A group of families and a medical marijuana nursery are taking legal action against the Florida Department of Health for failing to meet the October deadline to dole out five new licenses to cultivate and sell medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.
According to a recently-passed law, state health officials were supposed to distribute 10 medical marijuana licenses by Oct. 3 to new growers attempting to capitalize on the state’s fast-growing and highly competitive medical marijuana industry.
On Tuesday, a Florida man filed a formal complaint against the FDOH in Leon County circuit court, alleging the department failed to follow state laws to ensure patients had access to treat their painful ailments.
As of Nov. 20, the state has only licensed six medical marijuana treatment centers of the 10 required by Oct. 3.
The plaintiff, Steve Garrison, Jr. says the fight is personal. Garrison’s son, Matthew, was a disabled veteran who served two tours in Iraq. Matthew suffered from brain injuries and died in January due to suspected heart failure due to an enlarged heart -- and Steve Garrison believes it could have possibly made a difference in helping his son manage his pain.
“It hits home,” said Matthew Garrison’s brother Donovan Garrison. “We cared about this issue before, but after Matthew’s death, it’s so gut wrenching because we want to help but are being held back.”
Part of the Garrisons’ motivation to file legal action also stem from trying to stake a claim in the booming medical marijuana industry. Garrison is the proprietor of Bill’s Nursery, a Homestead-based farm which is hoping to enter into the state’s medical marijuana business.
So far, Bill’s Nursery hasn’t been able to get their license to cultivate and dispense medical marijuana because the state is lagging behind.
The Garrisons were joined in the suit by Michael Bowen, a man whose illness turned heads when he convulsed into a grand mal seizure on the floor of the Florida Senate this April.
Bowen says traditional medicine doesn’t work for him. His health problems are so severe he has several seizures a day.
“Every seizure I get causes brain damage and carries the additional threat of instant death through stroke or cardiac arrest,” said Bowen. “In cases like mine, medical marijuana is literally the only thing that can control my seizures and keep me alive.”
The harsh reality for suffering patients like Bowen, he says, is that any semblance of relief seems miles away due to the feet-dragging of the state health department.
“[It] is keeping patients like me from getting safe, reliable access to these lifesaving treatments,” he said.
The FDOH said it had not yet been served in the suit but contended it was working towards providing suffering Floridians relief as required by Florida law.
"The department is working diligently every day to implement the many requirements in Amendment 2 and those set by the Florida Legislature in Senate Bill 8A and are dedicated to ensuring patients have safe access to low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana," the department said in a statement. "We remain committed to moving this process forward, and will do so in an expedient and thoughtful manner."
Tuesday’s complaint isn’t the only legal action Florida is facing over medical marijuana’s slow and bumpy rollout.
In September, a black farmer from Panama City filed a lawsuit against the state’s new medical marijuana legislation in Leon County circuit court, alleging Florida’s newest law on medical pot is unconstitutional because it is “unfairly” narrow.
The farmer, Columbus Smith, said there are so many restrictions that only a very small number of black farmers can qualify to get one of the coveted licenses to grow medical pot in Florida.
In a letter sent to state lawmakers, Bax implied Smith’s lawsuit was, in part, why the state was behind in issuing the new licenses.
“The OMMU (Office of Medical Marijuana Use) is aware of its important role in continuing to move this process forward to provide patient access as quickly and safely as possible,” Bax wrote. “However, recent history has emphasized the importance of getting the MMTC (medical marijuana treatment center) licensure process right the first time.”
To view the complaint, click here.