TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A major ruling this week on a Tampa company’s lawsuit has turned the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry upside down.
A three-judge panel in Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that the state law regulating marijuana is unconstitutional and fails to adhere to the language in Amendment 2, which voters passed overwhelmingly in 2016.
The lawsuit was filed by Tampa-based company Florigrown, owned by Adam Elend, Jeff Marks, and legendary Tampa businessman Joe Redner.
Their lawsuit argued three main points about the state law written by the legislature regulating medical marijuana:
- The law forced businesses to be vertically integrated — meaning the business must grow, cultivate, package, market and sell their own marijuana — when the amendment itself did not specify that requirement
- The law effectively created a “special class” of businesses–nurseries that had been in business for 30 years–which then became the only companies who could get a license to sell marijuana
- The law illegally capped the number of licenses
The appeals court ruled that the vertical integration requirement was unconstitutional, which effectively opened the door for Florigrown and other businesses to become licensed, and rendered the cap on licensees “unreasonable.”
“The legislature clearly wrote a law that was unconstitutional,” Elend said on Sunday on WFLA News Channel 8’s weekly local political show, Politics On Your Side.
“Not only do the MMTCs (Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers) have to do everything, but they have to do it alone. They can’t contract with anyone, they can’t wholesale between each other, they can’t work together to build an industry. It’s a complete silo. That created an industry that was broken before it got off the ground,” Elend said.
That setup has resulted in huge delays and limited product availability for patients and massive frustration for business owners who want to get into the industry.
“Anybody who is a medical marijuana patient in Florida is familiar with the fact that you better get there Monday, you hope you get something before they sellout, because if you get there at the end of the week, forget it,” Elend said.
“Currently, there are 14 licenses, but there’s really not 14 operating businesses,” said Marks. “There’s 4 or 5 businesses that got in early and spread out.”
The licenses themselves have become extremely valuable under this setup, reportedly selling $50 million dollars or more in some cases, according to Redner.
“And why would the Republicans in Tallahassee restrict free enterprise?” asked Redner.
Former Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida lawmakers have come under fire from the business community since Amendment 2 passed in 2016 for setting up the industry in this way, effectively giving preferential treatment to certain businesses and going against the will of the voters.
“It took nearly two years just to get smokable marijuana,” Marks pointed out, an update that only went into effect earlier this year at the urging of newly-elected Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Redner, a stage-four lung cancer survivor who has been in remission for 8+ years and uses medical marijuana for his symptoms, said this is not a hypothetical conversation for patients.
“It’s killing people,” Redner said. “Why do they want people to keep from getting their medicine? It just doesn’t make any sense to us.”
Redner has actually sued the state in a separate lawsuit for the right to grow his own marijuana. That lawsuit suffered a blow earlier this year when an appeals court ruled against him, but he is now appealing to the Florida Supreme Court.
The language in Amendment 2 pointed to Florida Statute 893.02 for the definition of marijuana, which read at the time:
“Cannabis” means all parts of any plant of the genus Cannabis, whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of the plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant or its seeds or resin.
“What’s confusing about that?” said Redner. “It says I can possess a plant growing or not. In fact, it says I can do all kinds of things with a plant growing or not, and the seeds thereof. And they’re all constitutional rights.”
Redner believes his appeal will be successful.
“I have to have an expectation of success,” said Redner. “A good expectation. Because it’s the constitution, it’s the final say-so.”
Florigrown is also getting into the hemp industry, which Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried believes can be a great industry for Florida farmers, especially those who suffered severe losses during Hurricane Michael.
“Right now, hemp is a billion-dollar business,” said Elend. “It’s expected to be a $7 billion business by 2021. How much of that share Florida is going to get is dependent on how our government treats it. And we’re in a good position to get a lot of that. That’s why we’re excited. We think that’s the future.”