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Medical marijuana rule-making workshop a buzzkill

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Department of Health officials Wednesday presented the first draft of rules to govern the growing, processing and dispensing of medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

But instead of a spirited debate, they mostly sat quietly, answering a few questions, but not hearing any substantive reaction from growers’ representatives or anyone else in the audience of about 25.

That may have been because the proposed regulations weren’t available until people walked through the door for the hearing.

The document itself covered an array of concerns, including hygienic practices, security requirements, employee training, even “odor mitigation” (which has been an issue in Colorado, for instance).

Christian Bax, director of the department’s Office of Compassionate Use, which will oversee medical marijuana in Florida, finally went over the rules section by section, asking, “Any comments?” There weren’t.

In 2014, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The marijuana, nicknamed Charlotte’s Web, will be infused into an oil for patients to ingest. It’s low in THC but high in cannabidiol, or CBD, the active ingredient that helps control spasms and seizures.

Bax did say his office is entitled to do arranged and surprise inspections of nurseries, with 20 days to “cure any deficiencies.” If they’re not, the state could revoke a nursery’s license to grow the marijuana. 

In answer to another question about using a central independent testing lab to assure marijuana quality, he said the current framework is that each nursery provides for its own testing. And there’s no “set timeline” to finalizing the rules, Bax said.

The state took criticism for taking several months to select the five nurseries approved to grow pot in the state. Bax later told reporters the delay was due to officials taking the time to “make sure the process was safe.”

As he left the conference room, he could be heard asking a co-worker, “How do you think that went? … It was kind of weird.”

The regulatory process could get more complicated because lawmakers will consider a bill next year to allow for stronger varieties of medicinal pot.

Also looming is a proposed constitutional amendment for 2016, backed by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, that would create a right to medical marijuana. An attempt last year failed at the ballot boxes.

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.

The Obama administration, however, has suggested that federal prosecutors not charge those, particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

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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