An amended version of the Charlotte’s Web medical cannabis bill passed both branches of the Florida Legislature as of Friday, the last day of the legislative session, without any lawmaker debate regarding a curious requirement grafted onto the bill. The growers producing the low THC version of the marijuana are not required to have experience with herbs or medicinal plants of any nature, but the amendment slotted in the bill by Representative Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) requires at least 30 years of uninterrupted operational nursery experience in Florida. The amendment also limits production to larger nurseries growing over 400,000 plants. Long quiet about whether or not he would veto the Charlotte’s Web legislation, Governor Scott announced he will sign the bill when it hits his desk.
Matt Caldwell, the author of the operational experience amendment, is only 32 years of age himself. Caldwell states that about 35 nurseries could potentially qualify to act as dispensaries based on size and the amount of time continuously in business. Legislators in South Florida attempted to change the 30 year requirement to 10 years because almost all nurseries in that area were forced to close for some period of time after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Although nursery size and financial wherewithal requirements could easily be connected to marijuana patient benefits and producer experience could be beneficial as well, having a requirement for 30 uninterrupted years of experience is difficult to connect to an actual benefit to the patient. The 30 year requirement limits the number of potential growers to such a low level that the viability of the legislation may be at risk.
The Florida Department of Agriculture publishes a list of registered nurseries, which list contains a recitation of nursery specialties listed by category. The Department of Agriculture nursery specialties include citrus, herbs, roses, geraniums, oak trees and many other plant types. An experienced oak tree grower would likely not know much about growing geraniums. Nevertheless, the curious amendment to the Charlotte’s Web medical cannabis bill inserted by the Lehigh Acres, Florida legislator did not include any mention of specialty in regard to experience even though the regulatory agency has nursery data regarding specialties. The agency data does not include years of experience, at least in any kind of readily available form. Caldwell has not named which nurseries are eligible, even though the list is apparently rather short, nor expressed any interest in providing the information to others.
The list of donors to either Caldwell or political action committees tied to Caldwell includes large agricultural interests, including a tobacco company and US Sugar. Inserting a provision in legislation encouraging medical cannabis production by a specific nursery or by tobacco or sugar interests would be politically unpopular, but doing the same thing through something such as an extraordinarily long experience requirement could do the same thing on a more secretive basis.
A logical nexus could exist between the extraordinarily long nursery experience requirement for Florida Charlotte’s Web medical cannabis dispensaries and benefits for life threatening seizure patients, but connecting the 30 year length of experience to patient benefits under the curious amendment remains difficult. With no discussion or debate, inserting a provision in a bill which reduces the total available nursery options to about three dozen appears reckless at best. The seizure patients in need of the new medication deserved a thoughtful discussion.
Opinion by William Costolo