A legislative panel agreed last week to increase the budget of the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use by $13.3 million to help pay for new medical cannabis licenses and to cover costs of ongoing litigation.
The Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which includes both House and Senate members, unanimously approved roughly $7.3 million to help the office process an estimated 400 expected applications as companies compete for four licenses for medical cannabis treatment centers. The Department of Health granted an additional license last week to Nature’s Way, a Miami nursery, to settle ongoing litigation and announced it was finally moving forward with awarding the additional licenses after the state patient registry exceeded 100,000 patients this spring.
The Office of Medical Marijuana initially received just under $1 million under the original state budget and the department said they waited to make requests for additional funding because they were still gathering information about what costs would be incurred and when. The funding boost comes less than a month after the start of the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Some lawmakers criticized the office for not raising the issues while the budget was being crafted.
“Most if not all of the costs that are outlined in this request have been known or anticipated for quite a while,” Rep. Janet Cruz said. “Why are we using a process that essentially is meant for fixing mistakes… to fund the implementation of a constitutional amendment that 71 percent of Florida voters approved almost two years ago?”
The office has blamed legal and administrative disputes for the slow progress in implementing medical cannabis. $1.5 million of the requested funds will be paid to lawyers hired by the office to represent it during ongoing litigation. The state is currently appealing two high-profile cannabis cases, including the case of Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner, who won a circuit court case to grow and juice his own cannabis.