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Local Nursery Sues Florida Dept. of Health for Medical Marijuana License

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Posted: Friday, October 27, 2017 11:41 am

 Legalized medical marijuana has had a rocky start in Florida.  Potential customers petitioned the state to legalize marijuana because it’s proven to help their medical conditions.  Patients with cancer, multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions hope marijuana can help.  Unfortunately, the Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) interpretation of the law has confused many.

Florida currently has seven permitted growers.  Five came in under a 2014 law legalizing low-THC, non-euphoric medical marijuana.  Two more successfully sued the state over the selection process and were recognized.

   The southeast region, including Miami-Dade County, only has one local grower with a license – Costa Farms.  Other regions in the state have two or more growers.  A local nursery, Alpha Foliage, was granted a license but is considered in the southwest region. 

Homestead’s Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms applied to be a marijuana grower.  It spent a lot of time and money to qualify and was not awarded a license, according to Keith St. Germain.  The application ranked second, just behind winner Costa Farms,

During its special session this summer, the Legislature directed DOH to award ten additional licenses by October 3.  Applicants had to qualify by August 1.  Rules were an application had to be “reviewed, evaluated and scored by DOH: have judicial challenges pending as of January 1, 2017, or have an evaluation score within one point of the highest ranking grower in the region.  Growers also had to be ready to operate within thirty days.

   St. Germain scored 1.1875 behind Costa Farms (4.4000 vs. 3.2125). 

St. Germain contends DOH used whole numbers without fractions in each evaluation category.   

DOH denied his application in August.  It also said it could not meet the Legislature’s October deadline.

St. Germain explained growers must track the product from seed to sale, test it with an independent laboratory for THC levels, and guarantee its safety.  Security expenses are very high. 

   This is potentially big business.  The law states four licenses are to be issued for every 100,000 patients in the registry.  Each license holder must grow, process, transport and sell the marijuana and can open twenty-five dispensaries each across the state.  For every additional 100,000 patients added, licensees can add five more dispensaries.  The dispensary permits can be sold to other growers. 

   DOH’s legal interpretation was subject of a challenge by St. Germain earlier this year.  Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham ruled against DOH saying, “Use of the decimal points creates a falsity of precision – they are spurious numbers.” 

   The judge directed that evaluation scores be rounded off, thus giving St. Germain a one-point difference from the next highest applicant.  Under the amended statute that meant St. Germain was entitled to a license. 

In a 2016 marijuana licensing case, this judge scolded state officials for not following their own rules.  DOH’s rejection of that finding led to the Legislature’s action to amend the law recently.   .

   DOH appealed Van Laningham decision as he “prejudged the issues” and asked that he be removed from the case.  The judge refused saying DOH missed the deadline for a removal motion. 

   DOH also attacked the judge’s “gratuitous, derogatory comments” that the department was being deceptive.  DOH’s Executive Director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Christian Bax  contends the office cannot receive a fair hearing before Van Laningham.  His office contends the judge lacks jurisdiction and that the licensing case should be handled internally.  DOH has tried four times to dismiss the case.

   On October 10, St. Germain filed suit in Tallahassee’s circuit court contending DOH is stalling on his public records suit about the case.

   Meanwhile, St. Germain remains ready to grow marijuana in a 10,000 square foot space with a 28,000 square foot processing facility on his ten acre site.  The operation could provide several hundred jobs for Homestead.

“We started the nursery in 1982 and we’re truly hands on,” said St. Germain.  “We are not a big corporation but we’re ready to go with this within thirty days.” 

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