State issues marijuana license to Miami nursery, sets process for 4 more licenses
Florida Department of Health officials took two major actions in the medical-marijuana sphere Friday, issuing a highly sought-after license to a Miami nursery that successfully challenged the state and laying out the process for four more licenses as the cannabis industry continues to blossom.
In a blistering opinion last month, Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham recommended that health officials grant a medical marijuana license to Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami, Inc. The June 19 recommended order scalded the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use for using a flawed system to decide which applicants were granted the coveted licenses.
While Van Laningham’s order was just a recommendation, health officials on Friday issued the license to Nature’s Way and reduced the number of available slots as hundreds of applicants are expected to compete to join a highly restricted market in one of the country’s most populous states.
At the same time, health officials laid out the framework for a new process to handle what they expect to be up to 400 applications for four licenses that recently became available because the number of eligible patients in a statewide database has exceeded 100,000.
John Lockwood, a lawyer who represents operators in the marijuana industry, hailed the department’s moves Friday.
“It takes these four licenses that they have to issue by statute and removes them from the litigious issues. These are just four open, competitive licenses. So in my opinion this is a very, very smart move by the department to get these licenses to market as quickly as possible. This is the way it should be done,” he said.
But it’s unclear whether Friday’s moves by the health department will appease critics — including legislators, patient advocates and marijuana industry operators — who have blasted the agency for delays in issuing new licenses.
Florida’s medical marijuana industry has been mired in controversy since its inception in 2014, when lawmakers legalized non-euphoric cannabis and authorized five licenses.
The already intense competition for the licenses grew after voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
A law passed last year, aimed at implementing the constitutional amendment, required health officials to issue 10 new licenses, including to applicants who had legal challenges pending as of January 2017 or who had scored within one point of the highest-ranked applicants in five regions.
Health officials initially said Nature’s Way was ineligible for a license because its aggregate score of 2.8833 was not within one point of the 4.4 received by Costa Farms, which was