A Tallahassee judge ruled on the side of medical marijuana patients Wednesday and ended months of dizzying legal challenges against the state Department of Health that included charges of political chicanery. There was even a dose of Charlotte’s Web – the children’s book, not the low-THC pot.
State Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins' 68-page decision means the health department can adopt the rule Thursday and start accepting applications from eligible growers 20 days later. Growers then get three weeks to submit applications. Charlotte’s Web, a non-euphoric marijuana extract, is widely hailed for easing painful medical conditions, including epilepsy and cancer. The oil might possibly be marketed before the year is out.
One unlikely legal hitch: Watkins' order is subject to appellate court review if someone can show they are "adversely affected," according to statute. The time limit to appeal is 30 days.
Watkins punctuated his legal examination on page 5 with a sentence from “Charlotte’s Web,” a barnyard epic by E.B. White.
“Life is always a rich and steady time when you are waiting for something to happen or to hatch,” White wrote in the 1952 classic, a story of friendship between a pig named Wilbur and a spider called Charlotte.
Baywood Nurseries of Apopka was the last of three challenges that were thrown out by Watkins. In his ruling, Watkins said Baywood “failed to present any persuasive evidence that proposed [Charlotte’s Web regulations] are an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.”
“While the department’s first attempt to [regulate] was unsuccessful, the fruit of its second effort, which was well-reasoned, deliberative, and thorough, represents a rational and coherent regulatory framework,” Watkins wrote.
In a statement, the health department said, “Today's ruling allows the department to move forward with implementing the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.”
The Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act was signed into law June 16, 2014.
“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.”
The Office of Compassionate Use drafted new regulations in February after initial rules were was thrown out in court last year. Watkins handed down that ruling, too.
Baywood's lawsuit claimed the majority of February’s rule-makers were “politically connected [and] unfit to serve as alleged sources of reliable information, expertise, and industry input.”
Roughly 100 nurseries in Florida qualify under state law to compete for one of five prized regional licenses to grow, process, and distribute Charlotte’s Web.
Hasta la vista