Licenses to Grow Medical Marijuana Should Not Be Awarded by Lottery, Lawsuit Argues

There's a legal challenge over how licenses might be doled out for growers cultivating a special strain of medical marijuana called Charlotte's Web, which doesn't make users high and which has already been approved via state law.

Two Florida plant nurseries have sued to replace a proposed lottery system with a more rigorous, merit-based approach.

See also: Medical Marijuana: Rick Scott Signs Charlotte's Web Bill Into Law

The Department of Health's Office of Compassionate Use proposed a lottery method of awarding grow licenses -- one in each of five regions of the state -- in July, after the low-THC Charlotte's Web strain of marijuana was legalized in Florida. If Amendment 2 passes (get out and vote!) and more strains of marijuana become available for medical use, the lottery winners' licenses could explode in value.

"The proposed rule fails to provide any method to evaluate eligible applicants, to determine whether an eligible applicant is superior, or to select the best applicant," wrote attorneys for Miami-based Costa Farms, in a petition Monday to the Division of Administrative Hearings. "This ensures only that the luckiest eligible applicant, not best qualified eligible applicant, is approved."

A similar petition was filed Tuesday by Plants of Ruskin, a Tampa-area nursery. Their complaint highlights numerous alleged administrative inconsistencies in the lottery scheme.

Florida Secretary of Health John Armstrong has decried the nurseries' action, arguing that a lottery is the fastest way to get Charlotte's Web on the market. "The parties behind a challenge should explain why they are delaying the process of providing compassionate care," he said in a statement.

But Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Fort Walton Beach Republican who coauthored the Charlotte's Web law, said the nurseries' claims have some merit. "I would have preferred to resolve these questions without a lawsuit to invalidate the rule," he told WLRN. "But I think Costa has raised some legitimate questions."

The nurseries' suits will be heard by Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins, who has yet to schedule the cases. By law, the Department of Health is to have the regulations for medical marijuana in place by January 1.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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