Judge Clears Barriers to Medical Marijuana in Florida

June 11, 2015

A judge in Tallahassee recently cleared the final challenge to a rule allowing the cultivation of a non-euphoric strain of marijuana used for medical purposes in Florida, in accordance with legislation passed last year. The Florida Department of Health expects to start taking applications to be a grower within the next few weeks. The ruling means that the Department of Health can begin to implement legislation passed by the state legislature in 2014, the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.

Cultivation and Possession Offenses

Generally, it is a criminal offense to cultivate marijuana or other controlled substances. The manufacturing or growing of cannabis for any purpose is a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by fines and up to five years in prison. It is also illegal to possess cannabis. Depending on the amount found in an offender’s possession, the offense may be a first degree misdemeanor or a third-degree felony. Conviction for possession results in a driver’s license suspension, as well as possible probation, fines, and jail time.

Medical Cultivation

Under the new Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, certain nurseries are eligible to apply for one of five available dispensing licenses to grow and distribute marijuana for medical purposes. The nurseries will be allowed to cultivate and process low-THC, non-euphoric cannabis.

They may then distribute it to patients whose doctors have prescribed it for epilepsy, severe muscle spasms, or cancer, if no other sufficient alternative treatments are available for the patient. Several other requirements apply to be able to use medical marijuana under the new law, including that the patient must be a Florida resident, the physician must maintain a patient treatment plan, the physician must obtain the patient’s informed consent, and other conditions.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to apply to be a grower, a nursery must have operated as a registered nursery in Florida for at least thirty years and must cultivate at least 400,000 plants. The Florida Department of Agriculture estimates that about one hundred nurseries qualify.

The nurseries must also meet other criteria, such as the prevention of unlawful access to or possession of the marijuana, the financial ability to pay a $5 million bond and to remain in operation for at least two years, and background checks for all owners and managers.

The challenges to the rule included objections to a $63,063 non-refundable application fee, the requirement for certain financial statements demonstrating a nursery’s ability to continue in business, how the rule dealt with the $5 million bond, certain procedures for license revocation and testing, and more. However, the court did not find any basis for the objections, including the high application fee, which was based on anticipated regulatory costs for administering the statute.

The Department of Health hopes to be able to get the medical marijuana to patients by the end of the year.

Drug crimes are serious offenses with serious consequences in Florida. If you have been arrested for or convicted of a drug offense, such as the cultivation or possession of marijuana, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for an initial consultation.