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Lawmakers want to hold top Department of Health officials' paychecks

Lawmakers want to do so until medical marijuana amendment fully implemented

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida lawmakers want to hold top Department of Health officials' paychecks until the department fully implements the voter-approved medical marijuana amendment.

The department has missed multiple deadlines and has failed to keep up with a backlog of applicants.

More than 20,000 patients qualified to receive medical marijuana have yet to be issued ID cards.

Lawmakers said that, until the Department of Health clears the backlog, top brass won't get paid.

"The Legislature has done everything in their power to get them access to this, and it's the agency who's supposed to implement it that's been dragging their feet," Rep. Jason Brodeur said.

The proposal would hold $1.9 million in salaries and benefits in next year's budget.

"I think it will get their attention that this is the law," Brodeur said.

The Senate may do the same.

"It's certainly something we should consider, along with other measures to make sure that DOH does the job," Sen. Rob Bradley said.

Along with clearing the backlog, the department would also have to issue five new growers licenses to get the funds back.

The Department of Health cited one particular lawsuit for delaying the issuance of new grow licenses, but that lawsuit was settled a month ago.

The department said a court-ordered injunction is preventing it from issuing grow licenses. The injunction, however, only applies to one license.

Advocates said the department is still preventing other companies from applying for licenses that should have been issued in October.

"Here we are, four months later, and there's no clear indication of when that's going to happen," said Jeff Sharkey, with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.

The department also disputes, via email, the existence of a backlog, saying, "At any given time, there are 3,500 or so applications in processing. We would not characterize that as a backlog."

The DOH is being called before legislative committee next week. Lawmakers hope the department will have answers by then.

The Florida Cannabis Action Network said it rejects lawmakers' decision to point the finger at the Department of Health. The organization said unrealistic deadlines in the law set the department up for failure.