Three Florida nurseries filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking for an injunction to delay the state's medical marijuana process in three of five state regions.
McCrory's Sunny Hill Nursery, San Felasco Nurseries and Tornello Landscape's 3 Boys Farm filed the suit in Leon County Circuit Court against Florida's Department of Health and the nurseries approved to cultivate medical marijuana.
The lawsuit seeks to prevent the preliminarily approved licensees in those regions from moving forward with operations until the Division of Administrative Hearings makes a final determination on whether the licenses should go to different applicants.
The three approved dispensing organizations named in the lawsuit are Knox Nursery in the central region, Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in the northeast and Alpha Foliage in the southwest. Chestnut Hill filed a lawsuit last Wednesday trying to prevent a delay in case an injunction was filed.
Jim McKee, an attorney with Foley & Lardner LLP in Tallahassee, said the lawsuit was filed because the challengers think that DOH is depriving them of due process.
"We believe the Department has approved applications of applicants which fail to meet even basic qualifications. We are confident we can prove this at hearing," McKee said in a statement. "Our rights are substantially affected by the Department's decisions and we are entitled to due process and judicial review."
The northwest region has two challenges, but those nurseries did not join the lawsuit. The southeast is the only region without any administrative challenges, injunctions or stays on the process. Costa Farms has the license in that region and hopes to have medical marijuana ready to distribute by September.
McKee pointed out that the process of delivering the low-THC and nonsmokable medical marijuana to state residents can proceed through Costa and that it is not putting a complete stop to the process statewide.
The growing, cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana was approved by the Florida Legislature in 2014. Since then there have been numerous problems in setting up regulations for a nascent industry.
Plants of Ruskin, which has a challenge pending in the southwest region, asked for a stay in the process through DOAH on Jan. 22. Administrative Judge John G. Van Laningham ruled they couldn't stop the process but did say that licenses are not final until the administrative challenges are complete.
The five licensees have until Feb. 7 to request cultivation authorization. Chestnut Hill owner Robert Wallace said before the Florida Senate's Regulated Industries Committee on Jan. 14 that the nursery is on pace to meet that deadline and should be able to dispense by late summer.
Christian Bax, the director of the Office of Compassionate Use, said before a Senate committee on Jan. 13 that they were continuing despite the challenges. The five approved nurseries have until Sunday to request cultivation authorization, but only two — Chestnut Hill and Alpha Foliage — have requested it so far, according to DOH spokeswoman Mara Gambineri.
DOAH will hear begin hearing challenges April 11, starting with two from the northwest region.