Florida Health Officials Request Judge’s Removal from Medical Marijuana Case

Florida Health Officials Request Judge's Removal from Medical Marijuana Case

Flickr / Phil Roeder / CC BY 2.0

On Oct. 10, 2017, Christian Bax, Executive Director of the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use, issued a request to Robert Cohen, Director of the Division of Administrative Hearings, asking for Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham to be removed from a medical marijuana case involving cultivation licenses.

According to the News Services of Florida, Bax claims that Van Laningham has “prejudged the issues in this matter” and is attempting to help the plaintiff in the case, Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms. The health department has tried and failed four times to get Van Laningham to throw out the case.

As part of his evidence, Bax cited a previous medical marijuana case decided by Van Laningham involving the nurseries Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farms. Ruling against the state, Van Laningham was highly critical of the state’s licensing process, which Bax claims was not Van Laningham’s place to do.

Upon receiving the request for his removal, Van Laningham canceled a hearing for this medical marijuana case so he could decide whether he should disqualify himself from the case, which was met with objections from the health department.

Ultimately refusing to take himself off the case, Van Laningham stated in a memo that the health department had no later than 10 days after his first involvement in the case, which was on Sept. 25, to ask for his disqualification but it failed to do so.

“A party is not permitted to take a wait-and-see approach, participating in litigation for weeks while holding grounds to disqualify the judge in its back pocket,” wrote Van Laningham, as quoted by News Services of Florida.

Van Laningham went on to say that a telephone hearing would be held on other motions regarding the case as soon as possible.

Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms filed its lawsuit after the Office of Medical Marijuana Use denied it a cultivation license in August in relation to a new law that that requires the office to award licenses to cultivation applicants with pending judicial or administrative challenges as of January or scoring within one point of their region’s highest scoring applicant, which is how Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm earned their licenses.

With a point difference of 1.1875, St. Germain came in second for the Southeast region. When the Office of Medical Marijuana Use denied St. Germain a license under the new law, it claimed that the applicant was not eligible for a cultivation license because the difference between the first and second place applicants was technically more than one point.

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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