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Key Medical Marijuana Issue Goes To Supreme Court

Samples of medical marijuana shown on display
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Days after a split appeals court refused to revisit a decision that could revolutionize the way medical marijuana operators do business in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has asked the state Supreme Court to take up the case. 

The 1st District Court of Appeal on Tuesday turned down a state request for the full appellate court to hear the case, a request known as seeking an “en banc” hearing. Judge Scott Makar wrote in a concurring opinion Tuesday that “en banc review is unwarranted and would serve only to delay the inevitable, which is to allow for our Supreme Court to weigh in and definitively pass upon the matter.” 

The 2-1 decision prompted lawyers for DeSantis to file an appeal with the Supreme Court on Friday. The state asked for the en banc hearing after a three-judge panel in July sided with Tampa-based firm Florigrown in finding that Florida’s law requiring pot operators to grow, process and distribute cannabis and related products created an “oligopoly” and runs afoul of a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

The law, passed during a special legislative session in 2017, was intended to carry out the amendment, approved by more than 71 percent of voters in 2016. Critics say the 2017 law shuts out firms from the industry because it requires licensees to perform all aspects of the business --- rather than allowing companies to focus only on individual pieces.

The amendment defines a “medical marijuana treatment center” as “an entity that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes … transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies, or educational materials” to qualifying patients or their caregivers.

Meanwhile, the state law uses different wording, saying, in part, “a licensed medical marijuana treatment center shall cultivate, process, transport and dispense marijuana for medical use.” The three-judge panel in July found that the law requires firms to “conform to a more restricted definition” than is provided in the amendment. The July 9 decision sent shockwaves through the state’s medical marijuana industry, in which licenses are regularly selling for upwards of $50 million, but it had no immediate effect.