In 2016, Florida voters broadly legalized cannabis for medical use by passing Amendment 2. The constitutional amendment went into effect on January 3, 2017. But over the course of that year, Florida’s legislature passed a series of bills limiting the medical marijuana program in substantial ways. One of those restrictions was a cap on the number of “Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers,” or medical marijuana dispensaries, that the state would license.
But last week, a Leon County Circuit Court Judge ruled that the cap on medical marijuana dispensaries violated the amendment voters approved in 2016. Furthermore, the ruling found other aspects of the 2017 law unconstitutional. The court declined to issue an injunction against the Florida Department of Health over the problems with the law. Instead, it set a deadline for the state to resolve the law’s contradictions.
Florida Court Sides Against State Health Officials Again
Last week, Leon Country Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson ruled in favor of plaintiff Florigrown LLC, finding that Florida’s medical cannabis law violates Amendment 2 of the state constitution.
Judge Dodson’s eight-page ruling cited multiple conflicts between the law and the amendment. First, Dodson found that the state’s attempt to impose limits of the number of medical cannabis dispensaries directly undermined “the clear intent of the amendment, which by its language seeks to prevent arbitrary restriction on the number of MMTCs authorized to conduct business in the state.”
But the ruling went further. It also found that Florida’s 2017 medical marijuana law is unconstitutional for requiring operators to “vertically integrate” the entire supply chain into one licensing application. Typically, states break the different stages of production, cultivation, and distribution into separate licenses.
Those two problems with the law, Florigrown LLC claims, create unconstitutional restrictions on who can and can’t receive a license. And last week, Judge Dodson sided with Florigrown and against state health officials in that case.
The ruling against the law marks the second time a judge has found it unconstitutional. Back in May, Leon County Circuit Judge Jaren Gievers ruled that the state’s 2017 ban on smokeable medical marijuana violated patients’ constitutional rights.
Judge’s Ruling Just the First Step on Long Path Toward Licensing Reform
Although Judge Dodson found Florida’s cap on medical dispensaries and its licensing process unconstitutional, the court declined to issue an injunction against the health department. That means that for now, Dodson’s ruling is more symbolically significant than effectual.
Without the injunction, the Florida Department of Health can continue its licensing review process. Florida has already awarded 14 licenses to cannabis operators and will award roughly a half dozen more this cycle. Given the paucity of available licenses, they’ve already become hot commodities. One license has already been sold in a $93 million deal with an unnamed healthcare organization. Another went to California’s Med Men in a $53 million acquisition.
In an email to the Florida News Service responding to the ruling, Dept. of Health spokesperson Brad Dalton said it was good that the judge didn’t impose an injunction. Dalton said the department is continuing to implement the law so Floridians can access medical cannabis safely.
However, the Florida Legislature and/or health officials have until October 3 to fix the problems with the 2017 law. But lawmakers are unlikely to bring the issue to the floor before the November 6 election. And that means Judge Dodson’s ruling is unlikely to have any real impact on the industry in the short-term.