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FL Lawmakers Chide Marijuana Office Over Slow Roll-Out

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
US Fish and Wildlife Service via wikimedia commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service via wikimedia commons
The Florida Channel

Florida health officials are under fire for the slow implementation of the latest medical marijuana law.  State lawmakers are rejecting the department's excuses.

A new state law directed the office of medical marijuana to issue 10 new dispensing licenses by October 3.  They didn’t make the deadline.

“We want to move this process as quickly as possible forward,” Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use director Christian Bax told a Senate health panel. 

“The problem is that there is a branch of government that is not represented in this room right now,” he went on, pointing to pending litigation against his office, “They have a say over whether or not something is procedurally correct, administratively correct or constitutionally correct.”

Senate Health Policy chair Dana Young (R-Tampa) was incredulous. 

“So are you saying that you are willing to hold off on issuing any further licenses as required by statute because you have litigation filed?” she asked.  “Is that what you’re saying that you’re going to wait until this litigation is resolved before you issue any additional licenses?

“Yes,” Bax said.

Young spent a good chunk of this year’s session attempting to corral the different ideas senators had for medical marijuana.  Lawmakers in both chambers tangled so long over what would make it in the final bill that they didn’t reach an agreement until a June special session. 

Exasperated with Bax’s explanation, Young pointed out existing licensees could use lawsuits to protect their market position.  She also suggested the office is drifting from its lane by presupposing what administrative judges might rule. 

But most fundamentally she just doesn’t buy the office’s explanation.

“Doesn’t it seem a bit complacent for you to simply throw your hands up and say, ‘oh, we cannot issue—we’ve been sued, oh no?’” Young asked.  

“You all get sued all the time,” Young continued.  “You know, we’ve been sued so we can’t do anything—you have a duty under our state laws to issue these licenses regardless of whether some plaintiff files a lawsuit.”

Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo was similarly skeptical of the litigation argument. 

Plantation Democrat Lauren Book raised a different issue—criticizing the lag time in receiving a patient ID card.

“I tried the process, and I went through it as an experiment,” Book explained to Bax.  “And it took three months to get a patient identification card.” 

“And that is not unique,” she said, “that is something that I have heard time, and time, and time again.”

That hurts patients, Book says, because they can’t simply take their prescription to a dispensary.  They have to sign up with the state, and the office of medical marijuana has to verify the application before a patient can begin receiving treatment.  

Bax says those strictures are part of the measure lawmakers approved earlier this year, but his office is about to hand off ID card production to an outside vendor.

“Moving forward with this card vendor and outsourcing this program is going to be a significant and marked improvement on this process,” Bax told the committee, “in that we will remove the logistical challenges of operating within a relatively small office, and this vendor will be able to produce these cards at an industrial scale.”

Book also questioned the difficulty of switching doctors—patients have to remove themselves from the state registry and then re-register.  But again, Bax says that’s because of one doctor, one patient requirements baked into state law. 

Since the hearing, the News Service of Florida reports an unsuccessful vendor will challenge the Office of Medical Marijuana’s contract decision in court, potentially delaying the hand off in making and distributing identification cards.  

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Nick Evans came to Tallahassee to pursue a masters in communications at Florida State University. He graduated in 2014, but not before picking up an internship at WFSU. While he worked on his degree Nick moved from intern, to part-timer, to full-time reporter. Before moving to Tallahassee, Nick lived in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years. He listens to far too many podcasts and is a die-hard 49ers football fan. When Nick’s not at work he likes to cook, play music and read.