TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - A fourth Florida organization has been allowed to distribute low-THC cannabis as medicine for a narrow list of conditions. This comes less than a month before a state constitutional amendment allowing full legalization of medical marijuana becomes effective.
Amendment 2, endorsed by 71 percent of Florida voters on Election Day, takes effect on Jan. 3 and will allow higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments once lawmakers implement a new set of rules.
The Florida Department of Health gave Knox Medical authorization over the weekend. The organization, which has its cultivation and distribution facility in Winter Garden, said on Tuesday that it expects to begin in-home delivery to patients by Friday.
Trulieve (Hackney Nursery in Gadsden County) and Alpha Surterra in the Tampa Bay area received distribution authorization in late July. Modern Health Concepts (Costa Nursery Farms in Miami-Dade County) was approved in early September. Two others are still awaiting distribution authorization.
The current law, which was approved by the state legislature in 2014, allows non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. Department of Health Spokeswoman Mara Gambineri says 208 physicians and 1,150 patients are currently in the state registry for ordering and using medical marijuana.
With Amendment 2, the state legislature has six months to revise current rules and most implement the new regulations within nine months.
Senate President Joe Negron has said the legislature should take the text of the amendment and implement verbatim what the voters approved when the session begins in March. Negron though said it is too early to tell if the number of distributing organizations should be increased.
"We should do things in a very circumspect manner given the potential for problems we have seen in other states," Negron said.
Current physical dispensing locations are in Tallahassee, Tampa, Clearwater and southern Miami-Dade County. More counties and cities, including Winter Garden, continue to pass temporary moratoriums of the opening of more locations as they await the full impact of Amendment 2. The moratoriums though do not affect home delivery.
Knox's case though is one example in why many derided the licensing process.
Knox received the highest score last year and then had a myriad of problems over the past 11 months. McCrory's Nursery, which finished second to Knox in the Central Region, claimed in a recent administrative hearing that Knox's delivery of a $5 million performance bond last December came after the deadline.
Last February, the Florida Department of Health had questions about the funding of that performance bond and gave Knox 15 days to rectify that, which they did.
In September, the Office of Compassionate Use, which oversees the medical marijuana industry in the state, issued a stern memo to Knox about its lack of construction of a cultivation facility. In another inspection a month later they had made progress in construction.
There is the possibility that a seventh distributing organization could be added. Judge John Van Laningham from Florida's Division of Administrative Hearings, said in an information order the Department of Health did not follow its own process in awarding licenses. The department is waiting on the official recommended order on that case.