marijuana

State pot czar: No idea when new marijuana operators will be chosen

budOffice of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax got a friendly reception from a House panel yesterday, even though his office missed a legislatively mandated deadline earlier this month.

Bax’s office was supposed to hand out five new medical marijuana licenses by Oct. 3, including one to a black farmer who met certain requirements.

The deadline was a component of a sweeping measure , designed to implement a voter-approved constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients with debilitating medical conditions, passed by lawmakers during a special session in June.

Bax late last month told legislative leaders his office wouldn’t be able to grant the licenses in time, blaming Hurricane Irma and recent litigation for the delay.

When asked for an update yesterday, Bax couldn’t give the House Health Quality Committee an estimate of when the highly coveted licenses — in what he said could be one of the nation’s “most robust” cannabis markets — will be issued.

“I don’t have a date or date range to give this committee at this time,” Bax said, adding that “the application process has been complicated by the litigation which we are now involved in.”

Bax was referring to a lawsuit filed last month challenging the part of the new law that requires health officials to grant one license to a black farmer who was a member of settled class action lawsuits about federal officials’ lending practices that discriminated against black farmers. Under the law, the black farmer also has to be a member of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.

But the lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the statute, alleging that it is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The association shut down membership after the law passed.

The lawsuit has complicated the process of hiring a vendor to rank applications, Bax said later.

To avoid past problems in the MMJ operator selection process that resulted in lengthy — and expensive — challenges, Bax is outsourcing the scoring of the applications. More than a dozen “subject matter experts” will grade the proposals, using a “blind-testing” method.

Bax issued a request for quotes, but hasn’t selected a vendor yet.

“So, the litigation has complicated the application process. The graders would be intimately involved in that process. As such, the selection of the graders has also been complicated by this recent round of lawsuits, constitutional challenges to the application provision,” Bax told a reporter when asked about the hold up.

“We’re currently reviewing the responses (from potential vendors) that we’ve got. Because it’s a procurement, I’m limited to what I can say about the details of that procurement. The department will be ready with its graders once we have moved forward with accepting the applications,” he said.

Bax couldn’t say when his office would begin accepting applications, something that won’t happen until the vendor is chosen.

Meanwhile, Bax’s office is in negotiations with a vendor to process medical marijuana patient ID cards. The new law also required that the ID cards be privatized.

Patients currently have about a 30-day wait before they get their ID cards, a requirement before they are able to purchase medical marijuana treatments ordered by their doctors.

Some of the delays are caused by incomplete applications for an ID card, Bax said — patients either forget to sign the forms, don’t attach a $75 check to pay for the ID cards, or provide a picture that can’t be used.

Patients are submitting selfies, photos with pets or pictures “with interesting background furniture,” Bax told the panel yesterday.

And that’s not all.

Like other marijuana-related businesses, his office is butting up against the banking world, because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, regarding payment for the ID cards.

“We have ironically run into our own issues of … banking reticence to be involved in this industry,” Bax said. “The system that most other state agencies (and) offices will use to accept online payment will not touch this money because they think it’s related to marijuana.”

Black farmers group closed membership after new pot law passed

budIn the latest in Florida’s weed wars, an organization representing a handful of the state’s black farmers is admitting it closed its membership after the Legislature passed a law requiring the state to give someone in the group a medical marijuana license.

The new law, passed during a special session in June, called for an overall increase of 10 licenses by Tuesday (health officials said late last week they couldn’t meet the deadline of granting five licenses by Oct. 3).

One of the five licenses is required to go to a black farmer who is a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (Florida Chapter) and who was part of settled lawsuits, known as the “Pigford” cases, about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers.

Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, filed a lawsuit against the state last month, challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Smith alleges that the law is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The lawsuit contends that the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law.”

In the lawsuit, Smith claims he tried to join the black farmers’ association but was told the group isn’t taking new members. He also said that there the organization currently has only only three to five members.

The organization conceded that it closed its rolls after the law was passed, but that it will establish a “trust fund from the proceeds of the profits of the medical marijuana business that the state of Florida has set aside for our organization” to benefit Florida Pigford litigants.

In a press release, the BFAA-FL said the association has been “inundated” with calls and internet requests for information.

“The vast majority of these requests were solely for the purpose of applying for the Pigford Litigants / Claimants medical marijuana license. At the direction of our Board of Directors, and in preparation for applying for the license before the growing/harvesting season, we closed our membership even though membership in BFAA-FL is not solely to meet the requirement for MMTC licensure. We will reopen our membership after the State has issued a medical marijuana license,” the release reads.

Black farmers who aren’t part of the association can still apply for one of the four other licenses, the release points out. Health officials are giving extra points to applicants who can show minority participation in their operations.

“BFAA-FL is excited to help grow more minority participation in the new cannabis industry that has taken America and most of the world by storm. The organization is excited to see the State of Florida embrace minority participation in next round of minority applications. More importantly, BFAA-FL is excited to announce the grant that will be part of helping change the exclusionary process that has plagued the industry,” the release said.

 

Nevada gambling regulators ponder pot

budWith the advent of recreational marijuana in Nevada, at least one of the state’s gambling regulators wants weed to be included in “responsible gaming” policy.

According to a report by CDC Gaming Report’s Aaron Stanley, Nevada Gaming Control Board member Terry Johnson expressed concern about adding the impacts of marijuana to those of alcohol or problem gambling in the state’s regulations governing responsible gaming.

“We have existing regulations that talk about impairment from alcohol and gambling, but the statutes and regulations are silent on… what happens when the persons might be impaired from marijuana intoxication and continue to gamble,” Johnson, who has served on the NGCB since 2012, said, after explaining that an operator had been recently fined for allowing a patron to continue to gamble while visibly intoxicated from alcohol.

Johnson spoke yesterday at a University of Nevada-Las Vegas event hosted by the American Gaming Association.

Florida, which legalized medical marijuana last year, doesn’t have any gambling regs on the books specifically dealing with pot, either.

Nevada regulators concerns may be heightened by what could be the nation’s first marijuana mega-store opening soon near downtown Las Vegas.

Click here for more on that.

Will the big boxing of kush be a trend?

IMG_2721Could it be a sign of what’s to come in Florida?

A pot mega-store is slated to open on tribal land near downtown Las Vegas next month, according to a report yesterday in the Las Vegas Sun.

The 15,800-square-foot Nuwu Cannabis Marketplace — about the size of a Walmart Express — will open next month.

The tribe aims to capitalize on the legalization of recreational marijuana in Nevada, approved by voters in November.

With 13 checkout lanes, the pot shop will be the largest in the nation, according to tribal leaders.

“We’re pretty sure this is bigger than anyone here will have ever seen,” Las Vegas Paiute Chairman Benny Tso said. “We want to raise the bar on the cannabis industry, and we want the industry to come with us.”

The outlet is intended to be a marketplace, where customers already know what they want, rather than a dispensary, Tso said in the report.

It’s unlikely Florida — where only medical, not recreational, marijuana is legal — will see any big-box pot stores any time soon.

And we don’t know yet if the state’s tribes intend to start marijuana operations on tribal lands.

John Morgan on weed, caps and “gross” politics

IMG_0610Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan weighed in on the medical marijuana measure approved by lawmakers Friday afternoon, pledging yet again to sue the state over the ban on smoking as a treatment option for patients.

The legislation also caps the number of dispensaries each marijuana operator can run at 25. Vendors can buy dispensary “slots” from each other, making it possible for them to exceed the caps.

Morgan, a major Democratic fundraiser who is mulling a bid for governor next year, shrugged off the caps.

“I don’t think any of the patients care about the caps. When you get right down to it, marijuana’s marijuana. They’re trying to make this like craft beer, with flavors like orange blossom and honey,” Morgan said.

Morgan — who’s eager to plunk some major greenbacks into the green rush — predicted that competition will resolve the cap issue.

“At the end of the day, the way things work in America is that the weak go away and the strong survive,” he said.

The focus on the caps “was all about money and profit and nothing about the patients,” Morgan said, adding that he isn’t concerned about the caps, which are scheduled to sunset in 2020.

While he may not care about caps, Morgan’s on fire about the ban on smoking. He pledged to make good on his threat to sue the state over the issue, saying that voters clearly expected to be able to smoke marijuana as a treatment when they overwhelmingly supported the measure in November.

Asked about a provision in the bill that forces health officials, when choosing new marijuana operators, to give special preference to applicants currently or previously involved in “the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses,” Morgan called it “gross.”

“It’s just pay to play. It’s politics. It’s everybody crowding around the sugar cube trying to get some sugar. It’s kind of gross but then again politics is really gross. If you’re on the receiving end, you’re happy about it. If you’re on the losing end, you’re not,” he said.

Morgan plans to “invest heavily” in the industry he’s largely responsible for introducing to Florida.

“I believe that this is going to be a gigantic industry for a very good purpose and I like the idea now, after shilling it for all these years, I like the idea of being in it. And I’m a capitalist,” Morgan, whose portfolio includes law offices in a number of other states and theme parks.

Finally, Morgan said he’s content to stay on the sidelines while the 2018 governor’s race heats up.

“I believe I’m much better off watching the field run and expand,” he said. “I’m lucky that I don’t have to do what they have to do, which is go out and give speeches in the back room of Denny’s at 7 a.m. in the morning for $25 donations, and then spend that money for name recognition,” said Morgan, whose visage — and name — is featured on billboards and TV ads throughout the state. “I don’t have to do that. I have the luxury to wait until next spring if I want.”