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Nurseries Seek Piece Of New Pot Industry

In a key step toward making a type of medical marijuana available to patients, the Florida Department of Health has received 28 applications from firms that want to cultivate, process and distribute non-euphoric cannabis in five regions of the state.

The applications came in before a 5 p.m. deadline Wednesday, after an administrative law judge in May ended months of legal wrangling about a regulatory process for the new industry. Now, focus will shift toward the selection of one applicant in each region to become a so-called "dispensing organization."

Almost all of the applications were filed Wednesday, with some nursery firms submitting proposals in more than one region. Seven applications were submitted for Central Florida, while six each were submitted for Northeast Florida and Southwest Florida. Five were submitted for Southeast Florida, and four were submitted for Northwest Florida.

The Department of Health released a list of the applicants early Wednesday evening, but more details were not immediately available.

The process stems from a state law passed in 2014 that allows a type of cannabis that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. Parents of children with a severe form of epilepsy pushed lawmakers to approve the substance, contending it can end or dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures --- while not getting users high.

Legal battles about regulations for the industry have delayed making the cannabis available to children with epilepsy and patients with other conditions such as severe muscle spasms and cancer. Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins, however, issued a decision May 27 that approved a rule proposed by the Department of Health to carry out the law.

Watkins' decision allowed the application process to begin. But proponents of the cannabis law have expressed concerns that further legal challenges could arise from applicants who are not chosen as the dispensing organizations.

Meanwhile, a group led by Orlando attorney John Morgan is gearing up to try to get voter approval of a constitutional amendment in 2016 that would allow full-blown medical marijuana in the state. A similar effort narrowly failed in 2014.