Debate over licenses to grow medical marijuana

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TALLAHASSE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A circuit court has blocked the Florida Department of Health from issuing a medical marijuana growing license reserved for black farmers.

The lawsuit stopped the department from issuing other licenses, but marijuana advocates hope the decision will now allow the department to issue at least five other licenses.

State law required at least one medical marijuana license go to a member of the Black Farmers Association, but a circuit court judge has blocked the license.

The ruling found because the law required an applicant to be a member of a specific association, it unconstitutionally favored a private corporation.

Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association says the Black Farmers Association prevented other black farmers who otherwise would have qualified for the license from joining.

"And in fact discriminated against other black farmers," said Sharkey.

At legislative meetings in October, the Office of Compassionate Use's Director, Christian Bax blamed the lawsuit for delaying the issuance of five new licenses by an October 3rd deadline.

Senator Dana Young said, "Is that what you're saying? You're going to wait until this litigation is resolved, before you issue any additional licenses?"

Bax responded, "Yes."

At the time, State Senator Dana Young argued the Department's decision to delay the application process was hurting patients.

"There are a lot of sick Floridians that have been waiting for this medication to be available that are suffering because of it," said Senator Young.

The Department of Health says it's reviewing the latest ruling, to determine if it can now issue the licenses that should have been awarded two months ago.

Sharkey says he believes it can and should. With over 63,000 patients, he says the budding industry needs all the growers it can get.

"Hopefully, moving forward and selecting new licensees will put more product in the marketplace," said Sharkey.

Other legal challenges are still pending including a suit challenging a preference for citrus growers to receive a license as well as a lawsuit to allow smokable marijuana.

There are currently 13 licensed treatment centers, with 25 dispensing locations around the state.