Non-Euphoric Marijuana Caught In Bureaucratic Web

Jul 11, 2014

This is a legal growing operation in Colorado. Once rules are finalized for this legislation, five dispensaries will begin cultivation of marijuana to produce Charlotte's Web.
Credit Brett Levin

Despite passing the Florida legislature, there’s still a long way to go before a non-euphoric strain of marijuana can be cultivated in Florida.  This week’s public workshop on crafting rules for Charlotte’s Web dispensaries is further proof the devil is in the details.

Charlotte’s Web is a type of marijuana bred to be low in THC but high in CBD, or cannabidiol.  This chemical structure allows it to help patients suffering from seizures without making them feel high.  A bill allowing Floridians to use the drug became law in June.  Now the focus turns to the Department of Health and the complicated task of developing a distribution network.

The draft proposal plans to award licenses by lottery, rather than the quality of the applicant.  This was a source of complaint throughout Monday’s workshop.  Paige Figi, whose daughter Charlotte prompted development of the cannabis oil, wants patients to get medication quickly, but she says there are more important considerations.      

“Even more important, I think, than the speed of access is the comprehensive cautious approach that I don’t think a lottery is going to grant,” Figi says.  “I don’t think leaving it to chance in any way, shape or form – for a pediatric medicine potentially – is appropriate.”

Department of Health attorney Jennifer Tschetter acknowledged the issue, but says the rulemaking committee needs further input on how to determine which applicants are better than others. 

“What we’re worried about, I guess on some level, is that with a qualitative scoring analysis, we could find ourselves at DOH [Department of Health] for a couple of years talking about who should be the dispensing organization,” Tschetter says.  “So, as you’re sitting there thinking – and I know we’ve got a lot of people left, and you want to talk about that substantive scoring analysis – help us figure out a way that we do that and still make this available to patients as soon as we can.”

Sunrise Compassionate Care spokesman Mark Mason says pharmacists should be included in the distribution process.

“Pharmacists are licensed medical professionals, with a duty and an oath to protect public safety.  As medical professionals, pharmacists provide credibility and would assist in the legitimization of medical marijuana in Florida,” Mason says.  “Dispensing is a function that is unique to the profession of pharmacy.  And with public health and safety in the balance, we feel that pharmacists need to be a part of this medical marijuana legislation.”

But even more fundamental to the debate is ambiguity about where to find raw materials.  Under current law, marijuana in any form can’t be brought to the state, and breeders attempting to produce non-euphoric marijuana are open to prosecution.   Outside the meeting chambers, Nurseryman Robert McKee said this oversight undercuts the entire law.

“When the source materials for this are not in Florida, there’s no one that can do this legally,” McKee says.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach), repeatedly said it was an open question how material would find its way to Florida.  But Gaetz is unequivocal on the question of importer immunity.

“It’s important to note that there is no criminal immunity that anyone enjoys for importing cannabis into the state of Florida, but I get the sense that it will arrive,” Gaetz says.

Tschetter says there will be a follow-up workshop at the end of July or the beginning of August.