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Florida Judge Rules 20X Increase In Licensing Renewal Fees Is Justified

Florida has had a medical marijuana program that has been in place for six years, providing patients with qualifying conditions access to much-needed relief. However, recent developments have caused a stir in the industry, particularly regarding the steep increase in licensing renewal fees.

In a ruling by an administrative judge, the biennial fee for MMJ companies in Florida was raised from $60,000 to a staggering $1.3 million – over 20 times the previous amount. This significant increase has sparked controversy and raised questions about the reasoning behind such a drastic change.

As mentioned in the introduction, the previous biennial fee for MMJ companies in Florida was $60,000. This amount had been in place since the program’s launch six years ago. However, Governor Ron DeSantis made a call for steep fee increases last year, citing the need to charge licensees and applicants “an arm and a leg.” This statement alone raises questions about the fairness of such a significant increase.

In response to this fee hike, Sanctuary Cannabis, a vertically integrated operator with multiple dispensaries in the state, filed a petition for an administrative hearing as reported by Orlando Weekly. They argued that the increase was “arbitrary and capricious” and beyond what could be considered reasonable or justifiable. This brings into question the agency’s true intentions behind this drastic change.

Ruling by Administrative Judge

After hearing arguments from both sides, administrative judge William Horgan ruled in favor of the fee increase. He stated that it was “consistent with legislative mandate” and reflected the agency’s need for funding to regulate the growing program. This may seem like a fair justification, but upon further examination, there are indications that this increase is not entirely necessary.

“When given the legislative directive to adopt rules establishing ‘initial (MMTC) application and biennial renewal fees sufficient to cover the costs of implementing and administering this section,’ it is not arbitrary or capricious to publish” a rule “which does exactly that, and nothing more or less,” he wrote.

The administrative hearing requested by Sanctuary Cannabis was a result of the health department’s budget request for the 2024-25 fiscal year. This request included details of the agency’s revenue, which showed that they collected $14.9 million in application and renewal fees for licenses during the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Additionally, they collected nearly $65 million from patients and caregivers during that same period.

Furthermore, the health department’s budget request for the 2024-2025 fiscal year also projected surpluses of nearly $4 million this year and $61 million in 2024-2025. These surpluses indicate that the agency has more than enough funding to regulate the program without such a drastic increase in licensing renewal fees.

It is understandable for a regulatory agency to require funding to effectively oversee and manage a program. However, the surplus budget reported by the health department raises red flags about the true intentions behind this fee increase. With millions of dollars collected from application and renewal fees as well as taxes from patients and caregivers, one has to question why there is still a need for such a significant hike.

The agency’s justification for the fee increase seems to be a mere excuse for a money grab. This is further evidenced by the fact that Governor DeSantis himself had called for steep fee increases, making it seem like this was planned all along. It begs the question of why MMJ companies and patients must bear the burden of extra costs when the agency already has a surplus budget.

At the end of the day, this fee increase will ultimately hurt medical patients in Florida. It will likely result in increased taxes or costs for obtaining their necessary medicine. This is not a fair or justifiable action, and it only serves to benefit the agency’s bottom line rather than truly supporting the program’s regulation and improvement. The decision by administrative judge William Horgan may have been based on the agency’s budget request and legislative mandate, but it ultimately fails to consider the impact on those who rely on medical marijuana for their well-being.

Overall, the increase in licensing renewal fees seems like a money grab and not a necessary measure for the program’s success. It is important to continue questioning and scrutinizing such decisions to ensure fairness for all involved, especially the patients in need of medical marijuana. So let us hope for a fair and just resolution to this issue, one that does not further burden those who are already facing medical challenges.

We must strive for a system that prioritizes the well-being of its citizens rather than solely focusing on financial gain. Only then can we truly say we are working towards providing accessible and affordable healthcare for all. So let’s keep the conversation going and advocate for fair and reasonable measures to regulate the medical marijuana program in Florida. Because at the end of the day, it is about helping those who need it most.

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