Florida: Legal battles mount over marijuana licenses
Marijuana licenses the values of medical-marijuana operations skyrocket, wrangling over Florida’s limited number of pot licenses continues to escalate. Five wannabe operators who got shut out of the state’s first round of medical-marijuana licenses three years ago and recently were shot down a second time are asking a judge for help.
But first, Administrative Law Judge G.W. Chisenhall has to settle an even more basic argument: How many licenses are up for grabs?
Florida Department of Health officials maintain only two licenses are available under a 2017 law aimed at implementing a voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. The 2017 law was also intended to curb litigation related to the highly sought-after licenses.
But the rejected applicants contend that, if they meet eligibility requirements under the law, they should get licenses, no matter what the number. The five applicants have filed administrative challenges seeking to overturn health officials’ decisions to deny them licenses.
Meanwhile, another batch of prospective medical-marijuana operators trying to intervene in the challenges believe they’re entitled to two of the licenses, thanks to a citrus-related preference carved into the 2017 law.
Chisenhall deferred a ruling about whether to consolidate the five license challenges and whether to allow intervention by two firms trying to stake a claim to the citrus preference until he decides on the number of licenses at stake.
The “number of medical marijuana treatment center licenses that are still available would likely have a substantial impact on how” the five cases proceed, Chisenhall wrote in a Sept. 7 order.
The administrative law judge gave the petitioners until Friday to submit responses “addressing the Department of Health’s assertion” that they “are competing for only two available” licenses. He gave the health department until Sept. 21 to file a reply.
The confusion over the number of licenses and who gets them is the latest storm since the inception of Florida’s medical-marijuana industry in 2014, when lawmakers legalized non-euphoric cannabis and authorized five licenses.
A full rollout of the industry — projected to generate more than $1.5 billion in sales by 2020 — has been delayed by legal and administrative challenges, and the already-heavy competition for licenses in one of the nation’s most populous states intensified after voters approved the constitutional amendment nearly two years ago.
The latest challenges were filed by Dewar Nurseries, based in Apopka; Spring Oaks Greenhouses, based in Umatilla; Tree King-Tree Farm, based in New Port Richey; Perkins Nursery, based in LaBelle; and Bill’s Nursery of Homestead. The challenges were spawned by the 2017 law, which ordered health officials to issue 10 new licenses, and by health officials’ response to an administrative law judge’s recent scalding analysis of licensing decisions.