Florida House seeks to defend state's medical marijuana law


As court battles continue about whether the state is properly carrying out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, the Florida House is again trying to weigh in.

House attorneys Friday gave notice that they will appeal a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling that blocked the House from intervening in a lawsuit to help defend a controversial 2017 law that was designed to carry out the constitutional amendment. The move came as the House also is asking the 1st District Court of Appeal to allow it to intervene in another case about the 2017 law.

The notice filed Friday, as is common, does not detail the House’s arguments. But it seeks to overturn a decision last month by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson that kept the House out of a lawsuit filed by Patients and Producers Alliance, Inc. against the Florida Department of Health.

The non-profit Patients and Producers Alliance argues in the lawsuit that the 2017 law violates the constitutional amendment because it improperly restricts medical-marijuana firms. The House has contended in circuit court that it should be allowed to defend the law, in part pointing to the state’s need to navigate federal laws, under which marijuana remains illegal.

“The Florida House of Representatives, as one-half of the state’s policymaking branch, is well-situated to respond to the plaintiff and the court in defense of (the 2017 law),” the House said in a January filing in circuit court. “Notably, the MMA (medical marijuana amendment) gives implementation authority —- not policymaking authority —- to the Department of Health, and the Florida Constitution’s strict, express separation of powers precludes this court from exercising policymaking authority. That leaves the Legislature with the sole constitutional authority to make the necessary policy choices for how to implement the MMA within the limits of an otherwise conflicting and superseding federal drug policy.”

But Dodson issued a two-page order last month rejecting the House’s arguments and cited a November decision in another case in which he blocked the House from intervening. The House also has appealed the ruling in that case, filed by the Tampa-based firm Florigrown.

“The court concludes that the Department of Health is the proper defendant in this case, and because even the Legislature’s policymaking authority must comport with the Constitution, the House does not have a direct and immediate interest in the matter at issue in this litigation such that it stands to gam or lose by the direct legal operation and effect of any judgment rendered by this court,” Dodson wrote in rejecting the House’s involvement in the Florigrown case.

The 2017 law has drawn a series of legal challenges because of restrictions it placed on the fast-growing medical marijuana industry. As an example, the law drew a challenge because it banned smokable medical marijuana. After the state lost in circuit court, Gov. Ron DeSantis this year pushed through legislation that eliminated the ban on smokable marijuana.

The Patients and Producers Alliance and Florigrown lawsuits challenge issues such as restrictions on the numbers of firms that can be approved to do business and a requirement of what is known as “vertical integration.” That requirement forces firms to grow, process and sell medical marijuana —- as opposed to businesses being licensed to play different roles in the industry.

Dodson last year ruled in favor of Florigrown and issued a temporary injunction requiring state health officials to begin registering Florigrown and other medical-marijuana firms to do business. The state, however, has appealed the temporary injunction, with a hearing scheduled June 11 at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

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