FL: Tampa's Joe Redner Wants To Grow His Own Cannabis Plants, Says Suit

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Ron Strider

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Tampa's outspoken strip club entrepreneur, Joe Redner, wants to grow his own marijuana plants.

So much so that he's filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health, which under current rules bars Floridians from growing cannabis plants for their personal use, even those who are legally registered as medical marijuana patients.

Redner, 77, is a registered patient in Florida and uses cannabis products to treat conditions related to his stage-four lung cancer. While he actively purchases cannabis oil products from local dispensaries, he says he wants the right to grow his own plants, according to the suit filed in Hillsborough County last week.

"This is a health issue as far as I'm concerned," said Redner, owner of the Mons Venus strip club in Tampa, during a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Monday. "I've used the constitution as grounds to battle arrests in the past and I've gotten those arrests thrown out. It's pretty clear to me that the constitution gives me the right to challenge this. The state is not reading the amendment, they're not going by what it says."

Amendment 2 overwhelmingly passed in 2016, expanding the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida from just the terminally ill to those with debilitating conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, among others.

Redner is suing for declaratory judgment and is not seeking any damages. He's been vocal about medical marijuana in the past, including at Hillsborough County commission meetings over where dispensaries can operate in Tampa. Redner's argument is based on how the constitution defines marijuana, according to the suit. He says that the definition includes "all parts of the plant" and therefore he has a right to grow one.

"I want to grow plants — plural. Twenty of them," he said. "I'm doing research right now and I want to be able to use it in juicing. To be effective enough, I need to grow 20 plants."

Redner wants to grow his own plants because he says he has no idea what's in the plants he's buying directly from the state's licensed growers and distributors.

"I don't know if they're using pesticides or doing what's good for the plant," he said. "I'm a raw vegan. I am very careful about what I put into my body. And the amendment gives me the right to that."

So he's challenging the state's department of health and the current rules set in place for patients.

The Florida Department of Health currently oversees the state's seven licensed companies that grow, manufacture and distribute medical marijuana, and sets the rules for patients in the state. The number of cannabis companies will grow to 17 this year, per last-minute legislation that came about during a special session in Tallahassee. It also allows patients to use cannabis pills, oils, edibles and "vape" pens with a doctor's approval but bans smoking. Redner says he plans to apply for a license, too.

Florida voters overwhelmingly voted to make medical marijuana legal, but legislators have struggled to come up with the rules to regulate the industry as it expands in the state. Medical marijuana is projected to become a $1 billion industry in Florida within the next three years.

Those within the burgeoning industry say Redner's lawsuit is likely to be one of many.

"I think the legislators for the most part did a good job given the oppositional context of passing legislation. But they also took liberties that were not afforded to them by the constitution," said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida For Care, an organization founded in 2014 to advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana under Amendment 2. "John Morgan has been threatening to file suit, and that's not an empty threat. I think you'll see lawsuits surrounding the policy positions and around the application process for becoming a licensed medical marijuana dispensing organization."

Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney, became a high profile advocate for medical marijuana in Florida after bankrolling two political campaigns to legalize it.

Pollara says that many other states have put provisions in place for patients who want to grow their own plants, and Florida is one of the few states that has not seriously considered it.

"It's not an extreme position. It's probably the single largest complaint that I've received over the last four and a half years doing this campaign. People want to know why Florida doesn't have a home grown provision," he said. "But it was never really seriously considered by the legislature."

Redner's lawyer, Amanda Derby, says litigation like this just comes with the territory.

"New legislation calls for new litigation, unfortunately and fortunately," Derby said in a phone interview. "I think the amendment is pretty clear on its face, but the way it's set up gives the Department of Health so much power. I think if more patients find that growing their own provides better treatment, you'll see more litigation in the future."

Who can get medical marijuana in Florida?

Existing state law lets terminally ill patients buy and use full-strength marijuana in the form of vapor oils, capsules and lotions. Certain other patients, including children with cancer and severe epilepsy, use low-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) cannabis. While lawmakers and health officials write new marijuana laws that must go into effect this summer, the Florida Department of Health has left it up to doctors to decide whether they will also recommend cannabis to qualified patients diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition listed in Amendment 2, like Lou Gehrig's disease, cancer, epilepsy, Crohn's disease, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease or PTSD.

How to get it?

Patients must receive a "recommendation" from a certified doctor in Florida who has been treating them for at least three months. Then patients can visit one of the seven licensed companies in the state to purchase a variety of marijuana products. The Department of Health requires patients to pay for and have a state identification card. Medical insurance policies don't cover the cost of medical marijuana products, and customers could pay from $30 to $250 on average a month. Most companies offer delivery services.

What can I get from a store or delivery service?

Medical marijuana products are offered in two forms in Florida: a low-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) product, which has less of the chemical that causes a euphoric high, and a CBD (cannabidiol) cannabis oil. Products come in the form of tincture oils, oral sprays and vaporizer cartridges that are used in an e-cigarette or vapor pen. Buying "flower," or the bud of the plant sold in states where people can smoke it recreationally, is not currently legal in Florida. Nor are edible cannabis products.

What will change under the new law?

Patients can access the drug if they have chronic pain but only if that pain is connected to another qualifying medical condition. Ten new growers will get a license to open dispensaries, but as many as eight have been held for specific groups: Five for previous applicants to the existing, limited cannabis program, one for a member of the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association and two for citrus processing companies, which will get priority, not a guaranteed license. Cities and counties can ban dispensaries, but they are not allowed to block delivery of cannabis or limit where pot shops can open more strictly than they do pharmacies.

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Full Article: Tampa's Joe Redner wants to grow his own cannabis plants, says suit | Tampa Bay Times
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