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Commissioner Of Agriculture Nikki Fried Explains Plans for Medical Pot in Florida

A Florida law prohibits cities from limiting the number of dispensaries. Fort Lauderdale is denying three dispensaries from setting up shop in its Northeast district.
Flick Creative Commons via Mark
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried has been an outspoken advocate for medical marijuana her first two months in office.

She recently penned an op-edmaking the case for patients seeking smokable forms of the medication. There are bills in both the Florida House and Senate that would lift the ban on smokable pot for patients over 18. Governor Ron DeSantis gave lawmakers until March 15th to put a proposal on his desk. 

Also, Fried recently appointed a new director for the state's cannabis program Holly Bell. She will be charged with overseeing the licensing of marijuana products and dispensaries.

WLRN's Luis Hernandez  spoke with Fried about the proposals for smokable medical marijuana in the state, the criticisms she's faced for appointing Bell and she answered listener questions about edibles and more. 

WLRN: Why is access to smokable medical marijuana important compared to the other forms of medical cannabis currently available?

FRIED: The reality is that every patient is different. Just like when you go to your doctor and you get a certain percentage of milligrams for a prescription, sometimes you have to go through two different types of cholesterol medicines to get it right. The same thing happens with medical marijuana. Every patient is different and every person responds to medical treatments different. And sometimes the natural flower, in the purest form, is what helps some of our patients.

So we need to make sure that we are giving our patients the most amount that they can get for deliverable purposes to help with their conditions. And we're not doctors. You know, I'm not somebody who believes that we should get involved with a doctor-patient relationship. And if a doctor feels that's what's best for their patients then who are we to stand in their way home.

Tell us about Holly Bell, the new director of cannabis, and her qualifications for the position. 

She comes from a business background first. She was in the banking industry for many years and then has gotten involved in the cannabis space and the hemp space. She was involved with some of the banking issues for the last few years, tried to work with banks and getting through regulations so they can bank with the marijuana industry. And then recently she's been up in the state of Tennessee working on creating the hemp program in Tennessee.

So I felt that she had the vast array of responsibilities and understanding of the industry, not only the banking side. As you know for anybody who knows what I went through during the campaign, that two of my bank accounts were closed down because of my advocacy for medical marijuana expansion. So, she knows how those many parts go.

Let's start with the banking aspect.  Isn't this going to be on a federal level that would allow for banks to do business? Because right now this industry has to work on cash because banks won't touch it. 

We are seeing some federal legislation that's going through. There's a House bill that's for banking currently up there, that they had the first hearing on it last week. So this definitely is a federal issue and hopefully, Holly and myself will spend some time in D.C. lobbying on it. But also, we have our state-chartered banks. So there is opportunity here in our state. I have been speaking to members of the cabinet and we're going to be having a new director of the financial regulations and a lot of this going to go into their regulations, in the way that they oversee of our state charter banks.

And so hopefully we can also start to loosen up some of those regulations.  It's in our Constitution. And let's be let's be frank, if the voters voted for it to put it in the Constitution it is up to us to defend the Constitution. And that means all of the ancillary support to the landlords who are going to be, you know, leasing out property to the dispensaries, that's to the banking, I mean everything goes into it the doctors and the patients. We need to be protecting them considering that it's in our Constitution.

There have been criticisms of [Holly Bell] from longtime medical marijuana advocates in the state of Florida. You know these well, they say that she's coming from outside of Florida, doesn't have enough experience to manage this kind of endeavor. Why did you decide to pick Bell and what are you saying to critics?

I'm saying just what I've said earlier - that she has the most experience, has national relationships that bring in here to the state. No, she's not from Florida but her family is from Florida, her husband's family is here, she spends a lot of time. She has, like I said, the vast array of experience from the banking side from cannabis side, the hemp side and the business community and being ahead of her banks.

She was on the leadership and executive team of banks before overseeing staff and personnel. So she is highly qualified and somebody that I have complete confidence is going to come in with the right approach and the right accruement to make sure that we are truly the national and international leaders in hemp, the gold standard as we move through this process. And already she's been here two weeks as she's won over most of those activists who are who have met her and talked to her and have realized that the choice that I made was the right choice for the state of Florida. 

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Chris Remington knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.