When the state of Florida voted to legalize medical marijuana in late 2016, many thought the war was finally over. Little did they know that the fight for prescription cannabis was only just beginning.
As physicians began writing prescriptions for patients suffering from chronic and sometimes life-threatening ailments who could benefit positively from the new law, cracks in the state’s internal dispensary regulations immediately began to appear.
After a patient received the prescription from their doctor, they must then apply for a permit from the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana. The approval process is supposed to take less than 30-days, but thousands of Floridians were left in the lurch for months on end.
At any given time, state officials were receiving about 1,300 phone calls per day from patients in dire need of their permits. Meanwhile, a consistent backlog of over 3,000 applications seemed to be always sitting inside the organization’s inbox awaiting processing. Officials – to put it lightly – just couldn’t seem to keep up with the high public demand.
Allegations of Florida corruption at the Office of Medical Marijuana
When the legislation to legalize medical marijuana was passed in November 2016, only about half a dozen Florida dispensaries were currently in existence. These limited options were also spread all over the entire state. Even for patients who were fortunate enough to be granted a permit to purchase, locating a proper dispensary nearby and one that also offered the sorts of cannabis strains recommended by their doctors proved difficult at best. And since many patients were also inexperienced novices with regard to cannabis consumption, they also were forced to locate reputable vendors to purchase their bonds, hand pipes, vaporizers, or other supplies.
Public officials needed to open more dispensaries quickly. But first, they would need to begin administrative operations within the newly formed Office of Medical Marijuana. The state chose Christian Bax as director, a man with no previous experience in the medical marijuana industry and an alleged close friend of the Governor. Accusations of favoritism, excessive bureaucratic red tape, and downright corruption soon followed.
Within just a few weeks, aspiring owners of marijuana dispensaries were complaining of the same permitting problems facing thousands of Floridian patients. Bax had implemented a highly complex point system which was used to “rank” applications for the limited supply of yearly permits. As frustrations began to mount, personal and class action lawsuits began flooding into the judicial system.
One such lawsuit was filed by the Nature’s Way Nursery in South Florida, and just this week, Judge John Van Laningham ripped the state agency in a scathing opinion, blasting the Office of Medical Marijuana for creating a legislative mountain of ineptitude out of a proverbial molehill of legislation.
“The department’s unfortunate decision to code the reviewers’ qualitative judgments regarding positions in rank orders with symbols that look like quantitative judgments regarding amounts of quality led inexorably to extremely misleading results. If this deception had been intentional (and, to be clear, there is no evidence it was), we could fairly call it fraud.”
Even “without bad intent,” the Judge Van Laningham continues, the decision to assign positions via a scoring system based on points and rankings “was a colossal blunder that turned the scoring process into a dumpster fire.” It’s been nearly 18-months since Florida officially legalized medical marijuana, and the public health agency has yet to accept or approve any applications for new dispensary licenses to date.