TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A new law that legalized full-strength marijuana for terminally ill patients has spurred the latest challenge in the competition for coveted medical marijuana licenses in Florida.
The new law, signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month, also addressed problems with a 2014 law -- which legalized non-euphoric marijuana for patients with severe muscle spasms or cancer and was aimed at helping mainly children with severe epilepsy.
The 2014 law authorized nurseries that have been in business for 30 years and grow at least 400,000 plants to apply for one of five highly sought-after "dispensing organization" licenses to grow, process and distribute cannabis products that are low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD.
Doctors were supposed to begin ordering low-THC cannabis products for patients last January. But implementation of the law was delayed because of legal challenges and administrative problems.
Health officials selected five nurseries to be the state's first dispensing organizations in November, prompting another series of challenges.
Under the new law signed by Scott, the five dispensing organizations can keep their licenses, and applicants whose challenges are successful can also get licenses.
A week ago, the Department of Health granted a license to San Felasco Nurseries, after an administrative law judge decided health officials wrongly disqualified the Gainesville-based grower.
In the latest challenge, McCrory's Sunny Hill Nursery -- already involved in a challenge for a license in the Central region of the state -- is seeking a license under the new law.
In a challenge filed last week, lawyers for the Eustis-based nursery argued that McCrory's -- which received a score that was one one-thousandth of a percent lower than Central region "winner" Knox Nursery -- should have received the highest score of the eight growers vying for a license in the region.
In the filing, McCrory's asked that its petition be assigned to an administrative law judge and that the judge grant the nursery a dispensing organization license.
The new law carries the potential for a much more lucrative future for the dispensing organizations.
While it allows the nurseries -- and their affiliates -- to grow full-strength marijuana for terminally ill patients, that market could be expanded if voters approve a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
That proposal would allow doctors to order medical marijuana for a broader base of patients.
The expectation is that the dispensing organizations already licensed would be able to expand their operations if the constitutional amendment passes.