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In a closely watched case, an appeals court just agreed to put on hold a circuit judge’s ruling that said Florida lawmakers and the state Department of Health have violated a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

The 1st District Court of Appeal approved a stay of the ruling but also said consideration of the underlying issues in the case would be “expedited.” The Florida Department of Health went to the appeals court in October after Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson sided with the Tampa-based firm Florigrown in a battle about how the state is carrying out the constitutional amendment.

Dodson found that a 2017 law was unconstitutional and issued a temporary injunction requiring state health officials to begin registering Florigrown and other medical-marijuana firms to do business. Dodson’s ruling targeted parts of the law that placed caps on the number of medical-marijuana licenses and dealt with issues such as the creation of a “vertical integration” system that requires marijuana operators to grow, process and sell medical marijuana — as opposed to businesses being licensed to play different roles in the industry.

The case could open the door to more firms doing business in that broadly legalized medical marijuana.Florida’s fast-growing medical marijuana market. Florigrown, for example, filed the lawsuit after being denied approval by the Department of Health.

In arguing for the stay, Department of Health attorneys this month wrote that allowing Dodson’s order to “take effect injects confusion and uncertainty into the implementation of the medical marijuana amendment and the registration of MMTCs (medical marijuana treatment centers, as the firms are known) throughout Florida,” the filing said. “Under the existing status quo, the department may only grant an MMTC license to an entity after vetting its qualifications. In contrast, under the injunction order, it is unclear how the department would determine which entities are qualified to operate as an MMTC, or if any registration process would exist at all. This is because the department’s authority for establishing such rules … would be gone, nullifying the implementing rules already established by the department.”

But attorneys for Florigrown disputed such arguments.

“Contrary to the department’s assertions, Florigrown produced an abundance of evidence establishing the public harm that is occurring because of the Legislature’s unconstitutional limits on the registration of medical marijuana treatment centers,” the firm’s attorneys said in a brief last week. “It also established that sufficient guidelines already exist to protect the public. The department produced no evidence or testimony to the contrary. All the trial court has done is direct the department to allow the ‘registration’ of MMTCs. Once an MMTC is registered, it must still meet other requirements before it can actually commence operations.”

The Department of Health’s appeal of Dodson’s ruling in October triggered an automatic stay. But Florigrown then returned to Dodson and requested that he vacate the stay — which he did in a Dec. 4 order.

Attorneys for the department then went to the appeals court, essentially asking that the stay be reinstated while the appeal of Dodson’s October ruling moves forward.

The Tallahassee-based appeals court granted that request, saying in a one-page order that “The stay shall remain in effect pending final disposition of the merits of this appeal.”

As is common in such orders, the appeals court did not explain its reasoning. But it also said the appeal will be expedited.

With Florida potentially one of the most-lucrative markets in the country for medical marijuana, disputes about licenses have led to numerous court and administrative fights. More than 71 percent of voters approved the medical-marijuana constitutional amendment in 2016.

In the appeals-court filing this month, the Department of Health said “14 medical-marijuana treatment centers had been registered and licensed and that they operated 72 dispensing locations across the state.”

 

Source: SunSentinel

Medical marijuana shops could crop up on Broward’s main thoroughfares.

Commercial strips along Sunrise Boulevard, U.S. 441, Northwest 27th Avenue and Northwest 31st Avenue, also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, would be fertile territory for marijuana dispensaries, under a proposal county commissioners pushed forward Tuesday. Commissioners set a March 14 public hearing, where a final decision will be made.

Broward’s move Tuesday involves a tiny sliver of the county, the unincorporated areas. All other parts of Broward are represented by city governments, and city officials will settle the rules about where dispensaries can be within their boundaries.

Some of them, such as Sunrise, Boca Raton, Hallandale Beach and Fort Lauderdale, already have put temporary moratoriums in place while they wait to see the state’s new rules. Palm Beach County also put a moratorium in place.

Any pot shop in unincorporated Broward would be required to have 24-hour security and video surveillance cameras, under what’s proposed. The company would have to employ a medical director, and the owner would have to undergo a background check. The shops could not be within 1,200 feet of a church, school, daycare center or another marijuana dispensary. The shop would have to close by 9 p.m. Even with the correct zoning, the dispensaries, where patients would obtain medical marijuana, could not be opened without County Commission approval. One criteria would be that it is “compatible with the community character.’’

The only sites where marijuana could be cultivated and processed would be in industrially zoned areas.

  • In unincorporated Broward, the only industrial zoning is along the east side of Northwest 27th Avenue, south of Sistrunk Boulevard, and just north of Broward Boulevard, between Northwest 25th Terrace and Northwest 25th Avenue, zoning maps show.
  • Northwest 27th Avenue has the most medical marijuana zoning, in the proposal, from Sunrise Boulevard south to just before Broward Boulevard.
  • The portion of U.S. 441 affected by the proposed law is in Broadview Park, on the west side of the highway, from Davie Boulevard south to Interstate 595.
  • Along Sunrise Boulevard, the dispensary zoning is on the south side, from Northwest 31st Avenue to Northwest 27th Avenue.
  • On Broward Boulevard, just one corner at Northwest 25th Avenue meets the zoning rules.
  • And along the east side of Northwest 31st Avenue, a section from Sunrise Boulevard north to 13th Street would be eligible for marijuana establishments.

Residents in the community weren’t aware of the proposal, the Rev. Jesse Scipio said. Scipio, president of Boulevard Gardens Home Owner Association, said marijuana shops have no place in his community. Boulevard Gardens, north of Broward Boulevard between Northwest 31st to Northwest 24th avenues in central Broward County, has some of the intense commercial zoning proposed for pot shops.

“I don’t understand why we weren’t aware that was the county’s proposal,’’ Scipio said. “They didn’t come to us at all and ask us, ‘Would you want to have that?’”

Scipio said the community already has problems with drug users and doesn’t need medical marijuana added to the mix.

“Let’s put it this way: You’ve got a small fire and you’re going to add fuel to the fire,’’ Scipio said.

Broward Commissioner Dale Holness said the community’s opinions will be considered. A Feb. 22 public hearing will be held by county staff. Their recommendation will go to the County Commission for the March 14 final vote. He said the proposal gives the County Commission “leeway,’’ requiring their permission for any dispensary business to open.

“This is now putting the public on notice that we’re considering it,’’ said Holness, who represents the unincorporated areas. “We can make adjustments as the community wishes, or come back and say we want a moratorium.’’

Florida voters on Nov. 8 amended the state Constitution to expand the legal medical uses for marijuana and required the state Department of Health to regulate the business. For now, there are seven licenses to grow, process and distribute medical  marijuana, and only one, in Miami-Dade County, is in South Florida. But state legislators are considering bills that would allow the number of marijuana dispensaries to grow.

The Feb. 22 public meeting of the planning and development management division on the county’s proposed ordinance is at 10 a.m. The Local Planning Agency meeting is held in room 329F in the Broward County Governmental Center, 115 S. Andrews Ave., in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The County Commission’s March 14 final public hearing will be held at 10 a.m. in the same building, in room 422.

Click here for the Sun-Sentnel news video ‘Commissioners Set March 14 Public Hearing For Medical Marijuana Shops”

 

Source: SunSentinel