A ruling handed down on Monday by an administrative law judge in Florida means that medical cannabis patients in the Sunshine State will soon be able to resume purchasing such products online.
The decision from Judge Suzanne Van Wyk comes after state regulators in Florida had brought an end to patients using online services such as Leafly, which contracted with medical cannabis providers in the state to help patients complete their orders digitally.
According to local television station CBS12, state officials said “the arrangements violated a state law banning operators from contracting for services ‘directly related to the cultivation, processing and dispensing’ of cannabis.”
Those third-party, online companies saw Florida-based medical marijuana operators sever ties after the state’s Department of Health admonished them and threatened a $500,000 fine if the practice persisted.
CBS12 reported that the Department of Health handed down a memo saying that “the services were prohibited under a 2017 law that set up a structure for the Florida cannabis industry,” and that the law “requires medical marijuana operators to control all aspects of the business from seed to sale — including cultivation, processing and dispensing of products — rather than allowing companies to handle individual components of the trade.”
But Leafly, the station reported, “argued that it is not engaging in activity related to the dispensing of cannabis products because the company does not accept payment for or distribute cannabis products to patients,” and the company “filed a petition asking an administrative law judge to find that the Florida Department of Health employed an ‘unadopted and invalid rule’ to conclude that the online services violated the law.”
According to the station, Leafly had contracted with 277 medical marijuana retailers in Florida.
Judge Van Wyk “didn’t go as far Monday as Leafly requested,” according to CBS12, “but she found that the ban on the use of the third-party sites amounted to an unadopted rule and ordered the state agency to ‘immediately discontinue reliance on its policy regarding online ordering of medical marijuana through third-party websites.’”
Online orders and curbside pickups have become commonplace for cannabis operators since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with policymakers in various states and cities relaxing restrictions in order to allow patients to acquire their products safely.
Last year, officials in Florida set forth emergency rules to allow physicians in the state to visit patients and issue prescriptions remotely, an option that was also extended to medical cannabis patients.
Voters in Florida passed a ballot measure in 2016 that legalized medical marijuana treatment, and the law has broadened its scope in the years that have followed.
Last year, the Florida Department of Health announced new rules that allowed medical cannabis patients to acquire edible products such as brownies and other candies.
In 2019, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed a bill allowing medical cannabis patients to receive the treatment in smokable form.
Efforts to legalized recreational pot use in Florida have yet to materialize—though there are clear signs of budding political support.
Democrats currently vying for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in Florida have even traded barbs recently over who is more determined to end pot prohibition.
Charlie Crist, a former governor in the state who is currently serving in Congress and vying to be governor again, said earlier this month that he will “legalize marijuana in the Sunshine State” if he were elected next year.
“This is the first part of the Crist contract with Florida,” said Crist, who previously served as a Republican governor before leaving the party.
That drew a strong response from Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner who is also aiming to win the Democratic nomination for governor and was quick to note Crist’s previous enforcement of anti-pot laws.
“Imitation is flattery, but records are records,” Fried said on Twitter earlier this month. “People went to jail because Republicans like @CharlieCrist supported and enforced racist marijuana crime bills. Glad he’s changed his mind, but none of those people get those years back. Legalize marijuana.”