For the Florida Supreme Court, the arguments for and against the medical use of marijuana are simple: It’s a substance that’s helpful to some people, and it probably shouldn’t be illegal. (That’s the “pro” side.) But the court has a lot of questions about the effect the law has on the state’s citizens, and whether it’s enforceable. (That’s the “con” side.)

The Florida Supreme Court will make a decision today in a medical marijuana case that could have a huge impact on the state’s medical marijuana industry.

The trial over whether to allow medical marijuana in the state of Florida wrapped up last week. And with the decision still undecided, the issue of who will run the industry remains very much in limbo.

word-image-12481 After the Florida Supreme Court hears arguments in a case, the justices usually try to make a decision within six months. Although the Court recently heard arguments in Florida Department of Health v. Floriggeworden almost eight months ago, he has not yet decided. The importance of this case can hardly be overestimated. The court could rule to overturn the state’s medical marijuana rules, putting a $1.2 billion industry with several national companies in limbo. For months, people who invest in one of Florida’s fastest-growing industries have exchanged nervous messages and phone calls every Thursday at 11 a.m. – when the Supreme Court makes its rulings – awaiting a decision that could determine the life or death of their companies. We wait to see if the day of reckoning comes, said Taylor Biel, a Tallahassee lobbyist and co-founder of the Florida Medical Marijuana Business Association. The judges could uphold some or all of the state’s current rules, dealing a blow to small businesses like Florigrown, a Tampa-based company that applied for a medical marijuana treatment center in 2017. The state turned down the company because the Florida Department of Health had not developed rules to regulate the industry at that time. During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers passed bills to shape these rules. They have created serious barriers to new entrants into the marijuana market in the state. To be licensed, a business must be vertically integrated – an acronym for how it grows, processes, transports and distributes marijuana. Companies that want to work in this way need a lot of investment and experience. Florigrown sued the state, saying the rules contradict a 2016 medical marijuana ballot initiative that voters overwhelmingly approved. This initiative defines a medical marijuana treatment center as a business that … Transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers marijuana. Billions of dollars can depend on a single word, up or down. The direction of the industry is at stake, said former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who represents clients in this case who support Florigrown’s objections to the existing regulations.

Extended Saga

In total, the Florigrown case dragged on for three and a half years. It’s unclear how much money the state has spent defending its medical marijuana regulations. The Florida Department of Health ignored requests for comment from the Herald/Times for weeks. Even companies that could qualify for vertical integration have had to postpone their plans because of the uncertainty surrounding the case. Florida’s regulations allow 17 licenses for medical marijuana treatment centers – plus four additional licenses for every 100,000 marijuana patients the state adds. Currently, only 22 treatment centers are licensed, while there are approximately 561,000 patients in the state. About 15 more medical marijuana licensed businesses are expected to locate in the state. Many potential competitors in the market have been eliminated by the delay, Kottkamp said. When asked why the justices took so long to issue a ruling, Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters replied that he could not comment on pending cases. It’s not the first time this year that the marijuana industry has had to wait an unusually long time for a Supreme Court decision. In April, the court rejected the marijuana legalization initiative after 11 months of apparent deliberation.

Different possible causes for delay

There could be several reasons why it takes so long for the judge to rule on these cases. The coronavirus pandemic may have slowed things down. Another possible explanation is judicial policy: It took months of struggle for two of Governor Ron DeSantis’ candidates, John Kuriel and Jamie Grosshans, to take their places on the bench. A round of oral arguments in the Florigrown case took place in May 2020 without two new judges. A second round was held with them in October 2020. In addition, there is the Florigrown business itself. Judges have to rule on many legal issues: Is Florida’s regulation of medical marijuana consistent with the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2016? Can the state limit the number of medical marijuana licenses it issues? Even if the Court resolves these thorny issues, it must resolve the problems it finds in the current rules. It can be a complicated process, Kottkamp said. The judges might be divided on various technical aspects of the decision, and factions do their best to side with one side or the other. According to a Supreme Court document outlining the Court’s procedures, on rare occasions the Court is so divided that no single judge can manage to get three other judges to agree … Thus, the publication of an opinion may be delayed for a long time while the members of the court seek a compromise. Is that the case with this marijuana business? Every Thursday, Florida will soon find out.

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