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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Editorial: Don’t leave pot growers to chance

Picking numbered pingpong balls at random makes a lot of sense when deciding who’ll be Florida’s next instant millionaire. After all, everybody who buys a Florida Lottery ticket deserves the same chance at luck.

But that logic doesn’t apply when deciding which companies will be entrusted with producing a medicinal strain of marijuana.

That’s why it’s frustrating to watch the state’s continuing support of a lottery system when selecting the five companies to grow and distribute the “Charlotte’s Web” marijuana strain that state lawmakers legalized this past legislative session.

The state should reconsider its position before putting the rules in place Jan. 1. Competing companies should be thoroughly vetted and the strongest ones picked, rather than leaving the choice to chance.

“Charlotte’s Web” is the non-euphoric strain of marijuana named for a girl whose parents found that it relieved her life-threatening epileptic seizures. The drug is low in euphoria-causing THC but high in cannabidiol, an ingredient known to quell seizures in some patients.

An estimated 125,000 Florida children might be helped by the drug, and lawmakers were finally persuaded this year to pass a bill legalizing the strain. The new law calls for approving a dispensary in each of five geographical regions across the state. The state’s Department of Health must now decide which companies will grow and distribute the marijuana for patients cleared by their doctor for its use.

Under draft rules being considered, an applicant must demonstrate it has been in continuous operation as a nursery in Florida for 30 years or longer and be capable of posting a $5 million performance bond and paying a $150,000 license fee. The draft rules also call for a lottery if more than one grower applies in a region. The state says it’s objective is to create rules that won’t invite lawsuits or prolong the process. But that shouldn’t prevent the state from developing an equitable process for checking backgrounds and ranking the competing companies, just like the process for other state business that draws multiple bids.

Adding to the importance of getting the process right the first time is the specter of medical marijuana being available on a much grander scale should voters approve Amendment 2 on the ballot in November. The rules being considered for the “Charlotte’s Web” distribution are likely to be similar to those the state will consider should Amendment 2 pass.

An estimated 400,000 people might qualifty for marijuana rich in THC for “medical” purposes if the loosely worded measure passes, putting the need for more production and distribution in the hands of the growers selected by the state.

The state is right to set baseline standards. But it should be more exacting in determining which applicants will be trusted to handle the marijuana product.

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