Editor’s note: This article is cross-posted on PoliticsOfPot.com.
The selection process for who will grow Florida’s first state authorized marijuana crop grew more unclear Friday. The Senate sponsor of the Charlotte’s Web law said he didn’t have a game of chance in mind when he directed the Department of Health to create a licensing process for a medicinal marijuana industry.
“As a sponsor of the Charlotte’s Web bill, I can tell you that the legislature contemplated that medical marijuana dispensaries would be run by organizations selected on the basis of their expertise and performance, not through the luck of a draw,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
Florida doctors will be able to order a cannabis extract to treat patients starting Jan. 1. The bill authorizing the cultivating, processing and distributing of oil from a marijuana plant divides the state into five regions with one license each for a grower to operate.
DOH is creating rules to implement the law and has proposed a lottery among qualified applicants to award the licenses. Lobbyists, lawyers, growers and patient advocates have opposed the idea at two public hearings.
A Florida medicinal marijuana market is expected to generate more than $700 million in money, according to industry experts.
Jennifer Tschetter, general counsel for DOH, has explained regulators proposed a lottery with the intent of getting a medicinal marijuana product to market as quickly as possible. She said the fear is any kind of substantive scoring analysis would produce a legal challenge delaying implementation of the law.
“Help us figure out how to do that (scoring analysis) for each applicant and still make this available to patients as soon as we can,” said Tschetter at an Aug. 1 workshop.
A gathering number of lawmakers are telling the department a lottery is not the way to go.
“(It) does not ensure the patient care, or the best quality product,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “It is basically like taking a dart and throwing it at a wall and whatever it hits, that’s the person who’s going to be providing us with our medicine.”
DOH has yet to schedule a third workshop on proposed rules. Following the Aug. 1 meeting communications director Nathan Dunn said, “The input from today will inform further revisions as the department moves towards finalizing a regulatory structure.”
The department’s options are limited by the calendar. It takes at least 210 days to grow and process the plant into a medicinal product and there are fewer than 145 days to Jan. 1.
Any proposed rule would be formally adopted 20 days after the department files it with the Department of State. Lawmakers will have a say on how the department decides to award the five licenses they authorized.
Rulemaking is subject to review by the legislature’s Joint Administrative Procedure Committee, chaired by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa. Friday, Grant said the controversy recently “popped up on his radar.”
“I think there are some questions as to whether or not the final proposal will fit squarely inside the strike zone or be outside the strike zone,” said Grant.
As chairman of the administrative procedural committee, Grant gets to play umpire when DOH makes its final pitch on how to award the marijuana licenses.