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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — As lawmakers weigh changes to the state’s medical-marijuana laws, the Florida Department of Health has appealed a circuit judge’s ruling that struck down a limit on the number of dispensaries that marijuana businesses can operate.

Attorneys for the Department of Health filed a notice late Friday that said they were challenging a Feb. 1 ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers. As is common, the notice of taking the case to the 1st District Court of Appeal did not detail the department’s arguments.

Gievers sided in the case with the medical-marijuana firm Trulieve, finding that the limit on dispensaries violated a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. Lawmakers included the limit in a 2017 law that was designed to carry out the constitutional amendment.

The 2017 law, in part, limited the number of licenses for marijuana operators and set an initial cap of 25 dispensaries for each operator. The cap, which gradually increases as the number of eligible patients in a statewide database increases and is now at 30, is slated to end in 2020.

“The evidence clearly and conclusively establishes beyond any doubt that conveniently located medical marijuana dispensaries (as opposed to vehicle delivery, the only allowed alternative means of dispensing) promote authorized users’ improved access to medical marijuana products and related information and services, at lower cost, and promote public safety (the stated goals for regulation in the amendment),” Gievers wrote.

The 2017 law has spawned a series of lawsuits, including another case at the 1st District Court of Appeal that challenges a ban on smoking medical marijuana. Gievers found that the smoking ban violated the 2016 constitutional amendment, prompting the Department of Health to appeal.

After taking office last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded that lawmakers eliminate the smoking ban and threatened to drop the appeal if they do not act. The Senate Rules Committee is slated Wednesday to take up a bill (SB 182) that would address the smoking ban, while the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider a House version (HB 7015) on Thursday.

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Friday during an interview with The News Service of Florida that concern about the constitutionality of the smoking ban is the “paramount” medical-marijuana issue for DeSantis.

With the annual legislative session starting March 5, it is less clear whether lawmakers will make other regulatory changes.

“As we came out of the gate, we wanted to be very, very conservative, if you will, in terms of how the delivery system was set up,” Galvano said. “What I have seen since day one is myriad problems, including with the way the DOH (Department of Health) has conducted its rulemaking. I do think it would be a worthy exercise to revisit it and to make sure it’s meaningful and that proper access is being achieved. I’m not convinced that our current system does that.”

(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)

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