Joe Redner, Tampa’s outspoken strip club owner and cancer patient, is hoping he’ll be able to legally grow his own marijuana plants soon.
Redner, 77, made his case against the Florida Department of Health in a Tallahassee courtroom Wednesday on why he has a constitutional right to grow his own marijuana plants. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers is expected to rule on the case next week.
"We made our presentation and then the department had about 13 minutes of gobbledygook," Redner said of the short trial during a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday. "I feel confident that the case is for us, not against us."
Redner, who owns the Mons Venus strip club in Tampa, is a registered medical marijuana patient in Florida and uses cannabis products to treat conditions related to his stage-four lung cancer. He filed the lawsuit last summer, less than two weeks after lawmakers put in place new laws governing the growing, manufacturing and selling of medical marijuana.
It claims the state is not following the will of the public, which voted overwhelmingly in 2016 for a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana.
In January, the same judge denied a motion by the Florida Department of Health to dismiss Redner’s case. The judge also denied Redner’s motion for an emergency temporary injunction, which would have allowed him to grow marijuana plants during the court process, but described Redner’s plea in the case as "constitutional in nature," which allowed it to move forward.
Under state Health Department rules, Floridians are barred from growing cannabis for their personal use, including those who are legally registered as medical marijuana patients. Redner’s lawsuit challenged those rules based on how the state Constitution, as amended by voters, defines marijuana.
The suit claims that the definition includes "all parts of the plant." Redner said he wants to grow his own plants because he says he has no idea what he’s getting from the state’s licensed growers and distributors.
The Health Department argued in court Wednesday that Redner’s case could open the door to more challenges over the amendment’s language, if the judge rules in favor of him.
"What the plaintiff and this court are about to do, if you hold that individual medical users have immunity to grow their own marijuana, you may ultimately cause the entire medical marijuana constitutional amendment to be nullified and stricken from the Florida Constitution," said Jason Gonzalez, an attorney with the Shutts & Bowen firm, who represented the Department of Health during trial Wednesday. "I don’t think this is what you are intending to do, but it is what binding Florida Supreme Court precedent provides."
Gonzalez said that the ballot summary voters read when voting on Amendment 2 was never intended to allow individuals to grow their own marijuana.
"The ballot summary informed the voters that only registered and regulated ‘centers’ would be given immunity for growing marijuana," he said. "This is significant, if your final ruling is consistent with your prior ruling that there is a Constitutional right for individuals to cultivate and process marijuana."
Lawmakers have limited the selling and growing of marijuana to 13 companies. That number could grow based on demand and the number of registered patients in the state. Currently, the licensed companies can sell cannabis pills, oils, edibles and "vape" pens with a doctor’s approval, but the law bans smoking.
More than 70 percent of voters in 2016 approved Amendment 2, expanding who can legally use medical marijuana in Florida from just the terminally ill and some other patients with epilepsy and cancer, to those with other debilitating conditions such as glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and post traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions. Lawmakers struggled with how to implement the expansion, which is expected to become a $1 billion industry in Florida within the next three years.
Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.