By DARA KAM
News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A state appeals court on Friday allowed the Florida House of Representatives to intervene in a lawsuit that could upend the state’s medical marijuana system.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal paved the way for the House to enter a lawsuit filed by Florigrown, a Tampa-based business trying to gain entry to the state’s highly restricted medical-marijuana industry, and overturned a ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson.
The House sought to join the case after Dodson sided with Florigrown and ruled that a state law requiring pot operators to grow, process and distribute cannabis and related products — a system known as “vertical integration — ran afoul of a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. Dodson’s ruling also struck down a portion of the law that set a cap on the number of medical marijuana operators in the state.
After the circuit judge refused to allow the House to intervene in the case, leaders of the Republican-dominated chamber went to the Tallahassee-based appeals court.
The House “has an actual cognizable interest” in the outcome of the case, which will determine whether the Legislature “acted permissibly” within the confines of the constitutional amendment, Judge Brad Thomas wrote in Friday’s main opinion, which was joined by concurring opinions from judges Scott Makar and Timothy Osterhaus.
While the constitutional amendment made the Department of Health responsible for implementation, it gave policymaking authority to the Legislature, Thomas noted.
The state law passed in 2017 represents “the Legislature’s attempt to exercise its discretion within the new bounds created by the Constitution,” he wrote, adding that the outcome of the legal challenge “will define the scope of its (the Legislature’s) constitutional authority to police certain narcotics.”
The House’s interest is particularly salient because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, wrote Thomas, who also relied on House arguments that some studies have shown “habitual use of cannabis may cause violent and criminal behavior as a result of changes in brain function.”