Dispute could delay Florida rollout of limited medical marijuana

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 16, 2014 5:58 PM

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida patients with epilepsy and other diseases hoping to gain limited access to medical marijuana may have to keep waiting as the state's largest nursery is contesting newly developed rules needed to roll out a special strain of cannabis.

Miami-based Costa Farms filed a legal challenge on Monday to the rules developed by the Florida Department of Health for implementing a new state law permitting the strain of marijuana known as "Charlotte's Web."

Costa Farms argued the state should abandon the lottery system it plans to use to select five nurseries to legally grow marijuana.

"The Department of Health has a duty to ensure that the dispensing organizations that are selected to make this medicine are the very best, not merely the luckiest," Costa Farms Vice President Peter Freyre said in a statement.

The rules allow in-state nurseries to file one application each. But other businesses, including out-of-state companies, can apply for multiple licenses by partnering with Florida growers, potentially monopolizing a burgeoning industry.

Only Florida nurseries meeting the state's stringent requirements, including having been in business for 30 years and having the capacity to grow 400,000 plants, can qualify to grow Charlotte's Web. Many more than five meet the requirements.

Florida Governor Rick Scott in June signed the law allowing Charlotte’s Web, named for a Colorado girl whose epileptic seizures have shown some response to the drug. It is specially cultivated to be very low in tetrahydrocannabinol, the element that gets users high.

Cannabis dispensing in Florida is supposed to begin on Jan. 1, 2015, but could be postponed by the Costa Farms challenge.

“The parties behind a challenge should explain why they are delaying the process of providing compassionate care,” Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong said in a statement.

Voters will decide in November whether to approve a state constitutional amendment to more broadly legalize medical marijuana across Florida.

The Florida Charlotte's Web law is so narrow that some advocacy groups do not count it among the 23 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have legalized medical marijuana, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Mohammad Zargham)