Judge criticizes Florida for not granting more medical cannabis licenses

The Tampa Bay Times reports

TALLAHASSEE — An appeals court judge this week chided Florida health officials for not following up on promises to grant additional medical marijuana licenses as required by state law, saying potential applicants are “understandably frustrated” and offering a legal playbook for entrepreneurs who have been shut out of the cannabis market for years.

First District Court of Appeal Judge Ross Bilbrey’s shot across the bow came as Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration continues to delay the issuance of new licenses. Florida has 22 medical marijuana operators.

A 2017 law, which created a framework for the state’s medical marijuana industry, required the Department of Health to grant new licenses as the number of authorized patients increases. With more than 700,000 patients, the state should have issued at least another 22 licenses to keep up with the population of patients — doubling the number of operators in Florida.

The process to obtain medical marijuana in Florida is complex. Patients require a medical card and a certification from a licensed marijuana doctor in the state. The state also has qualifying conditions for medical cards established by the law. With population growth and requests for medical marijuana growing, the state is struggling to keep up.

But the DeSantis administration has left the application process in limbo since the governor took office in 2019.

DeSantis’ office has blamed the delay on litigation over the 2017 law, but a Florida Supreme Court decision upholding the statute was finalized last year.

Bilbrey on Wednesday called out the state’s foot-dragging, as he issued a concurring opinion in an appeal by Louis Del Favero Orchids Inc., which has long sought a license for what is known as a medical marijuana treatment center.

Bilbrey and two other judges on the Tallahassee-based appeals court, siding with the Department of Health, upheld a lower-court ruling that dismissed the company’s lawsuit.

But Bilbrey — who has repeatedly questioned Department of Health lawyers on the delay in accepting new license applications — also took health officials to task in the concurring opinion.

Del Favero “is understandably frustrated with the ongoing failure of the Department of Health to open the application window and issue Medical Marijuana Treatment Center licenses as required by the Florida Constitution,” Bilbrey wrote, referring to a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

Bilbrey noted that the health department issued an emergency rule in September 2017 that laid out the application process for potential medical marijuana operators.

“Almost five years after the emergency rule was issued, the MMTC license application window remains closed,” Bilbrey, who was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott, said.

The judge also pointed to assurances that a Department of Health lawyer made more than two years ago during oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by MedPure LLC, when Bilbrey was a member of a separate three-judge panel.

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