The medical marijuana business is growing in Osceola County with three dispensaries expected to open this month, but policy changes are afoot in Tallahassee.
Local officials have established regulations for the legal distribution of medical marijuana, which Florida voters overwhelmingly approved in 2016. The state constitutional amendment required a 60 percent supermajority vote to pass and garnered 71 percent, roughly 6.5 million votes. The campaign was largely bankrolled by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan.
Florida already had a medical marijuana law in place before 2016, but it applied mostly to the terminally ill. Passage of Amendment 2, however, has opened legal use and distribution of medical marijuana to people suffering from a variety of medical conditions – from children with epilepsy to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We want to answer people’s questions, we want them to feel comfortable and educated about what they’re buying,” Ben Kimbro, public affairs director for Harvest Inc., told the Osceola News-Gazette in December. The company has been approved to open three dispensaries in Osceola County, set to open this month.
“We don’t want to be that mysterious store that no one knows about,” he said.
But while medical marijuana businesses like Harvest are viable and growing here and throughout the state, uncertainty remains about new state regulations could affect the burgeoning industry.
Newly empowered state officials, namely Gov. Rick DeSantis and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, are expected to begin hashing it out in Tallahassee this month.
DeSantis announced this week that changes are coming to the current Florida statutes that regulate marijuana dispensaries. Meanwhile, Fried recently created a “director of cannabis” position within her department.
Both DeSantis and Fried are no novices when it comes to law. DeSantis served as a Judge Advocate General officer, or military attorney, while in the U.S. Navy. Fried, the first woman elected to her office, worked in private practice and as a public defender before taking office.
At the crux of the debate is how to square Florida laws regulating the sale and distribution of consumption of marijuana with federal laws that make those acts illegal. An example is the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, those with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. And the use and possession of cannabis is illegal under federal law for any purpose by way of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
However, from Tallahassee to Kissimmee, officials and advocates are working on all aspects of the issue, including health and safety measures for consumers and regulations for marijuana business owners.
DeSantis this week said many voters believe the state has been “foot dragging” in implementing the amendment.
The new governor and his staff have indicated that DeSantis intends to abandon an appeal of a judge’s ruling last year that Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional, according to the Florida News Service.
DeSantis said at a press conference Monday that his medical-marijuana announcement would deal not only with “the litigation” but also with “legislation that I think is needed to implement the people’s will.”