Low-THC Cannabis Moves Forward in Florida
Tomorrow, the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use will begin accepting applications from Low-THC Cannabis Dispensing Organizations which would give them the ability to cultivate and distribute a low-THC cannabis derivative. As we have documented, getting to this point has been a long and arduous process. After a number of workshops, re-writes, and challenges, the final rules have finally been adopted. Those rules can be found here on the Office of Compassionate Use’s website.
Recently, Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins ruled against a challenge to the Rules brought by Baywood Nurseries of Apopka . In short, the nursery alleged that the rule proposed by the state was unfair and vague. “Today’s ruling allows the department to move forward with implementing the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, approved by the Legislature in 2014,” the Department said in a statement. “The department remains committed to ensuring safe and efficient access to this product for children with refractory epilepsy and patients with advanced cancer. We are moving swiftly to facilitate access to the product before the end of the year.”
As a pre-requisite, the law requires that the nursery applicants can grow a minimum of 400,000 plants and have been in business in Florida for a minimum of 30 years. The Department of Agriculture states that approximately 100 nurseries can meet these rigorous criteria. Out of the applicants, of which there are sure to many, only five nurseries will be selected by the Department. Certain geographical regions have been created and one applicant will be selected out of each of those regions.
While we at MCS are grateful that the challenges have failed and that sick Floridians will soon have access to medical cannabis, the law and associated rules are woefully inadequate with regard to the testing of the medication to ensure compliance with the law and the safety of safety of patients. These shortcomings are not the fault of the Department, however, but rather the legislators that drafted the bill. Despite requiring that the cannabis derivative have certain specified cannabinoid profiles, the bill is silent as to independent laboratory testing. There is no immunity for testing labs. As such, any lab possessing cannabis or cannabis oil is subject to arrest and prosecution. It is perplexing that the law has certain requirements, but no mechanism to ensure that those requirements are adequately complied with. Independent cannabis testing laboratories, such as MCS, are left in a precarious position.
So who is going to provide these essential testing services? Who is going to ensure that the medication has the appropriate cannabinoid profile. More importantly, who will ensure that the medication is free from pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, and residual solvents. Unfortunately, these are questions that we don’t have answers to. Even worse, these are questions that no one has answers to. The law and rules imply that only the five nurseries selected can possess cannabis. The natural conclusion is that the nurseries will have to perform testing on their own products in-house. This is unacceptable. We are not aware of any other medication that is not subject to at least some third party testing and quality control.
All that being said, at least Florida is finally joining the majority of the Country in making cannabis available to ailing patients. Although this first effort is full of problems, it is at least a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. The Department believes that medication may be available to patients by the end of 2015. However, many experts in the field do not believe that this is a reasonable timeline and expect the dispensing of medication to begin sometime in 2016. We will be closely following the process and provides updates to our readers as new developments arise.