After a failed attempt at removing the judge from the case, state health officials have agreed to grant a coveted medical-marijuana license to Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms, a Homestead-based grower.

The new license brings the number of medical marijuana operators in the state to 13, and five more are on the horizon as Florida’s medical cannabis industry begins to blossom.

The new license settles a legal challenge filed by St. Germain after the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use denied the grower a license in August, following the passage of a new law.

Under the law, approved during a June special legislative session, health officials were required to issue licenses to applicants who had legal challenges pending as of January or who had scored within one point of the highest-ranked applicants in five regions.

The health department strenuously opposed St. Germain’s legal challenge, seeking four times to have the case dismissed before trying to get Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham removed, a highly unusual move in administrative proceedings.

Office of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax accused Van Laningham, who had previously ruled against Bax’s office in an unrelated medical-marijuana license challenge, of being biased against the state.

But, in a stinging rebuke, Van Laningham wrote that Florida administrative procedures law “provides no such vehicle” for the chief judge to consider the agency’s objection and that Van Laningham himself would decide whether he should be disqualified.

Lawyers for St. Germain accused health officials of trying to “judge-shop,” arguing that Van Laningham’s prior rulings against the agency can’t be a reason to disqualify the judge, who refused to step aside.

On Thursday, the Department of Health and St. Germain settled the case. Under the settlement, St. Germain agreed to drop its administrative challenge as well as a lawsuit filed in circuit court, in exchange for a license.

“We are grateful to DOH leadership for this opportunity to safely and effectively deliver medical cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating illnesses. We will be working closely with the department over the coming weeks as we build out our production and distribution facilities,” Keith St. Germain, the nursery’s owner, said in an email Tuesday.

Delays processing patient identification cards have also created consternation among lawmakers, patients and doctors, and the situation is likely to get worse.

While being grilled about the ID cards recently, Bax told a Senate committee that outsourcing the cards — also required in the new law — would speed up the process, which he said currently takes about 30 days to complete.

But another challenge over a contract for the cards has put the outsourcing on hold.

Health officials rejected Automated Health Solutions’ $9.3 million proposal, opting instead for Veritec’s $7.4 million proposal to process the ID cards. Automated Health Solutions told the state last week it intends to protest the decision.

The challenge could postpone the outsourcing until February, according to a timeline provided by the health department.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *