By DARA KAM
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
On the campaign trail in South Florida, former Gov. Charlie Crist blasted Gov. Rick Scott’s administration Friday for using a lottery to select five organizations to grow, manufacture and dispense a now-legal type of marijuana that purportedly does not get users high but can reduce or eliminate life-threatening seizures in children with epilepsy.
Crist, a Democrat trying to win back the job he left four years ago, took a break from a three-day school bus tour in advance of the Aug. 26 primary against former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich to schmooze with local officials at the League of Cities annual meeting at The Westin Diplomat Resort.
Despite strong opposition from nurseries, lawyers and parents of children pushing for the non-euphoric pot, Scott’s administration has refused to back down from a decision to use a lottery to award five highly sought-after licenses. Under a proposed rule released Thursday, the Department of Health will grant the licenses to businesses that meet certain qualifications and will use a computer-generated “double random lottery-type system” to decide the winner in regions with more than one eligible applicant.
“The best way to award any contract is to have a good, open, honest, competitive process,” Crist said when asked about the issue Friday. “I don’t know that a lottery is the right way to go, frankly. It seems to me that people ought to submit their applications. They ought to be reviewed, thoroughly reviewed in a comprehensive fashion, and those that are determined to be the best are the ones that should get the contracts.”
The rule including the lottery provision is far from a done deal, however. After holding two workshops on the rule, health officials will hold another hearing Sept. 5 and could modify the proposal after that.
Lawmakers gave the state’s “Office of Compassionate Use” until Jan. 1 to come up with a regulatory framework for getting into the hands of patients a strain of marijuana that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD.
The law, passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature this spring and signed by Scott, restricts nurseries from participating unless they have been in business for at least 30 years in Florida and grow more than 400,000 plants. About 60 nurseries are eligible for the licenses, but lawyers for at least one grower have threatened to sue over the rule unless the lottery provision is dropped. Under the proposed rule, nurseries would only have to have 25 percent ownership in the entity applying for a license.
Crist made his comments Friday before winding up the bus tour in Miami and greeting volunteers at a new field office.
In what has become almost the norm in advance of the November election, the two governors’ paths crisscrossed. Scott also made an appearance in Miami-Dade County on Friday to tout his record creating jobs.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, a national Republican star reportedly considering a run for president in 2016, joined Scott on the campaign trail for the first time this season at the Homestead event.
On Thursday, Bush came out against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow doctors to order “traditional” medical marijuana for critically ill patients. That amendment will appear on the November ballot.
Scott has said he personally opposes Amendment 2, which has been heavily bankrolled by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, who also is Crist’s Morgan & Morgan law firm boss.
Polls have shown Florida voters of all ages and parties overwhelmingly support medical marijuana. But GOP leaders have balked at the proposed amendment. Tampa Bay developer Mel Sembler, a major Republican fundraiser close to the Bush family, contributed $100,000 to a political committee launched to fight the proposal.
But Crist on Friday called medical marijuana “the right thing to do,” reiterating his support for the amendment.
“I think it’s compassionate. I think that if a doctor prescribes medical marijuana to somebody who’s truly suffering and in need of help, I think it’s a lot better than prescribing something powerful like oxycontin that’s so harmful,” Crist said.