into medicine.

Lawyers, growers and lobbyists mingling outside the hearing room agreed with Ryan’s assessment, there are not enough days left on the calendar to meet a Jan. 1 start date.

“We’re on the runaway on the calendar with this thing,” said Kerry Herndon, one of the 60 Florida growers who meet state criteria to apply for a Charlotte’s Web license. “I cannot see how any product is going to be available on Jan. 1.”

The House sponsor of the Charlotte’s Web law disagreed.

“I think we see the Department of Health taking a very serious and bold approach to implementing the Compassionate Marijuana Act and I believe the ink will be dry on the licenses (in time) to cultivate medical cannabis by January 1, said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton.

Gaetz also disagreed with the speakers who argued the department is misinterpreting legislative intent when it reads the law as authorizing only one retail location in each of the five regions created for growing and dispensing marijuana.

The law requires applicants to have an “infrastructure” for distribution and the department proposed a provision calling for a transportation plan in the application to meet that requirement. Rotundo and others argue that a fleet of trucks does not meet the definition of an infrastructure.

“At times it can be frustrating to listen to people with a profit motive interpret my intent,” said Gaetz. “I think the department has taken a very prudent approach with the legislation because if we have to go regulate a bazillion store fronts that will increase the amount of time that has to go into rule making and could lead to delays. We have to crawl before we can walk and walk before we run and I’m encouraged that this is the process that will lead to a reasonable amount of patient access.”

At the conclusion of Friday’s hearing it was unclear whether the Department whether another public hearing on proposed regulations will be scheduled.

“The input from today will inform further revisions as the department moves towards finalizing a regulatory structure,” said Nathan Dunn, communication director for the Department of Health.

A timeline will become clearer once the DOH files the rule with the Department of State. The rules will be formally adopted 20 days after that filing and then applicants will have 15 days to apply for a license to cultivate process and dispense a product extracted from the Charlotte’s Web strain of marijuana.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.