Archives for November, 2015

Florida’s Five Charlotte’s Web Dispensaries Are Selected .. Controversy Remains

After numerous delays brought about by legal challenges and bureaucratic red tape, the five dispensaries who will be permitted to grow and distribute “low THC / high CBD” strains of medical marijuana have been selected.

The five who were selected are:
1.  Costa Nursery Farms of Miami  (Southeast region)
2.  Alpha Foliage of Homestead  (Southwest region)
3.  Knox Nursery of Winter Garden  (Central region)
4.  Hackney Nursery Company of Tallahassee (Northwest region)
5.  Chestnut Hill Tree Farm of Alachua (Northeast region)

The five dispensing organizations were selected from a group of 28 applicants who were able to meet the stringent application requirements established by the State.

The selections have already come under fire based on the fact that four of the winners also had representatives who were members of the selection committee.  This has led to accusations of cronyism, improper influence, and self-dealing.  Critics claim that the award of the 5 licenses was an inside job that will set the winners up to profit significantly, particularly if medical marijuana laws are expanded in the future.  Those issues will likely be addressed further if and when some of the unsuccessful applicants launch challenges.

Each of the five winners must now post a $5 million dollar performance bond within 10 days or risk losing their spot to the next highest scoring applicant.

The five dispensing organizations will only be permitted to deal in a low-THC form of cannabis which is consumed by a limited number of patients (only about 20,000 such patients are believed to live in Florida).  However, obtaining a dispensing organization license is viewed by most as giving these five nurseries a significant advantage if Florida voters approve a much broader medical marijuana law in November of 2016.

Florida’s Five Dispensary Limit Comes Under Fire

When the Florida Legislature passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, it set out to establish a system where “low THC / high CBD” cannabis could be provided to certain classes of patients.  However, one of the most criticized parts of that law can be found in how that cannabis is to be delivered.  The initial plan was to allow for only five dispensing organizations for the entire state and extremely strict limits were placed on who may qualify to be one of those organizations.  The end result was that nearly everyone in the State was unable to even apply to dispense medical cannabis.

This requirement has recently drawn scrutiny from the Florida Black Farmers organization, who noted that the current system is unfairly discriminatory towards minority farmers.  The farmers’ complaints have reached the ears of some State Legislators who are now proposing revisions to the overly restrictive rules.   Rep. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) has proposed an amendment that would increase the limit from 5 dispensing organizations to 20.

The amendment was added to a bill passed by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, and it will now continue forward through the legislative process.



Florida Lawmakers Consider Law To Provide Terminally Ill with Medical Marijuana

Florida legislators are considering a new bill which could pave the way for terminally ill patients to receive marijuana.  The measure would expand on Florida’s “right to try” law, which allows for patients with a life expectancy of 1 year or less the ability to access experimental drugs.  The proposal would add cannabis to the category of drugs that those patients could have access to.

The law is likely to apply to only a limited group of people because it only applies to patients who are near death and it requires the recommendation of two doctors.   However, it does mark yet another step towards more access for patients in the State.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved the measure with a vote of 9-4, and we will continue to follow it’s development.

Florida Lawmaker Seeks to Expand on Charlotte’s Web Law

Florida State Senator, Jeff Brandes, has filed a bill which would overhaul the law that legalized “Low THC / High CBD” strains of cannabis for certain patients in Florida last year.  The previous law remains mired in red tape and has not been implemented despite having been passed well over a year ago.

Senator Brandes’ bill (Senate Bill 582) calls for the repeal of the old law and would replace it with new legislation that would establish access to medical cannabis for a much broader spectrum of patients.  I would also scrap the troubled dispensing system, which has been the target of numerous legal challenges and criticism, and would replace it with new streamlined rules for cultivation, processing and distribution of medical cannabis.

Bill 582 is still in the initial phases of the legislative process, but it is one that bears keeping an eye on.  If it picks up the necessary momentum, it could be a game changer for medical cannabis in Florida.

Pam Bondi Stands Down on Medical Marijuana .. For Now

When Florida medical marijuana advocates submitted an initiative legalizing medical use of cannabis for inclusion on the 2014 ballot, they faced stern opposition from Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi.  AG Bondi vigorously opposed any loosening of marijuana laws, including those aimed at providing relief to the sick and ailing.  Back then, Bondi was pushing the flawed position that the Medical Marijuana Initiative would provide easy access to weed for persons who had no medical need at all.

But, what a difference two years makes.  Earlier this week, Bondi’s office indicated that she would not be opposing the Supreme Court’s review of the Medical Marijuana Initiative that is being considered for the 2016 ballot.  She still says she opposes medical marijuana, but will not be advocating against its inclusion on the ballot like she did in 2014.

Why the change?

Did Ms. Bondi notice the surging poll numbers showing overwhelming support for the measure?  Did she follow her instincts as a politician and avoid taking a increasingly unpopular opinion?  Did she suddenly find empathy for the patients who need safe and legal access to medical weed?

She’s not saying.  And its only for us to guess.  But her switch in position makes the path to seeing medical marijuana on the 2016 ballot a little clearer.  So kudos to Pam Bondi for that.

Broward County Joins Trend to Reduce Pot Penalties

Things got a little easier for cannabis users in Broward County yesterday.  The County Commission unanimously passed a measure that would make possession of small amounts of pot a civil infraction, rather than a criminal offense.  This decriminalization measure applies to amounts of 20 grams or less, and provides police officers with the option of issuing a civil citation, rather than pursuing a criminal charge.

The civil penalty is a $150 fine for a first offense, $300 for a second offense, and $500 (plus the possibility of drug treatment and counseling) for a third offense.  The true benefit to cannabis users is that the new law will allow them to avoid having a criminal record and the possibility of jail or probation.

Broward County joins its neighbors to the north and south in a trend that sees the penalties for pot smoking being reduced.  Miami-Dade County implemented a similar civil citation law earlier this year, while Palm Beach County is currently in the process of considering such a law as well.

Some concerns still remain about the new law, however.  First of all, while police officers are given the discretion to issue a civil citation, they may also choose to effectuate an arrest under State law, which still considers possession of 20 grams or less to be a 1st degree misdemeanor.  How police officers choose to exercise this discretion remains to be seen (and will likely be the source of legal challenges yet to come).

Another concern will be how the new law impacts people who are subject to court supervised drug testing, such as people who are on probation, in drug court/pretrial diversion programs, or under the supervision of family courts.  It is still unclear whether small amounts of cannabis will be viewed in those special circumstances.

But we can all agree that the County Commission’s measure is a step in the right direction and they should be commended for it.

Florida CBD Update – What’s The Big Hold Up?

It’s already been 16 months since Florida Governor, Rick Scott, signed a bill giving some Florida patients the right to access Low THC/High CBD strains of cannabis. But, the program still has yet to be implemented and remains mired in red tape and delays.

A goal of January 1, 2016 had been set by the Department of Health, but meeting that deadline is looking less and less likely as time passes.

Over two dozen nurseries have thrown their hats into the ring to be considered for one of the five dispensing organization spots established by the law. Even if the selections are made before the end of the year, it is likely that those who were left out will file legal challenges that could lead to further delays.

For the patients … the wait goes on.