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Florida House Wants Chance To Defend Medical Marijuana Law

Marijuana plants in a grow house.
Eric Risberg

The Florida House of Representatives wants a say in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of state medical marijuana regulations. The chamber's lawyers asked a Tallahassee appeals court Tuesday for a chance to intervene.

Florigrown, LLC is suing the state Department of Health over the requirement that medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTC) be vertically integrated -- meaning the same company must oversee producing, distributing and dispensing. Florigrown also contends the Department of Health's cap on the number of available MMTC licenses is unconstitutional.

A trial court previously denied the House's motion to intervene, but lawyer Adam Tanenbaum told the First District Court of Appeal the chamber should be allowed to defend the state's medical marijuana law. He said the ruling could have significant public policy ramifications.

"The interpretation of the amendment is going to have broad implications about the separation of powers," Tanenbaum said. "When the Florida Supreme Court approved this amendment for the ballot, it was clear it would've implicated single subjects if had been otherwise."

He further argued the House is not trying to intervene on behalf of the state, but rather in its own right.

Florigrown's attorney, Kathi Giddings, pushed back. She questioned why House lawyers waited for nearly a year before asking to intervene.

"They should have come in way earlier," Giddings said. "And it's really interesting because they filed their motion to intervene on the same day that the [Department of Health] moved to dismiss the state as a party. And so, I don't know if that's a coincidence but they clearly didn't like the way the department was defending their position."

But Judge Bradford Thomas noted that the amendment was a "monumental change" in Florida law. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and it's illegal under state law except for what is laid out in the amendment.

"And a circuit judge has declared this regulatory scheme invalid. How could the House not be allowed to intervene on the merits of that determination?” Thomas questioned.

Giddings pointed out the trial court struck down parts of the law and the First District Court of Appeal last week issued a preliminary ruling that reached the same conclusion.

"We have not said that the House cannot enact laws; the amendment itself says they can," Giddings argued. "What we've said is they can't enact laws that are unconstitutional. And as this court recognized last week, that is exactly what they did in imposing regulatory schemes."

But Thomas reminded Giddings a final decision on the law's constitutionality has not yet been made.

Shawn Mulcahy is a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU. He graduated from Florida State University in 2019 with majors in public relations and political science. He was previously an intern at WFSU, and worked as an Account Coordinator at RB Oppenheim Associates.