In a Florida Supreme Court case with major ramifications for the medical-marijuana industry, the Florida House contends a disputed 2017 law helps prevent “diversion” of pot to the illegal recreational market, minors and other states.
House attorneys late Monday filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn a July ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal that said a key part of the law conflicted with a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
That key part of the law involves what is known as “vertical integration” —- a system in which a limited number of companies that receive medical marijuana licenses must handle all aspects of the cannabis trade, including growing, processing and distributing the products. The alternative to vertical integration would be to allow companies to play different roles, potentially leading to more players in the industry.
In the brief Monday, House attorneys pointed to the need for a secure medical-marijuana system that would prevent pot from being used recreationally.
It said the Legislature “determined that licensure was appropriate only for vertically integrated entities, enabling the state to hold a single entity accountable for each phase of the industry from cultivation to dispensation.”
“That approach combats product diversion from a legal medical market to the illegal recreational black market,” the House attorneys wrote. “States with diffuse licensure systems, low market barriers, and unlimited licenses provide a cautionary tale. Such states have significant oversupply and persistent diversion and exportation of marijuana. The Legislature also required vertical integration to help curtail diversion to minors and diversion to other states where marijuana remains illegal or is regulated differently, which addresses the concerns the federal government expressed regarding the legalization of marijuana at the state level.”
Also filing a brief late Monday supporting the law were attorneys for several companies that already have medical-marijuana licenses. The brief said the decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal would cause a “seismic shift in Florida’s medical marijuana program.”
“In sum, the Florida Legislature created a vertically integrated medical marijuana program and established limits on the number of … licenses in an effort to ensure the availability and safe use of medical marijuana as required by the (constitutional) amendment,” the companies’ joint brief said. “These policy decisions are sound and consistent with medical marijuana programs in other states. By all indications, Florida’s program is growing successfully and appropriately.”
The arguments came in a long-running lawsuit filed by the Tampa-based firm Florigrown, which has tried unsuccessfully to get a medical-marijuana license from the state. The Legislature passed the 2017 law to carry out the constitutional amendment.
A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in July upheld part of a temporary injunction issued by a Leon County circuit judge who found that the 2017 law conflicted with the constitutional amendment.
At least in part, the court focused on the difference in the words “or” and “and” in the definitions of medical-marijuana operators, which are known as medical marijuana treatment centers.
The constitutional amendment defined the centers as “an entity that acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes … transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana, products containing marijuana, related supplies, or educational materials.”
Meanwhile, under the 2017 law, “a licensed medical marijuana treatment center shall cultivate, process, transport and dispense marijuana for medical use” – wording that establishes the vertically integrated system of performing all aspects of the business.
“The power of the Legislature does not include rewriting clear language in the Constitution, transforming a disjunctive ‘or’ into a conjunctive ‘and,’ ” appeals-court Judge Scott Makar wrote in a subsequent decision in which the court declined to revisit the decision.
“No evidence exists that the people via the elemental language of the medical marijuana amendment clearly intended a market limited to only a few fully vertically-integrated medical marijuana companies,” he wrote.
The Florida Department of Health, which administers the medical-marijuana system, appealed to the Supreme Court. Justices said in October they would hear the case, though they have not scheduled a date for oral arguments.
Florigrown is not required to file a brief until early next month, but CEO Adam Elend said in July that the 1st District Court of Appeal decision was a “game-changer” and described the current system as an “oligopoly.”
“It drops a bomb on the current licensing scheme. It’s just changing the whole regime,” Elend said.
Many of Florida’s marijuana dispensaries were not ready when Gov. Ron DeSantis made smokable medical marijuana legal in March. They were busy making oils, capsules, vape cartridges and other cannabis products.
In recent months, dispensaries have been struggling to provide enough smokable whole flower, which is the entire marijuana bud, to meet patients’ demands. Some patients prefer smoking flower to other cannabis products because it provides quick delivery into the blood stream for pain relief, medical experts say.
But in recent months, Florida’s dispensaries have jump-started cultivation of whole flower to make more available. Some dispensaries say that as early as December, they will have a larger supply to sell.
“Demand for flower has been extraordinary,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers told Wall Street analysts on a recent conference call.
Some of South Florida’s dispensaries, including GrowHealthy, have had trouble keeping their stores supplied. “We have smokable flower on a Monday and by Wednesday that product is out of stock," said Jeff Finnerty, senior director of marketing and sales for GrowHealthy. "We get it on Friday and then we have it to about Sunday morning.”
Dr. Barry Gordon, owner of Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, Fla., said patients are turning to smoking cannabis because it the most reliable way to ease their pain.
Gordon, known best for recommending cannabis to Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner to keep his cancer in remission, said inhaling is the safest means because many patients know what to expect in the high from a small pipe or a pre-rolled joint. They also know it will take only five to 10 minutes to get the pain relief they need.
Dave Clemmons, 54, of Boca Raton, was checking out the products at GrowHealthy’s dispensary in Deerfield Beach, which opened Wednesday. He said his first choice is to smoke flower because “you can see it and smell it." Clemmons, who uses medical marijuana to help with anxiety, said he prefers inhaling marijuana with a bong.
His experience with South Florida dispensaries selling flower is that every once in awhile “nobody has it. Then they’re back with 10 strains," or varieties.
Meanwhile, demand for medical marijuana has been growing.
Florida dispensaries, which can grow marijuana only inside the state, have been scrambling to add space to cultivate whole flower. Dispensaries are adding indoor spaces lit by lamps, which can result in higher quality, more consistent flower. Cannabis plants take about four months to generate from a clone or rooted cutting to packaging for a dispensary, experts say.
GrowHealthy, a dispensary that cultivates cannabis in Lake Wales, has been busy since summer converting several buildings into indoor grow-houses, labs and other operations to expand whole flower production.
“We expect in December to have almost three times amount of flower,” Finnerty said. He said whole flower has made up a quarter of GrowHealthy’s sales since May. With new inventory coming online, Finnerty said he expects whole flower to soon make up 50 percent of GrowHealthy’s business.
Rivers, of Trulieve, told Wall Street analysts that whole flower makes up about 50 percent of Trulieve’s product mix, and dispensaries can’t meet consumers’ demand for it. The medical marijuana company, based in Quincy, Florida, near Tallahassee, says it already operates 1.7 million square feet of cultivation and has 120,000 square feet of growing space under construction.
California-based MedMen also said Tuesday that it was expanding its cultivation near Eustis, Fla., north of Orlando, “to keep up with the growth of its retail footprint in the state.”
Kevin Fisher, chief operating officer of Atlanta-based Parallel, the newly named company operating Surterra Wellness dispensaries, said the company has 350,000 square feet of greenhouse space and 100,000 square feet of indoor cultivation space coming online in the Tampa area in 2020.
“It was a bear of a summer down there,” Fisher said, adding that sun-grown flowers may have lower levels of THC, the chemical compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Recreational marijuana use, on the other hand, remains illegal. But two constitutional amendments are currently in the signature-gathering phase in trying to get on the ballot in 2020, both of which would result in legalizing it.
One amendment would allow Floridians to grow their own pot and establishes rules and regulations toward that effect. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has challenged that amendment in court, arguing it is too long and confusing. The other would simply allow the current medical marijuana dispensaries to sell for recreational use. That simpler amendment has not been challenged or supported by Moody. Unsurprisingly, medical marijuana dispensaries are among that amendment’s strongest supporters; the industry has donated more than $2.8 million to the cause.
We want to know whether you support the idea. Should recreational marijuana use be legalized in Florida? Take our unscientific poll below as we gauge public sentiment heading toward 2020.
Proponents of recreational marijuana celebrated last week when a groundbreaking federal decriminalization bill passed the House Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Kamala Harris introduced the bill this summer alongside Rep. Jerry Nadler, a fellow Democrat. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or the MORE Act — described by its sponsors as the most comprehensive reform bill to date — would decriminalize cannabis by removing it from the list included in the Controlled Substances Act. The bill would also retroactively allow for federal expungement of all past and pending convictions for marijuana possession. States would then set their own policies.
But even the strongest proponents don't think the bill has any real chance of being signed into law. Skopos Labs, a company compiling data using artificial intelligence, gives the bill a 1 percent shot at passage.
Still, Florida experts say the bill's traction is adding legitimacy to a movement both here and in other states poised to pass new marijuana laws of their own. If the bill became law, it would change the landscape of legal marijuana business and, more important, would begin to undo the effects of the war on drugs for minorities, who are disproportionately arrested for related charges.
Florida A&M University's Medical Marijuana Education and Research Intiative Lauches Statewide Radio Show
Florida A&M University (FAMU) has a Medical Marijuana Education and Research Initiative (MMERI) and they have officially launched a radio show called MMERI Forum Radio. It is a half-hour weekly program that airs Friday and Sunday WANM Radio 90.5 FM in Norther Florida and WILD Radio 95.5 FM in West Palm Beach. The programs for the radio show will involve 8 episode series featuring in-depth interviews with legislators, physicians, law enforcment, and community activists on the topic of medical marijuana. Be sure to tune in and learn more.
The U.S. Committee on Appropropriations hosted a hearing September 25th for the Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. The panelists included Helene Langevin, Director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), Francis Collins, Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), and Nora Volkow, Driector of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. During the hearing the three panels openly agreed that there is a problem with marijuana on the federal level. As a schedule 1 drug Marijuana is difficult to research because grants are restricted.Thankfully, Director Langevin's department is providing $3 million in grants to fund the studies into the benefits of cannabis compounds beside THC. The focus will be to develop and discover therapeutic alternatives to prescription opiods. The three panelists agreed that more ahs to be done by legislators for the full medicinal applications of marijuana to be understood and utilized for the benefit of patients across the country. Congresswoman Barbara Lee stated during the hearing her own anecdotal experience with her mother using a cannabis based pain-relieving lotion to treat her knee pain.
Positive news Florida. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Lawrence Keefe has come out publicly state that his federal offices will not actively pursue enforcement measures for small-time transactions of illegal marijuana. Instead they will focus on large scale trafficking of marijuana involving violent felons who commit gun violence while trafficking marijuana. Similarly Keefe has stated his office will not be pursuing charges against medical marijuana businesses operating within the bounds of Florida Law. Keefe and his fellow U.S. Attorney's are doing this as an exercise of their prosecutorial discretion.
It has come to our attention that many patients who are looking to purchase a firearm, or hold special firearm licenses such as Concealed Carry Weapon (CCW) Permits are deeply concerned about the possible infringement of their constitutional right to bear arms as a licensed medical marijuana patient here in the State of Florida. Unfortunately the truth is not something any of us want to hear. Medical Marijuana patients under Federal Law are prohibited from purchasing new firearms during the duration of the term of their medical marijuana card. The reason for this are in fact federal laws not Florida laws. Prospective gun owners are required to fill out an ATF Form 4478 which can be found in the article below for your review. It asks applicants if they are an "unlawful user" of illicit drugs. Since marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, under 21 U.S.C. 802 virtually any method of consuming marijuana, medical or not, classifies that individual as an 'unlawful user'.
When that section comes up in the ATF Form 4478 an answer of yes prohibits you from purchasing a firearm and maintaining ownership of a firearm. This unfortunately is the law of the land at this time as federal law supersedes state law. So to prospective patients, if you want to purchase a firearm you may want to do it before you become a patient. To prospective CCW License Holders or current CCW License Holders. We encourage you to do what we did and fill out the Concealed Weapon or Firearm License Preliminary Determination questionnaire. It contains 30 questions and when you are done it lists each question that you answered which would cause you to be denied from receiving a CCW.
To current patients who are currently owning a firearm, do not panic. Although it is not legal under federal law to own a firearm as a medical marijuana patient you will likely have nothing to worry about. In the article below an Alcohol,Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agent is interviewed about the subject and notes specifically that it ultimately comes down to enforcement. At this time the federal government is not really enforcing these laws. The ATF at this time appears to be primarily concerned with violent use of firearms. Please be aware that this may change in the future and you should comply with the law for the sake of maintaining your access to your medicine to treat your ailment until you are better or cured. Additionally, this goes without saying but continue to be responsible with your firearms.
We at Florida For Care will continue to fight on behalf of medical marijuana patients and we have heard your concerns on this issue. We will be taking action during the next legislative sessions to attempt to address these issues with the Florida Legislature. If you have suggestions on this matter we strongly encourage you to share them with us at [email protected] We are in this together Florida, we are a team, and together we will do what is right for patients deserving all options for their medical care.
Finally, if you are a concerned patient please please please call your legislators in the Federal House of Representatives and the Federal Senate Seats to make sure they press this issue in their next legislative session. Links to find your Congresspersons and Senators have been provided below.
*** Update ***
It has come to our attention from some patients and supporters whether or not there is any reason to worry that Florida law enforcement officials will actively enforce the aforementioned federal laws referred to in this blog post. The Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried has made her stance on this issue very clear in the article below. Under her watch there will be no directive by the Florida Department of Agriculture to seize firearms from medical marijuana patients acting lawfully in the state. For those of you that do not know since the name of the agency is deceiving, The Florida Department of Agriculture is the agency that handles matters related to firearm access in the State of Florida,i permits and licenses for firearm use. If you have further concerns please feel free to email us or contact the Florida Department of Agriculture as shown below.
https://www.freshfromflorida.com/#Energy or 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352)
Disclaimer: Please understand. This is not legal advice or legal guidance in any shape, way, or form on how to purchase a firearm as a Medical Marijuana Patient in any state, county, or municipality and it is not our intent under any circumstance with this blog post to provide legal advice or guidance. This blog post is solely intended to provide information to those with questions on this subject and to address the concerns of patients and supporters who have been emailing us. Thank you.
A patient using Medical Marijuana to treat his epilepsy was diagnosed with Cannabis abuse disorder following a visit to the hospital. Mr. Morell was forced to visit the hospital after having an epileptic seizure. After a through questioning by his physician regarding his condition to determine what might have been the trigger, Mr. Morrel disclosed that he had been using medical marijuana to treat his Epilepsy. The physician who asked these questions to Mr. Morell then proceeded to arrange a consult with another physician to see to Mr. Morell's treatment for drug abuse and treatment. We at Florida For Care will continue to advocate for greater physician education on the subject of Medical Marijuana. It is a shame and disgrace that a licensed medical marijuana patient could be perceived as a drug abuser by a physician, especially after the physician who recommended him for Medical Marijuana was his Neurologist.