Matt Gaetz still backing lottery concept, Rob Bradley supports DOH

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The House sponsor of the Charlotte’s Web law and one of the Senate’s co-sponsors Monday gave a vote of confidence to the Department of Health. DOH is building a regulatory framework for the production of a medicinal marijuana product. More than 60 nurseries meet the minimum qualifications to apply for one of five licenses to cultivate process and dispense marijuana medicinal oil.

The department has proposed a lottery among qualified applicants to select licensees. Growers, lobbyists and patient advocate have protested but Rep. Matt Gaetz said the department’s decision is prudent in that it ensures a product gets to market quickly.

“The greatest risk for Floridians in need is that we will have years of litigation while children die of intractable seizures,” said Gaetz. “I think the Department of Health has threaded the needle very effectively; there is a lottery system. However, it is for qualified applicants to participate and there are very high standards they have to meet that I think provides for a fair system that also focuses on quality.”

Gaetz said lawmakers laid out standards in the measure concerning security; infrastructure and ability to operate that satisfy objections about a lottery awarding the luckiest and not the most qualified applicant.

“I agree with Rep. Gaetz,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. “I was comfortable with the safeguards that we included in the statute and I am comfortable that we have done our job as a Legislature. How the product gets into the hands of the patient, we gave that job to the Department to work out.”

Speakers testifying at two rulemaking workshops have urged the department to find another selection process for licensing. Paige Figi, mother of the girl for whom Charlotte’s Web is named, is among those who testified it is not an appropriate selection process for a medicine for children.

The chair of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee said he will review DOH’s final decision to see if it squares with legislative intent and is within the department’s authority.  Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has said lawmakers never contemplated “a game of chance” for the licensing procedure.

Regulators explained they proposed a lottery as a way to avoid a rules challenge which would delay the Jan. 1 start date for implementing the law.

“The Department has included substantive criteria in the draft rule which an applicant must meet to qualify as a potential dispensing organization,” said Nathan Dunn, communication director for DOH. “The Department’s objective is to establish a regulatory structure that neither invites litigation nor prolongs the process.”

Dunn also said in an e-mail exchange that the department is using information gathered during an Aug. 1 workshop “to inform further revisions of the rule.”

No word if another workshop will be scheduled before a rule is submitted to the Secretary of State for publication.