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Photo by: Tim Freed - Who will get to sell marijuana? That may be settled by a lawsuit against the state.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Sep. 24, 2014 4 years ago

Marijuana bill sparks legal action

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Who can sell medical marijuana?
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

A medical cannabis trade group based out of Winter Park has taken legal action against the state following a medical marijuana bill passed in June – a challenge that might impact how easily nurseries can obtain the right to grow cannabis.

Winter Park’s Florida Medical Cannabis Association filed an administrative challenge against the Florida Department of Health last Wednesday in response to the state’s enactment of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, a bill that allows the limited sale of low-THC cannabis for medicinal purposes and outlines restrictions on nurseries eligible to grow it.

Louis Rotundo, a lobbyist with the association, said a nursery applying to grow and sell medical marijuana faces an unfair playing field. The new rules lack specific criteria for a nursery to follow, turning the application process into a lottery, or a simple answer of yes or no, he said.

Language in the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act allows for another party or individual to also apply – as long as they have at least 25 percent ownership by a qualified nursery.

“There are organizations out there right now who have run around and signed up with four or five or six nurseries, and they intend to apply with four, five or six nurseries. The nurseries are only applying once,” said Rotundo, who also serves as the federal lobbyist for the city of Maitland.

“Now you’ve got six or seven balls in the bowl and I get one … that should not be allowed.”

The Winter Park entity, representing nurseries throughout the state, is one of three organizations in Florida to challenge the state over the legislation in just the past week. Nurseries Plants of Ruskin Inc. and Costa Farms, LLC, both filed challenges of their own.

Without set criteria for nurseries to follow, a lottery system could ultimately select the less-qualified nurseries, Rotundo said.

It all comes down to getting the medical marijuana to patients as effectively as possible, he said.

“It would be very difficult under the current rule for businesses to guarantee a successful product and delivery system,” Rotundo said.

Talks have sprung up in Winter Park over the city’s own approach to medical marijuana if it’s legalized in the upcoming November election. Mayor Ken Bradley met with the Orange County Council of Mayors in July to discuss the concept of distribution and sale of medical marijuana within the county.

Winter Park wouldn’t be required to pass regulations of its own if the county takes action, but the city can still pass its own ordinance, he said.

“I guess we could take something that’s more restrictive than the county, but we’re not obligated to take any specific action,” Bradley said.

Maitland took a step toward a medical marijuana ordinance of its own back in April. The legislation would regulate the sale of medical marijuana to only one zoning district in the entire city.

A single building sits in that zoning district, located just across the street from the Maitland Police station.

“This is an effective way of doing it without saying it’s prohibited, because it’s not,” Maitland City Attorney Cliff Shepard said during the City Council meeting on April 28. The zoning rules would help the city protect itself, he said, preparing Maitland for state regulations in advance.

The challenge by the Florida Medical Cannabis Association will go before a judge on Oct. 14.

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