TALLAHASSEE — Accusing Florida health officials of a “colossal blunder” that created a “dumpster fire,” an administrative law judge recommended that the state grant a highly sought-after medical marijuana license to a South Florida nursery.
Judge John Van Laningham’s recommended order scalded the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use for using a flawed system to decide which applicants should receive the coveted licenses.
Friday’s lengthy order in favor of Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami, Inc. accompanied a separate order in which Van Laningham scrapped an emergency rule crafted by the Florida Department of Health following the passage of a 2017 law aimed at implementing a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.
Van Laningham’s decisions echoed and expanded on his previous fault-finding about an application-scoring process and are the latest in what has evolved into a power struggle between health officials and the administrative law judge over medical marijuana.
Last year, lawyers representing the health department made a rare — and futile — attempt at trying to get Van Laningham removed from a separate marijuana case.
Van Laningham’s 116-page decision Friday about Nature’s Way was rooted in the 2017 law and the health department’s original process to grant five licenses after the Legislature legalized non-euphoric medical marijuana in 2014.
Under the new law, approved during a special legislative session last summer, health officials were required to issue licenses to applicants who had legal challenges pending as of January 2017 or who had scored within one point of the highest-ranked applicants in five regions.
Health officials said Nature’s Way was ineligible for a license because its aggregate score of 2.8833 was not within one point of the 4.4 received by Costa Farms, which was granted a license for the Southeast region in 2015.
But as he did previously, Van Laningham found