Public hearings about rules for the use of non-euphoric marijuana are now over. Changes, however, to the regulations are likely still ahead from the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use.
Friday, more than 100 growers, patient advocates and industry lobbyists brought concerns about the current rules before a DOH panel, what nurseries will be allowed to grow the plant and who will have access to the drug.
Lawmakers passed the Compassionate Care Act this spring to allow patients access to a marijuana extract shown to be effective in helping patients suffering from seizures, ALS and other muscular diseases.
The approved marijuana is low in the active ingredient that provides the recreational drug’s high. The strain has been lauded for its break from the side effects of traditional pharmaceuticals, especially in children.
State regulators are up against a January deadline when doctors will be able to prescribe the marijuana extract to patients.
“The department’s goal here is to get this regulatory structure up and running so that patients can get their medication,” said Linda McMullen, director of the Department of Health Office of Compassionate Use. “Patient access remains our top priority at all times.”
While there is a push to get the statewide program running, a legislative panel this week submitted a 19-page letter questioning nearly every aspect of the department’s rule.
Jeff Sharkey, representing the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said dividing the state into different areas for growers and dispensaries poses a problem.
“The concern we have is there is going to be five different regions and across the five different regions there is no standard for patient interaction and information collection,” Sharkey said. “Without that there will be a lot of inconsistency and inability to get out of it what’s necessary in the future. We can’t forget the whole reason this law was passed which is for patient benefit.”
Florida and out-of-state nurseries have objected to the state’s proposed lottery system for selecting which companies will grow the supply of marijuana. Under the law, applicants must be a registered nursery with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services able to cultivate more than 400,000 plants and continuously in business in the state for 30 years.
Once DOH certifies the rule, nurseries can start to apply to become one of the five sites.
Sharkey said there remain questions about how qualifying and selecting growers will be done.
“The applicant must include a grower, a nursery qualified under the statute, but should not necessarily be solely that entity. So there’s that interpretative legal issue,” he told the panel. “There isn’t a nursery grower out there that wants to put their 30 business on the line for this business that has some level of uncertainty.”
Growers were concerned Friday with language in the proposed application rule that requires dispensaries, which will be the nurseries themselves, to have experience in safely manufacturing low-THC cannabis products.
Roy Davis, who owns the 62-acre Tampa Wholesale Nursery, said unless qualified applicants have also operated in one of the 21 states where some form of medical marijuana is legal, such experience is an impossible standard to meet.
“If I have to be an experienced marijuana grower, then I have to automatically be a non convicted felon,” Davis said.
Getting the system going before January, supporters say, is key to providing the drug to those in need and ensuring a safe, effective product.
Paige Figi, a Colorado mother whose daughter Charlotte is the namesake for the non-euphoric strain of marijuana, said patient-access and quality-control issues are are occurring in her home state and need to be addressed in Florida before moving forward. Urgency is key, she said.
“I know this is a business opportunity and there are people here in this room and it has to be profitable to be successful,” she said seated next to Floridian Holly Mosley whose daughter has epilepsy. “But then you’re going to have refugee families from other states that will be moving to Florida from neighboring states to have access and they want a consistent, safe supply of access.”
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