TALLAHASSEE --- Two medical marijuana operators want the state to give them the same treatment as Florida’s largest medical-cannabis firm, after health officials allowed Quincy-based Trulieve to open more dispensaries than a state law allowed.
Trulieve challenged a limit on the number of storefronts that was included in a 2017 law aimed at carrying out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
The cap, initially set at 25 dispensaries for each operator, gradually increases as the number of eligible patients in a statewide database increases. The cap, now set at 35, expires in April 2020.
Trulieve argued that the cap “unfairly penalizes” pot provides, “arbitrarily impairs product availability and safety,” and is unfair because it was imposed after the company had already opened more than a dozen retail locations.
Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers agreed, finding that the constitutional amendment imposed no caps on the number of dispensaries.
In a settlement signed in late March, the state agreed to allow Trulieve to keep its original dispensaries and to add an additional 35, the number under the statutory cap.
But last week, two other medical marijuana operators --- Surterra Florida LLC and Curaleaf Florida LLC --- filed administrative complaints accusing health officials of creating an invalid rule with the settlement and asking for the same treatment as Trulieve.
The “grandfathering in” of the original dispensaries “must be uniformly applied” to all of the state’s original medical marijuana operators, lawyers for Surterra and Curaleaf argued.
“Unless the department applies this statement to all similarly situated licenses, access to necessary medicine will be unduly restricted and Trulieve will be granted an improper competitive advantage,” lawyer Stephen Menton, who represents both operators, wrote in the complaints.
Trulieve, Curaleaf and Surterra received medical marijuana licenses in 2015 after state lawmakers legalized low-THC marijuana for a limited number of patients. The operators were later authorized to grow full-strength marijuana, following the passage of the constitutional amendment.
There are 14 medical marijuana operators in Florida, and state health officials recently agreed to issue eight more licenses.
Because state law limits the number of medical marijuana operators, competition for licenses as well as for the number of dispensaries is fierce in an industry projected to generate more than $2.5 billion in annual revenue within five years.
Allowing only Trulieve to operate more than the statutory cap of 35 dispensaries “unfairly and unjustifiably prejudices Surterra by preventing it from opening additional dispensary locations until the cap increase by operation of statute,” Menton argued in Surterra’s complaint last week.
“Such a result is unfairly discriminatory and contrary to the intent of Florida law to ensure qualified patients have access,” he wrote.
In an order issued Friday, Administrative Law Judge G.W. Chisenhall consolidated the Surterra and Curaleaf cases and set a May 28 hearing date.