After voters overwhelmingly legalized medical marijuana a year ago, Florida was supposed to issue ten new pot-growing licenses to nurseries by October 3. But the state has dragged its feet in implementing nearly every aspect of the law, from issuing cards to patients to passing basic regulations on who can smoke cannabis and when they can smoke it.
Now it's farmers' turn to be upset with Tallahassee. The state blew its October deadline to issue those new weed-growing licenses, and today a Miami-Dade-based grower, Bill's Nursery, sued the state in federal court to demand the Florida Department of Health (DOH) follow its own rules.
"The number of MMTCs [medical-marijuana treatment centers] currently operating in Florida has proven to be inadequate for a state so large in both population and geography," the nursery announced in a news release today. "The problem is exacerbated by the fact that different marijuana strains have varying effectiveness when treating different medical conditions, and the small number of MMTCs further limits the quantity and types of strains available to patients. Florida law required the DOH to issue ten additional licenses by October 3, 2017; yet the Department has failed to do so — an issue which patients say limits their access to lifesaving medicine."
A spokesperson for the DOH, Mara Gambineri, said the state had not yet been served with the lawsuit, and she could therefore not comment on the suit's specifics.
"However, the department is working diligently every day to implement the many requirements in Amendment 2 and those set by the Florida Legislature in Senate Bill 8A and are dedicated to ensuring patients have safe access to low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana," she added. "We remain committed to moving this process forward, and will do so in an expedient and thoughtful manner."
Bill's Nursery is run by the Garrison family — father Steve and sons Rusty and Donovan. Steve Garrison says the family was inspired to enter the medical marijuana field after his son Matthew became disabled due to a brain injury he sustained fighting in the Iraq War. Matthew died this past January, and the Garrisons say medical cannabis could have helped their son and brother.
“It’s personal for us — it hits home,” Donovan Garrison said today in the news release. “We cared about this issue before, but after Matthew’s death, it’s so gut-wrenching because we want to help but are being held
The Garrisons have teamed up with co-plaintiff Michael Bowen. He infamously had a grand mal seizure on the Florida Senate floor in April — he's been having severe, life-threatening seizures since the age of 13 and says traditional pharmaceuticals don't control his illness. As a kid, he was forced to take up to 600 mg of various barbiturates all day, which he said turned him into an uncoordinated mess. Now he says medical marijuana is the only thing that both treats his seizures and allows him to live a functioning life.
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So far, the state has seemed at times completely overwhelmed by the medical marijuana rollout and in other instances has appeared actively hostile toward it. After voters approved the constitutional amendment in 2016, Florida lawmakers initially failed to pass mandatory laws on who is allowed to ingest what types of pot. Lawmakers later had to hold a special legislative session in June dedicated to pot laws.
But those rules have already proven inadequate: For one, Orlando
Likewise, the state's Office of Compassionate Use is now tasked with issuing medical marijuana cards to qualified patients. Doctors have certified tens of thousands of new medical marijuana patients this year, but the Compassionate Use office must then issue those patients cards before they can buy marijuana from dispensaries. The office only has 12 employees, and nine are part-time, so there is now a massive wait for marijuana access.
The same, it appears, is also true for the growers standing in line to begin selling medicinal weed. Earlier this year, New Times profiled the tiny clique of farmers who were initially awarded growing licenses and — surprise! — nearly all of them were wealthy farms with deep political ties in Tallahassee. Eventually, the state agreed to open the growing industry up to more competition, but Bill's Nursery claims that process has been a sham.
"Having allocated six of the ten MMTC licenses required, the DOH is obligated to issue four more MMTC licenses by October 3, 2017," the suit reads. "But it has not done so. More egregiously, the DOH has no intention of complying with this mandate in the near future."