Medical marijuana czar: Lawsuits continue to delay implementation

Published: Nov. 15, 2017 at 10:47 PM CST
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Gov. Rick Scott's medical marijuana czar again blamed lawsuits for delays in implementing long-awaited medical marijuana rules in Florida Wednesday.

And lawmakers appear to be losing patience.

Office of Compassionate Use Director Christian Bax appeared before a House subcommittee for the second time in as many months.

The ongoing delay, he told the panel, is largely due to a string of lawsuits that have tied the hands of the state Department of Health.

The excuse was the same one Bax cited in mid-October, two weeks after the Scott administration missed the deadline for the rules to be rolled out. Some members of the House Health Quality Subcommittee who heard his remarks then were noticeably less receptive on Wednesday.

"You're doing a wonderful job, and I don't just say that to make you feel good," said Rep. Ralph Massullo (R-Lecanto). "I believe you are, but I also believe the department needs to do more to try to carry out the law that we worked hard to pass."

Sensing lawmakers' waning patience, Bax pledged his office would focus on resolving the impediments to delivering full-potency cannabis to the tens of thousands of patients with chronic conditions who have enrolled in the state's medical marijuana registry.

"This has been an issue that we recognize is important, not just to the constituents but the duly-elected members here in the state of Florida, and we are making every effort to expedite this process," Bax testified.

Bax also said his department has given approval to two new nurseries to begin growning full-potency medical marijuana. So far, 52,000 patients have enrolled in the state's medical marijuana registry.

The Scott administration's as-yet unfulfilled promises have been ringing hollow to many supporters of Amendment 2. That's the medical marijuana legalization measure approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in 2016. Gov. Scott, a conservative Republican, has been largely silent on the implementation process his administration is overseeing.

Orlando power lawyer John Morgan, who helped author the amendment and is considering a 2018 campaign for governor, has taken to Twitter to pressure Scott to fire Bax.

"Calling my #ArmyOfAngels, 71 percent of the vote," Morgan wrote in one tweet. "@FLGovScott is allowing this Bax Backward Bureaucrat to ignore the will of the people...."

Morgan has suggested the medical marijuana implementation delay could hurt Scott's prospects in the 2018 U.S. Senate race he's widely expected to join.

"I'm right, and 71 percent of the people of Florida know I'm right," Morgan told reporters earlier this year.

But Bax has worked to assure lawmakers the delay has nothing to do with the governor's ideological proclivities.

Instead, he told the subcommittee it's the lawsuits, one brought by a group of black farmers concerning the state's nursery licensing process, and the other by a printing company that lost a bid to produce patient identification cards, that are holding up the show.

"For now, I can say that from top to bottom, the department is 100 percent committed to making this process move efficiently... for patients in Florida," Bax said.