Florida officials demand full court hearing after court rules medical cannabis industry “unconstitutional”

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Nikki Fried, described the ruling as “a victory for openness and the future of medical [cannabis] in Florida.”

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Florida officials demand full court hearing after court rules medical cannabis industry “unconstitutional”

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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Could Florida be on track to establishing what could very well become the most profitable pot industry in the United States? Based on the latest reports, things look promising. A Florida Appellate Court recently ruled that the state’s approach to cannabis regulation is unconstitutional and needs to be amended. 

The ruling, which took place at Tallahassee’s 1st District Court of Appeal on July 9, has been appealed by officials. Officials are displeased about Florida’s medical cannabis ruling, since they have been rigorously trying to maintain a tightly regulated industry. However, following the court ruling, they may have to consider easing restrictions after all.

For the most part, the court ruled that the restrictions currently imposed on the number of medical cannabis treatment centers allowed statewide must be lifted. According to the court ruling, failure to lift the restrictions puts state officials in violation of terms laid out in 2016’s voter-approved constitutional amendment. 

Officials want the full court to reassess Florida’s vertically-integrated medical cannabis industry, but the court has not yet responded.

Over 240,000 Floridians are registered to legally use medical cannabis in-state

The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Amendment 2) was approved on November 8, 2016. It required a supermajority vote of at least 60 percent to pass and managed to win 71.32 percent ‘Yes’ votes from a total of 6,518,919 voters.

Despite the fact that medical cannabis has been legal in Florida for three years and counting, there has been much debate and speculation regarding the limits that State officials have imposed on the number of permitted facilities offering medical cannabis throughout the sun-soaked region.

Based on statistics released by the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, over 240,000 patients are enrolled in Florida’s medical cannabis program. Registered patients can get their hands on lab-tested cannabis medicines by visiting one of 142 licensed dispensaries dotted around the state.

Most of the dispensaries are managed by means of a vertically-integrated business model, which means that the product they sell is cultivated, processed and sold by them. Vertical integration prohibits businesses from sourcing the plant outside of a medical cannabis treatment center, which essentially puts many growers, processors, and retailers out of business. 

“When 71 percent of Floridians voted for access to this life-changing medicine, they didn’t expect restrictive legislation that stood in the way of progress and open markets,” said the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Nikki Fried, who described the ruling as “a victory for openness and the future of medical [cannabis] in Florida.”

Future for Florida’s medical cannabis industry remains uncertain

There has been talk about banishing vertical integration for Florida’s licensed cannabis operators since the beginning of this year. It all started in January when the State’s new Governor Ron DeSantis declared he would be overthrowing the proposal put forward by his predecessor Rick Scott. The now-Republican Senator’s proposal would have prevented patients from gaining access to cannabis flower.

DeSantis vowed to put Florida’s medical cannabis industry at the forefront of his duties as Governor, with the 40-year-old announcing his plans to eradicate the state’s vertically-integrated business model once and for all. 

During the first nine months of 2018, the industry ballooned to almost $6 billion; a figure expected to swell if vertical integration is abolished. With DeSantis’ efforts and the Appellate Court ruling that the state’s constraints are “unreasonable,” it is likely just a matter of time before restrictions are lifted and the landscape for Florida’s medical cannabis industry metamorphoses into something quite astounding.