FLORIDA – Medical marijuana law won’t take effect Thursday

Lawmakers will have to sign off on a new rule to kick-start the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry, meaning another likely delay in the law that was supposed to take full effect Thursday.

Office of Compassionate Use Director Patricia Nelson, who took over the state Department of Health post earlier this month, told an audience gathered for a workshop Tuesday in Orlando that the rule would require the Legislature’s blessing because costs associated with the new law are growing.

To be eligible for one of five state licenses to grow, process and distribute strains of non-euphoric marijuana, nurseries will likely have to make significant investments in “high-ticket” items like analytical equipment, expert consultants, security operations and procuring the $5 million performance bonds required in the law, Nelson said.

Nelson told nursery owners, investors and lobbyists gathered for the meeting that she needed estimates from them to calculate the anticipated impact of the rule. Florida law requires the Legislature to ratify rules that cost in excess of $1 million over five years. Nelson said she anticipates that the combined costs for businesses to operate the cannabis industry and for the state to regulate it would exceed $1 million over five years, triggering ratification.

“We have to have that before these rules will be effective. That requires an actual bill. It’s not something that can be done by committee. That bill has to be passed by both chambers and then signed by the governor,” Nelson said.

Under the law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, doctors on Jan. 1 were supposed to begin ordering strains of cannabis that are low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD , for patients who suffer from severe spasms or cancer. But, siding with a group of nurseries and other businesses that launched a legal challenge, an administrative law judge in November struck down the health department’s first stab at a regulatory structure, prompting Tuesday’s workshop, the fourth public meeting on the issue since the law was passed.

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