County weighs impact of medical marijuana farming
Written by Scott Blake on August 20, 2014
As Florida prepares to enter the world of legalized marijuana, Miami-Dade County wants to know where it’s going to stand.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature already have approved a strictly limited form of medical marijuana use, beginning in January. However, a Florida ballot initiative – Amendment 2 – for the Nov. 4 election would allow broader use of the drug.
As the issue plays out on the state level, county officials are considering the private sector potential for growing medical marijuana in Miami-Dade and other issues it could raise.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office is expected to deliver a report on the matter in two or three weeks to county commissioners, said Commissioner Dennis Moss, who raised the issue in May. Commissioners then voted 12-1, Javier Souto dissenting, to direct the mayor’s office to study the issue.
“I don’t know where the whole debate is going, but we need to be prepared for what may be a reality down the road,” Mr. Moss told Miami Today last week. “There could be potential for a whole new industry.”
That industry, he said, could center on the agricultural lands in southern Miami-Dade, where his district is located. He added that the year-round warm weather and fertile soil there seems ideal for growing “high-quality, high-grade” marijuana.
One of the outcomes, Mr. Moss said, could be that marijuana could turn into a new “cash crop” for Florida that might dissuade owners of local farmlands from selling off or developing their properties for housing.
Among the issues he hopes the mayor’s report will address: the potential economic impact in Miami-Dade, particularly for agricultural businesses; how many jobs it could create; what security concerns it could raise; who would oversee “quality control” of medical marijuana; as well as potential “downsides,” such as the need for more drug treatment programs.
“We need to be at least positioned and poised to have a response,” he added.
In June, Gov. Scott signed a bill legalizing a limited form of medical marijuana known as “Charlotte’s Web” – a strain that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, but high in cannabidiol, which supporters say provides the health care benefits of pot without the high.
The strain is said to dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy, but has not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The law limits eligible medical marijuana growers to large commercial nurseries that have been in business in Florida for at least 30 years. It also allows five distribution centers – one each in the southeast, southwest, central, northeast and northwest parts of the state.
Under the law, growers also would manufacture the substance and distribute it. They must register with the state Department of Agriculture for the cultivation of more than 400,000 plants and post a $5 million bond.
The law specifies that Florida doctors must be certified to prescribe medical marijuana after determining that “no other satisfactory alternative treatment options exist for that patient.” It allows marijuana’s use for medical patients suffering from cancer or “a physical medical condition that chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms.”
All the restrictions and conditions under the law prompted Florida independent gubernatorial candidate Farid Khavari to call it “Republican medical marijuana from the Florida Legislature: trying to look like they care about people but protecting big business.”
Meanwhile, some conservatives are preparing to oppose the proposed state constitutional amendment, Amendment 2, on the November ballot that would allow for more widespread use of marijuana for medical purposes without the restriction on THC content. Major backers of the measure include Orlando trial attorney and Democratic campaign contributor John Morgan.
Amendment 2 would allow the medical use of marijuana for people diagnosed with “a debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV-AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or “other conditions which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”
Under the proposal, the Florida Department of Health would be responsible for regulating marijuana for medical use, issuing patient identification cards, personal caregiver identification cards, and developing procedures for medical marijuana treatment centers and regulations defining reasonable amounts for medical use.