The Phoenix Flyer

Gov. DeSantis backs legal effort to keep state’s limit on medical marijuana licenses

By: - July 25, 2019 2:57 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he supports the state’s effort to overturn a key court ruling that could open up Florida’s medical marijuana market to more competition, provide greater access to the drug and reduce prices for the products.

But his view has shifted as the court cases get more complicated over the lucrative medical marijuana business in Florida.

Medical marijuana advocates praised the Republican governor earlier this year for backing a law that lets patients smoke medical marijuana for pain relief. DeSantis also criticized the regulatory system, adopted by the state in 2017, for medical marijuana businesses. He said the system, which requires a medical marijuana company to handle all aspects of making the drug available – growing, distributing, and marketing – is not a free market.

The state’s limits have restricted the licenses for medical marijuana businesses to a handful of companies and have made the licenses extremely lucrative. Some sell for more than $50 million.

On July 9, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that the state’s regulatory scheme is unconstitutional and doesn’t comply with the 2016 Florida medical marijuana that more than 70 percent of Florida voters approved.

Florigrown, a business that wants to enter the medical marijuana market, filed the legal challenge.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the state filed a motion seeking to overturn the court decision – an action that  would keep the current state regulations intact. The state is asking for the full 1st District Court of Appeal to rehear the case that was decided this month by a three-judge panel on the appellate court.

The state is asking for the rarely granted “full court” review because the earlier ruling “implicates whether the entire regulatory framework currently in place for the licensing of medical marijuana treatment centers should be overturned,” the motion says.

The motion also says the ruling “has introduced further confusion and uncertainty into Florida’s emerging medical marijuana industry.”

Following Thursday’s meeting with the Florida Cabinet, DeSantis says he supports the effort to overturn the ruling, although he had previously questioned the regulatory framework that limited competition.

“Policy-wise, I have said the way the Legislature did it (in 2017) was not exactly consistent with a competitive market,” DeSantis said. But he said from “a constitutional perspective,” the state has a right to set the standards for the medical marijuana businesses.

“I’m in favor of appealing it,” DeSantis said. “And then look, whatever is ultimately decided, we’ll have to run with it. And if there is an infirmity in (the regulations), the Legislature will have to revisit it and I will have to weigh in accordingly.”

A Harvard law graduate, DeSantis says he supports asking the full appellate court to rehear the case. And if that is declined, he says he supports appealing the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.

Here is a reaction to DeSantis’ comments from Adam Elend:

“I am the CEO of Florigrown, and the ruling being appealed concerns my company. The governor’s comments are disingenuous and misleading.

“Under the Florigrown ruling, no entity may touch marijuana unless and until their facility and operation has been inspected and approved by the Department of Health. The state continues to have the ability to regulate the industry any way they want except in direct violation of the Constitution.

“A good way to support the state’s ability to regulate the market would be to start regulating the market. 3 years out from the amendment – we have no testing regulations, no seed to sale tracking, no waste disposal regulations, no meaningful regulations at all. The cartel is completely self-regulated.

“That means that the state doesn’t know what marijuana is being grown or processed, doesn’t know what’s going out the back door in “waste,” doesn’t know what’s being sprayed on the marijuana, doesn’t know what mold is growing on the marijuana, and doesn’t know what dangerous residual chemicals are in marijuana products.

“The department is directed by the Constitution to make marijuana safe and available. They are failing on both counts. That failure falls squarely on the shoulders of Ron DeSantis. It’s his DoH, his failed MMJ program, and his cartel.

“Now (DeSantis) supports a 2 year appeals process to let two more courts decide for him, while the industry hangs in limbo and nothing whatsoever gets done to support the patients of Florida.”


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Lloyd Dunkelberger
Lloyd Dunkelberger

Lloyd Dunkelberger has been covering Florida government for over three decades. He’s reported and edited in Tallahassee for the New York Times Regional Newspapers group, Florida Politics, and the News Service of Florida. He grew up in Jacksonville and Palm Beach County and got his journalism degree at the University of Florida.