Florida Board of Medicine Hearing on Telemedicine and Medical Marijuana

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The proposed rules, released Tuesday by state health officials, would essentially maintain current vendors' stranglehold on the medical marijuana industry - poised to become one of the nation's top money-makers - by applying current Florida laws and rules to the constitutional amendment approved in November.

"The rule is basically ignoring the text of the constitutional amendment at nearly every point of the way", Ben Pollara, campaign manager of the political committee backing the amendment, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The ballot initiative gives the Department of Health six months after the amendment goes into effect to write the rules governing medical marijuana. More than 70 percent of voters supported the amendment, after a similar proposal narrowly failed to capture the requisite 60 percent approval two years earlier.

But applying current regulations to Amendment 2 - which includes specific requirements for how the amendment should be implemented - is wrong, Pollara insisted.

Of special concern to the amendment's authors, the proposed rule would give authority to the Florida Board of Medicine - and not individual doctors - to decide which patients qualify for the marijuana treatment. "Perhaps the actions of DOH shouldn't surprise, given their history of incompetence in the administration of Florida's medical marijuana laws". The rule does allow for use, as long as the Florida Board of Medicine identifies which debilitating conditions it can be used for.

"This is not one of those things that is up for interpretation by a court or anyone else", Pollara said. There are now seven licensed, with one more case under an administrative challenge.

"It looks like the Department of Health is protecting the existing monopolies".

"I believe the Department is being appropriately cautious and awaiting the Legislature's direction", said Taylor Patrick Biehl, a lobbyist at Capitol Alliance Group who represents the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health released the preliminary text of proposed rule development.

The proposed rule also requires patients, physicians, medical marijuana treatment centers and caregivers to be registered in state's online Compassionate Use Registry; and requires medical marijuana treatment centers to follow the same record keeping, security, product testing, and other safety standards now spelled out in state law and rules.

"That's why we're having the five public meetings", supplemented by the ability to provide comments online, she said.

The rule would not allow any new growers or dispensaries to form in the state, leaving control of the market in the hands of the seven nurseries licensed to grow, process and sell cannabis in Florida already.

"You have to start somewhere and they can't start with everything in place".

The Legislature has indicated it will tackle Amendment 2 during the 2017 Legislative Session.

"That's the law. We have to follow the law", Gambineri said.