RayRod on pot: Speed it up, already

IMG_1190House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who shepherded a major medical marijuana measure through the Legislature earlier this year, said the House shares the frustration expressed by a Senate panel last month about delays in issuing new licenses.

“We appropriated money to the Department of Health to hire more employees because that’s critical for them to accomplish everything we directed them to accomplish,” the Estero Republican told reporters at The Associated Press annual pre-session gathering of reporters and editors Thursday.

He praised Office of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax’s for hiring “top-level administrators” first and empowering them to “go out and build their own teams.”

“So I don’t disagree with the strategy, but I think the pace could have been quicker. I would like to see it quicker,” he said.

Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Dana Young blasted Bax for blaming delays with the new licenses, legislatively mandated to be issued by Oct. 3, on litigation challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

“I do not agree with the path that they have chosen to take, to say that because there’s a lawsuit that has been filed, we’re not going to issue any of the additional licenses. I think they could move forward on all of the other licenses and lay aside the ones that aren’t in litigation until the court has provided direction,” Rodrigues said. “We would like to see the process move quicker.”

Lawmakers aren’t the only ones who are frustrated.

Businesses hoping to cash in on Florida’s burgeoning marijuana industry are even more jittery after health officials gave out another marijuana license to a South Florida applicant.

Since the agency granted a license to Homestead-based St. Germain Nursery Farms, there are only four licenses available to new entrants to the state’s marijuana market, according to the Department of Health.

That includes one that’s set aside for a black farmer who meets certain conditions, a provision that’s the subject of the legal challenge.

Health officials have to give preference to the citrus industry in two other licenses, meaning that there’s possibly only one license that doesn’t have any restrictions up for grabs.

Don’t expect any tweaks to the law during the 2018 session that begins in January, at least for now.

“The issue becomes we passed that bill in special session, which was in the summer, and we’re having an early session, which is January. I’m not sure the bill’s actually been implemented for us to determine what we need to go back and tweak yet. So that’s not to say there won’t be anything done. We’ll see if the Senate has an appetite. But I would say our initial position is we would like to see the bill implemented to determine where the weaknesses are that we need to go back and readdress,” Rodrigues said.