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Lawmakers Level Withering Criticism Against State Agency Responsible For Medical Pot Rules

| February 5, 2018

Sen. Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat who is a chairman of the committee, did not take kindly to health officials not responding to his committee's letters. (Facebook)

Sen. Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat who is a chairman of the committee, did not take kindly to health officials not responding to his committee’s letters. (Facebook)

A joint legislative oversight committee delivered a public shaming to Florida pot czar Christian Bax on Monday, repeatedly chiding the state health official and others as they sat silently while the panel shredded regulations intended to carry out a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.


In four separate unanimous votes, the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee objected to a litany of elements included in rules issued by the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which Bax heads.

The items under scrutiny ranged from identification cards for caregivers of sick patients to a provision banning applicants seeking medical-marijuana licenses from amending their applications. The prohibition conflicts with state law requiring state agencies to give applicants time to correct errors or provide additional information.

Sen. Kevin Rader, a Delray Beach Democrat who is a chairman of the committee, and other lawmakers are angry that Bax and Department of Health lawyers refused to respond to more than a dozen letters from the committee over the past four months identifying concerns with the rules, which went into effect late last year.

Rader also appeared especially incensed by a letter sent to the committee on Friday by Department of Health General Counsel Nichole Geary, the first response from the agency since the committee began demanding answers in October. Geary said changes sought by the oversight committee “will cause further delay of the next application cycle” and will “delay development of the general patient safety regulatory scheme” related to items such as edible marijuana and pesticides.

“Frankly, I find these comments to be disingenuous and insulting to the committee,” Rader said at the outset of Monday’s meeting.

The health department was aware of the committee’s concerns for months, Rader said.

“And then has the audacity to blame the committee and our staff for delaying the process,” the senator continued, condemning the health department for adopting a strategy of blaming delays in the rollout of the regulations “on anything but itself.”

Health officials had blamed delays on a lawsuit challenging a provision of a 2017 law that requires one of 10 new marijuana licenses to go to a black farmer who meets certain conditions. A Tallahassee judge recently blocked that portion of the law from going into effect. Bax’s office also said Hurricane Irma caused other delays in the rollout of the rules.

“At some point I would hope the department would stop looking for a scapegoat and just do its job,” Rader said.

Before each of four votes incorporating a total of 17 objections to items in the rules, Rader asked whether anyone from the health department or the Office of Medical Marijuana Use wanted to respond. Bax, Geary and a handful of other health department officials remained silent.

Bax did make a presentation at the end of the meeting, as he said he had been invited to do. Bax said his office is holding a series of workshops in March to assist in developing rule language on issues such as edibles, dosing and laboratory testing.

Bax, appointed to the post more than two years ago, also said his office is changing the way it is crafting the rules, based on input from the Legislature.

“We have heard you. We respect that position,” Bax, a lawyer, told the committee.

In the four decades since the creation of the joint committee — which oversees whether state agencies have correctly implemented state laws — an agency or department has never ignored requests for information, according to committee coordinator Ken Plante.

Many of the problems identified by Plante and other committee staff were characterized as an unauthorized regulation that “enlarges, modifies or contravenes” the law passed last year aimed at implementing the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016.

The agency has 30 days to respond, or 60 days in which to do nothing, after which the committee can publish its objections in the Florida Administrative Register and inform the House speaker and the Senate president, Plante said.

“We do not have the authority to halt a rule from going into effect. We’re really boxed in,” he told the panel Monday afternoon. “This has never happened before. No one has never ignored the committee or not stood up and explained themselves.”

Plante said many of the issues would be simple to address and “could be fixed within a couple of days.”

After the meeting, Bax told reporters his office would respond to the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee within 30 days.

“Our responses to JAPC are a collaborative process between leadership, legal and policy. We think it’s appropriate to give these objections the time and consideration that they’re due. We have 30 days to respond, and we’ll respond in good time,” Bax said.

But Rader was not mollified.

The committee has little, if any, power to penalize the agency.

But lawmakers do hold the purse strings for Bax’s agency. Last week, the House froze $2.1 million in salary and expenses for Bax’s agency, in reaction to the office’s refusal to respond to questions from the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee.

“You can defund them. We appropriate the money. That’s what we do. We don’t create the rules. We appropriate the money and we set the statutes,” Rader told reporters, indicating that there was little the committee could do after the legislative session ends next month. “It doesn’t seem right that after 30 days they can just ignore us and we leave here on March 9.”

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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4 Responses for “Lawmakers Level Withering Criticism Against State Agency Responsible For Medical Pot Rules”

  1. Brad says:

    They need to just legalize this much like many other states and drop all this nonsense with cards and doctors.

  2. Coyote says:

    Big friggin deal.

    What good does the “public shaming to Florida pot czar Christian Bax” do if he is STILL allowed to carry out his obstructionism without any penalty? Similar to what has been occurring in so many, many venues lately, we (the people) are finding out that the supposed laws, regulations, committees, oversight groups, et.al which are intended to make things work smoothly, in actuality have no teeth in their ability to have their judgments enforced when they are opposed, or even totally ignored.

    Just how many times does a person get to tell their boss to go ‘f(*^ off’ before they can be fired? In the real world, once is probably enough. In politics – seems like you can get away with not doing your job forever.

  3. Pogo says:

    @Coyote

    This situation isn’t because of “…In politics…” The reason for this nonsense is knowable and known; and has a name – tricky ricky:

    How Florida’s well-connected medical marijuana chief got his job …

    “TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s top medical marijuana regulator had little experience when he won a high-profile job that state officials refused to publicly advertise, but he had assets few could match: His father is a wealthy, wired Tallahassee insider and his sister works in Gov. Rick Scott’s office…”

    Full article
    https://www.politico.com/states/florida/story/2017/02/health-officials-never-advertised-top-medical-marijuana-regulator-job-109760

    How Governor Rick Scott Rigged Florida’s Medical Marijuana Program For Profiteers

    “…n 1997 Scott was forced to resign from HCA after a federal investigation found that he had overseen one of the largest Medicare frauds in United States history. Under Scott, the company billed Medicare for procedures, medications and visits that never happened. HCA settled for $1.7 billion and in the end was only forced to pay $840 million in fines. Scott resigned in disgrace and received a $300 million “golden parachute” on the way out. Taxpayers ate the difference.

    After HCA, Scott worked as a successful venture capitalist until 2010 when he spent $75 million of his own money to defeat Democratic opponent Alex Sink and become the governor of Florida. Now in his second term, Scott is no stranger to scandal, regularly using nepotism and back room business dealings to further promote his own personal financial interests.

    In the case of marijuana, Scott was a staunch opponent in 2014. That same year Scott narrowly won his bid for reelection against Charlie Crist 48-47. Also in 2014, Amendment 2, a more robust citizen led medical marijuana bill, failed to meet the 60 percent supermajority required for passage in Florida’s constitution by just three points. Amendment 2 was polling towards victory all year, until a $5 million donation to the opposition campaign by local billionaire Sheldon Adelson shortly before the election…”

    Full article
    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-governor-rick-scott-rigged-floridas-medical-marijuana_us_5806477be4b021af347762cd

  4. gmath55 says:

    Is the guy behind the senator Kevin Rader smoking a doobi (aka joint)?

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