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State officials stick with plan to hold lottery for pot dispensaries in new rule

MarijuanaThe Florida Department of Health has rejected requests to find an alternative to a lottery system for selecting the companies that will grow and dispense low-THC marijuana for medical purposes in its proposed final rule released today. The agency also announced a public hearing to hear more feedback on Sept. 5.

Patients, growers, investors and marijuana entrepreneurs all appealed to the department during two public hearings this summer asking the agency to reconsider choosing the five dispensaries by lottery. The rule is being developed to implement a law passed by the Legislature this spring, authorizing one nursery in five regions of the state to be licensed to cultivate and distribute the low-THC marijuana intended to help people with severe epilepsy, muscle spasms and cancer. 

The new rules offer detailed requirements for maintaining patient records, security, staffing, dispensary hours and transportation. It allows one dispensary in each region to be responsible for trucking a 90-day supply of the low-THC cannabis to the homes of qualified registered patients, a system that also drew sharp criticism from the industry hopefuls. 

Absent from the rule, however, are any detailed standards that impose requirements on the quality of the cultivation, the experience of the growers or the technological skill of the company to obtain a low-THC abstract. The absence of those requirements has many critics worried that the state is relinquishing its ability to manage the quality control and will reduce the number of applicants willing to make the financial commitment.

The rule requires that applicants provide documentation of "financial accordance with generally accepted auditing standards." It requires applicants to show ability to post a $5 million performance bond. And it requires that the owners and managers of the dispensing organization pass a background screening.

The applicants in each region will then be put in the government version of a hat and chosen by lottery for each region. The rule states: 

"If more than one applicant for a dispensing region is qualified and its application is timely received, the department will provide a computer program method for a double random lottery-type selection by public drawing to designate the approved applicant and the rank order of other applications within each dispensing region.'' 

The agency made some changes to its previous draft rule, such as allowing for the transport of a 90-day supply of the marijuana extract, rather than a 30-day supply, modifying the counties included in each region, and giving the nurseries more flexibility in determining where their headquarters may be located.

Here's the rule.  Download Compassionate use rules