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Lawmakers irked over delays in medical pot law

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Two lawmakers – one Republican, one Democrat – expressed frustration Tuesday over the state Health Department’s delay in putting Florida’s lone medical marijuana law into action.

In 2014, the state legalized low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. The department is charged with setting up a system to make sure sick kids can get the drug.

At a meeting of the House Health Quality subcommittee, state Rep. Greg Steube asked the Health Department’s top lawyer: What’s taking so long?

A three-member panel of state officials is charged with selecting the five approved pot providers out of 28 nurseries who turned in applications that were due July 8.

That panel had its own hiccup when one member stepped down after it was learned her certified public accountant license was inactive.

“This is something we voted on two years ago,” the Sarasota Republican said. “There’s a lot of frustration from people here … You’re still telling us today that you have no idea when there will be a timeline as to when the department will select the five dispensaries? I don’t understand how we don’t have some way ahead.”

Steube filed his own bill this year that would expand availability by allowing more growers in the state, among other provisions.

Nichole Geary, the department’s general counsel, responded: “The department is mindful of the need to move as quickly as possible (but) the applications themselves are very large and thorough.”

State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat, also questioned whether the department had enough nursery inspectors. Applications came in from every corner of the state.

Currently, there are two full-time and one part-time employees slated to inspect nurseries to “ensure the highest standards for a safe and secure product,” as the Health Department presentation put it.

“How in the world are we going to be able to adequately inspect facilities throughout the state with only two and a half people?” she said. “That just sounds incredibly inadequate.”

Geary answered that the department was confident it has the resources to get the job done. But, she quickly added, “it’s an evolving process.”

After the meeting, Steube told reporters, “You can sense the frustration on both sides of the aisle … it takes two years to execute a statute we put into place to help children in our state?”

He noted that the rulemaking behind the law went through its own lengthy legal process, but added, “We don’t have even an idea when we’re going to be selecting and moving forward? Let’s just get this moving.”

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but selling marijuana is still a federal crime

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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