phillips, hunt, walker & hanna Weed Won
Weed won. The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, also known as Amendment 2, was approved by voters Tuesday, November 8, 2016, getting 71.29 percent of the vote statewide. It needed 60% to pass. I have already gotten several text messages from people wanting to know how to be a legal distributor and also how to be a legal recipient of medical marijuana in Florida. However, it is important to note that medical marijuana is not legal in Florida until Jan. 3, 2017 (absent the small exceptions addressed by earlier laws) and it still has a lot of hurdles to cross to be legal.
Marijuana Legislative History in Florida Before Amendment 2
Did you know that medical marijuana was already legal in Florida before Amendment 2? Well, at least it was a “little legal.” Authorized use of marijuana or its derivatives by some patients started with the 2014 Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, commonly known as Florida’s “Charlotte’s Web” law, which legalized low-THC (non-euphoric) cannabis for patients who were Florida residents who suffered from cancer or a condition that chronically produces seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms, and who tried and failed other treatments.
In 2015, attempts to broaden it were instituted and the “Right to Try Act” allowed terminally ill patients (one year or less to live) to have access to experimental drugs that have not been approved for general use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it included marijuana derivatives. It was expanded by medical-marijuana bill in 2016. In addition to limits on use and users, the patient was required to have at least a 90-day relationship with a pre-approved doctor authorized to obtain marijuana before they may have access to the drug. It was enough to get distribution started, as everyone involved seemed to be optimistic expansion was coming to Florida.
Marijuana Distribution History in Florida Before Amendment 2
The 2016 laws were enough infrastructure to really get distribution channels turning. A company called Trulieve, a marijuana dispensary, was the first to receive authority to open a dispensary across the State. It is seemingly led by Kim Rivers, a University of Florida law grad who worked in venture capital before joining the Trulieve. Truelieve teamed up with Hackney Nursery.
Hackney Nursery was one of the first to receive processing and dispensing authorization from the state Department of Health. Based in Gadsden County, Hackney Nursery was designated to serve the Northwest region, which stretches from Pensacola to Tallahassee.
Trulieve / Hackey’s competitor, Surterra Therapeutics, was among the first of six companies to win state approval to grow and harvest medical marijuana. Surterra operates a 6,000-square-foot facility in rural Tallahassee to grow the non-euphoric strain; while another slightly smaller facility outside of Tampa grows the full-strength variety. Surterra’s primary growing facility outside of Tallahassee is housed in a windowless structure in a sparsely populated, rural area outside of the city. It is an Atlanta-based start-up that partnered with the 30-year-old Homestead-based Alpha Foliage.
The remaining licensed FL dispensing organizations have commenced cultivation and processing activities but were delayed in dispensing medical cannabis products to patients:
- CHT Medical: The Chestnut Hill Tree Farms marijuana business is based in Alachua County.
- The Green Solution: The San Felasco marijuana business is based in Alachua County.
- Knox Medical: The Knox Nursery marijuana business is based in Orange County.
- Modern Health Concepts: The Costa Nursery Farms marijuana business is based in Miami-Dade County.
It is a full and fully-regulated marketplace and limits have been placed to prevent more growers and distributors based on shown need.
Amendment 2 Moving Forward
Despite the infrastructure ready to seriously capitalize on the billion dollar industry, it may take some time to get Amendment 2 in place. Under the guidelines of Amendment 2, the Florida Department of Health has until June 3, 2017 to finalize its regulations. The language of Amendment 2 leaves regulation in the hands of the Florida Department of Health and its head, Dr. Celeste Philip. She will likely be working with Florida Governor Rick Scott. If they do not act in time, Amendment 2 invites Florida citizens to “seek judicial relief to compel compliance” with the law.
After the regulations are established, ID cards must be distributed to patients by September 3, 2017 before distribution can take place. Amendment 2 requires patients to obtain (1) a letter of certification from a physician, and (2) a valid state-issued medical marijuana ID card. It will allow medical marijuana to be provided as a treatment for patients with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS). It also will allow licensed physicians to certify patients for medical marijuana use after diagnosing them with some “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated.”
The Health Department will also be in charge of issuing licenses for, and regulating, medical cannabis dispensaries. As of now, there is no guidance or regulation limiting the number of dispensaries within the state or within any given county or town. Amendment 2 also contains no provisions for license priority. The Health Department will have to decide on the criteria to be used in issuing dispensary licenses—and whether a dispensary will grow, process, and sell its own cannabis, or whether separate growing, processing, and dispensary licenses will be necessary.
City and County Regulation and Moratoriums
Concurrently, various counties around the state will be meeting to formulate their own rules for how and where marijuana dispensaries can be located and the regulations which will apply. These include such restrictions as a dispensary’s proximity to single-family residences, schools, churches, day care facilities or parks where children may frequent or near pain-management clinics or other medical marijuana dispensaries. Limiting operating hours, trespass and loitering issues and background checks are also things which will be addressed.
With dispensaries sprouting up throughout Florida, cities and counties all over the state are passing temporary moratoriums as they contemplate how to handle this issue. More than two dozen Florida cities, including Hialeah, Miami Springs, Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Orlando, have already regulated or completely banned medical marijuana sales at least on a temporary basis until they can pass ordinances fully regulating medical marijuana related activities.
Cities and counties, such as Clay County, are sitting down with attorneys and officials to look at municipal and county ordinance in order to impose a such things as a temporary one-year moratorium on the operating of medical marijuana dispensaries and treatment centers until it can be further researched and properly administrated, if allowed at all.
To make matters more complex, on August 10, 2016, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reaffirmed marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug. This has and will continue to create issues related to using interstate commerce, banking and the like to run such businesses.
Sources indirectly and directly used in this post:
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