TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With the Department of Health unable to say when licenses will be issued in the state's new medical-marijuana industry, a House Republican on Tuesday blasted delays in carrying out a 2014 law billed as helping children with severe epilepsy.
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, said "there's a lot of frustration" among lawmakers who voted to approve allowing non-euphoric types of medical marijuana. He said the Department of Health received applications about three months ago from nurseries seeking licenses to grow, process and dispense the substances, but a panel is still reviewing the proposals.
"It's been almost two years since this bill was passed, and we still don't have any restitution for these children that are trying to get this drug that the Legislature recognized as something that is a need for the state of Florida, and I would just like some guidance from the department on, when are we going to have some movement ahead and some timeline here as to when these people (licensees) are going to be picked, when this product is going to be available to people in the state of Florida?" Steube said.
Steube's comments came after Nichole Geary, general counsel for the Department of Health, made a presentation to the House Health Quality Subcommittee about efforts to carry out the high-profile law. During the presentation, Geary said she couldn't give a timeline for awarding the licenses in five regions of the state, a critical step in moving forward with making the drugs available.
"At this time, we are unable to provide a date upon which the licenses will be issued,'' Geary said. "The department is very mindful of the need to move forward as quickly as possible in issuing the licenses in the five … regions. The panelists have been instructed to move through the applications as diligently as reasonably possible without sacrificing the quality of the review."
The discussion in the House subcommittee came as two key players on medical-marijuana issues -- Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- plan to hold a news conference Wednesday to talk about cannabis legislation they will bring to the Senate and House. Bradley and Gaetz were lead sponsors of the 2014 law, which became widely known as the "Charlotte's Web" bill because of a type of medical marijuana that it allowed.
The law allows substances that purportedly do not get users high, with the types of cannabis low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. Parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy pushed lawmakers to approve the low-THC cannabis, believing it can end or dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures.
Under the law, the Department of Health was required to put together a regulatory structure for the new industry and faced lengthy legal challenges to its rule proposals. An administrative law judge in May approved a department rule, clearing the way for the process to select one licensee in each of the five regions.
In all, the department's panel is considering 28 applications for the coveted licenses. But Steube and other lawmakers have been frustrated at the slow pace of the work.
House Health Quality Chairman Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, tried to shield Geary from questions Tuesday about the license-application process, saying it remain ongoing. But Steube said he couldn't avoid the issue and alluded to some members of the subcommittee who hadn't even been elected when the 2014 law was passed.
"Most of this committee didn't even vote on this bill because they weren't in the Legislature when this bill went through,'' he said. "So there's a lot of frustration on people that supported this legislation."