Growers Challenge Florida MMJ Lottery

Cannabis Lottery

Millions of Florida residents waiting to receive non-euphoric medical marijuana may have to wait a little longer. Costa Farms, a Miami-based nursery, has filed a legal challenge to the newly developed rules regarding the roll-out of the non-euphoric strain of medical marijuana, dubbed Charlotte’s Webb.

If you’re checking your calendar and wondering how you could have slept through November, don’t worry, you haven’t.  Although Floridians will be voting on a much more broad initiative in November, Florida state regulators have already passed a more narrow version of the medical marijuana bill that was signed in June, which legalizes non-euphoric CBD-only marijuana.

At the heart of the issue are concerns over how the state will hand out licenses to permit marijuana cultivation. Currently, the state plans to hand out five licenses total; one per region of the state. The state plans to choose which qualifying nursery gets a license based on a lottery.

In a statement, Peter Freyre, Vice President of Costa Farms, said, “The Department of Health has a duty to ensure that the dispensing organizations that are selected to make this medicine are the very best, not merely the luckiest.” The cited reason for the lottery is to keep the process from being bogged down in legal complaints over the bidding process, but we see how well that’s working out.

Another major sticking point for Costa Farms is the provision in the rules which allows out-of-state businesses partnered with pre-qualified nurseries to submit multiple applications for licenses while the pre-qualified nurseries can only submit one. This rule would give out-of-state interests an unfair advantage against in-state businesses.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida, Freyre expressed his concern over the out-of-state loophole. “The way the rules are written today, essentially you have given out-of-state actors multiple bites of the apple whereas the nurseries that are the ones that are prescribed in the bill as being the sole obligants only have one shot at it.”

The challenge by Costa Farms argues that the Florida Department of Health overreached in its authority, granted by the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, by creating the lottery system. It also contends that, the FDH also contradicted the original intent of the legislature with regards to who can and cannot acquire a marijuana license.

Shortly after the legal challenge was filed, another nursery, Plants of Ruskin, filed a complaint challenging the zoning restrictions on growing cannabis. The complaint claims that the zoning restrictions conflict with already existing zoning regulation, and should therefore be thrown out.

If the legal dispute continues, it could threaten to delay the granting of growing licenses and cannabis cultivation. However, since the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act only pertains to Charlotte’s Web, all of that could go right out the window should Florida voters approve the much broader medical marijuana bill, Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 has no such restrictions on growing licenses, and much of the regulatory framework would be decided upon after the November vote. If Amendment 2 passes, hopefully regulators will learn their lesson from this legal tussle and ditch the lottery system. Otherwise, get ready for months of legal battles and bickering.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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