Florida misses medical marijuana rules deadline

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, October 12, 2017, 5:30 PM EDT

Florida's top medical marijuana regulator missed an important deadline in making full-potency pot available to patients across the state.

  • FL Health Dept. missed rules deadline Oct. 3
  • Officials have a number of reasons
  • No word on when those rules will be released

Christian Bax, the director of the Florida Department of Health's Office of Compassionate Use, ticked off a list of reasons his office did not release highly-anticipated rules that were due Oct. 3. 

On Wednesday, Bax told the Florida House Health Quality Subcommittee those issues included:

  • Glitches with a patient ID card system
  • Disagreements with banks reticent to process patient application fees
  • A lawsuit brought by a coalition of black farmers 

Bax cited the lawsuit concerning the 10 new medical marijuana nursery licenses the office is charged with awarding as the primary holdup.

"We see at every level of state government, when you have a merit-based application process for a fixed amount of licenses where there's the potential to make quite a bit of money off of receiving one of those licenses, you are incentivized to challenge that process and to litigate," Bax told the committee.

Some members withheld judgment of the office's rocky implementation of Amendment 2, the medical marijuana measure overwhelmingly approved by voters last year.

Others, however, suggested that institutional impediments had been erected within the Department of Health, an agency overseen by Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

"What are we doing if we're just creating a lot of backlog, paper jams, you know what I'm saying?" asked Rep. Wengay 'Newt' Newton (D-St. Petersburg).

As recently as this summer, medical marijuana advocates had been optimistic that patients suffering from chronic ailments would have access to full-potency forms of the drug on Oct. 3, the rule publication deadline that has now come and gone.

Most of the state's currently licensed low-potency medical marijuana treatment centers have reported being prepared to quickly scale up their offerings -- if only regulators would act.

Bax declined to say how much longer the wait might be, returning to the unpredictability of the legal challenge.

"One of the key aspects of this whole process that slows the process down is litigation, but due process is what it is. We certainly respect the rule of law and the ability for everyone to have their day in court if they believe that something needs to be challenged," Bax said. "But, that's the case in this situation."