TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A ruling issued by the Florida First District Court of Appeals on July 9, has the potential to upset the medical cannabis cart in the Sunshine state, and now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and Florida’s Department of Health have asked the court for an en banc hearing of the full court, in regards to the appeals court panel’s cannabis ruling.
The three-judge panel’s decision in July ruled the “vertical integration” business model—initially required by the state for licensed cannabis producers—is unconstitutional and violates Amendment 2, approved by Florida voters when medical marijuana was legalized in the state in 2016.
The Department of Health, which oversees cannabis licensing in the state, was under a 15-day time limit to take action after the ruling was issued. The state’s motion said a rehearing of the appeal “is of exceptional importance because it implicates whether the entire regulatory framework currently in place for the licensing of medical marijuana treatment centers should be overturned.”
“The uncertainty surrounding the current licensing and enforcement of MMTCs (medical marijuana treatment centers) during this ‘reasonable period of time,’ coupled with the near certain litigation surrounding the (health) department’s implementation of an entirely new medical marijuana regulatory and licensing structure, will only serve to draw out the court-ordered ‘wholesale restructuring of the medical marijuana industry in Florida,’” state’s attorneys wrote in the filing.
In addition, the Miami Sun Sentinel reported that the motion requests, if denied a hearing by the full court of appeals, that the case be referred to the Florida Supreme Court; a request called “certification of a question of great public importance.”
The vertical integration model for cannabis businesses meant that Florida medical marijuana producers operate every aspect of medical cannabis production, from seed-to-sale, including operating MMTCs. The ruling on appeal in The Florida Department of Health v. Florigrown LLC, means Florida officials can no longer enforce the vertical business model requirement. The situation is further complicated by a temporary injunction issued in the case by another court in 2017, which ruled in favor of Florigrown, and which companies had been operating under until the most recent ruling.
Other licensed Florida medical cannabis businesses include Trulieve, Curaleaf, Surterra Wellness, Liberty Health Sciences, KNOX Medical, Vidacann, AltMed Florida, Harvest, Grow Healthy, and Green Thumb Industries.
Some industry watchers speculated that the ruling could open the door for Florida officials to issue new MMTC licenses to independent operators, as well as licensing for other industry sectors. The appeals court decision, however, did not require regulators to take immediate action on the ruling, as legal wrangling continues.