Petition Challenges Ron DeSantis’s ‘Exponential’ MMJ License Fee Hike in Florida

November 7, 2023 · High Times

Florida medical cannabis companies have to pay over 22 times the amount to renew their licenses this year—over $1 million dollars—but one company is challenging the unrealistic price hike before it topples the state’s medical cannabis system as we know it.

Sanctuary Cannabis, a medical cannabis company that’s due for a license renewal in January, is arguing that their new $1.33 million price tag for a license is unjustified. The company filed  a petition Oct. 26 against the license renewal fee hike at the state Division of Administrative Hearings.

The company provides unit-dosed products that are independently tested for purity, and the company’s mission is being tested. “We’ve created a space driven by knowledge and compassion, filled with premium, pharmaceutical-grade products, and a professional staff that prioritizes your well-being,” the company website reads.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R – Florida) said he’d raise the license fees last year, High Times reported, and the “exponential increase” of the amount took effect last December. Florida officials “should charge these people more,” DeSantis said in August 2022. “I mean, these are very valuable licenses. I would charge them an arm and a leg. I mean, everybody wants these licenses.” The exorbitant hike went into effect last December.

Tampa Bay Times reports that Florida’s Department of Health adopted a rule last December that instituted a formula that set the license-renewal fee for medical cannabis operators sky high, $1.33 million every two years, which is more than 22 times the $60,000 biennial fee operators were paying when the program started six years ago.

The formula is based on the number of licensed operators and the estimated cost to regulate the medical cannabis program. Forget the tens of millions of dollars that the agency already collects from patients and caregivers who pay $75 per year for medical cannabis cards.

Follow the Money

The lawsuit followed a budget request that revealed the Department of Health collected a total of about $84 million during the 2022-2023 fiscal year—$14.9 million in application and renewal fees for licenses and nearly $65 million from medical cannabis patients and caregivers. The Department also anticipates collecting about the same amount this year and projects receiving $114 million in 2024-2025.

“The petitioners (Sanctuary) take no issue with the department running a surplus or otherwise receiving any fee, fine, or cost that is necessary to support its operation. However, in light of the department’s own income and projections, the department cannot reasonably assert that this exponential renewal fee increase is necessary to keep its operations afloat,” attorneys Will Hall and Daniel Russell of the Dean Mead firm wrote in the Oct. 26 petition.

The biennial $1,332,124.42 fee, the petition argues, “imposes inappropriately high regulatory costs” on operators, “rendering the challenged rules invalid.” 

Do they really need the money? The Department of Health also reported a $16.3 million surplus during the 2022-2023 fiscal year and projected more surpluses of nearly $4 million this year and $61 million in 2024-2025.

Raising the renewal-fee amount “without accounting for significant and undisputed streams of fee revenue is wholly without logic or reason,” Sanctuary’s lawyers argued.

Cannabis operators in nearly all states already struggle daily, as cannabis remains illegal under federal law. The current conundrum creates banking hurdles, forcing most companies to pay higher income taxes.

Ron DeSantis and Cannabis in Florida

Voters in Florida passed a constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis in 2016, but regulations that ban smokable cannabis were passed by the legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Rick Scott.

If it’s adult-use cannabis you want, it’s not on the Ron DeSantis campaign agenda.

Ron DeSantis said he would not legalize adult-use cannabis if elected president, confirming what he said in June, and warned about the danger of fentanyl-laced pot at the Never Back Down Super PAC in Iowa. 

“Yeah, I would not legalize,” DeSantis said at Never Back Down. “I think what’s happened is this stuff is very potent now. I think it’s a real, real problem and I think it’s a lot different than stuff that people were using 30 or 40 years ago. And I think when kids get on that, I think it causes a lot of problems. And then, of course, you know, they can throw fentanyl in any of this stuff now.”

It would take an act of Congress to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, yet the president would wield a lot of power in that process, i.e. have the ability to veto legislation to do so.

Florida Politics reports that the presidential hopeful is gearing up for the 2024 presidential election, and taking a harder stance against adult-use cannabis. (Full Story)

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