Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2018
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2018 The Tribune Co.
Author: Justine Griffin, Times Staff Writer


Joe Redner, Tampa's outspoken strip club owner and lung cancer
patient, is confident he'll be able to legally grow his own marijuana
plants soon, after stating his case in trial before a state circuit
court judge on Wednesday.

Redner, 77, made his case against the Florida Department of Health in
a Tallahassee courtroom Wednesday on why he has a constitutional right
to grow his own marijuana plants. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen
Gievers is expected to rule on the case next week.

"We made our presentation and then the department had about 13 minutes
of gobbledygook," Redner said of the short trial during a phone
interview with the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday. "I feel confident that
the case is for us, not against us."

Redner, who owns the Mons Venus strip club in Tampa, is a registered
medical marijuana patient in Florida and uses cannabis products to
treat conditions related to his stage-four lung cancer. He filed the
lawsuit last summer, less than two weeks after lawmakers put in place
new laws governing the growing, manufacturing and selling of medical

The suit claims the state is not following the will of the public,
which voted overwhelmingly in 2016 for a constitutional amendment
legalizing medical marijuana.

In January, the same judge denied a motion by the Florida Department
of Health to dismiss Redner's case. The judge also denied Redner's
motion for an emergency temporary injunction, which would have allowed
him to grow marijuana plants during the court process, but described
Redner's plea in the case as "constitutional in nature," which allowed
it to move forward.

Under state Health Department rules, Floridians are barred from
growing cannabis for their personal use, including those who are
legally registered as medical marijuana patients. Redner's lawsuit
challenged those rules based on how the state Constitution, as amended
by voters, defines marijuana.

The suit claims that the definition includes "all parts of the plant."
Redner said he wants to grow his own plants because he says he has no
idea what he's getting from the state's licensed growers and

The Health Department argued in court Wednesday that Redner's case
could open the door to more challenges over the amendment's language,
if the judge rules in favor of him.

"What the plaintiff and this court are about to do, if you hold that
individual medical users have immunity to grow their own marijuana,
you may ultimately cause the entire medical marijuana constitutional
amendment to be nullified and stricken from the Florida Constitution,"
said Jason Gonzalez, an attorney with the Shutts & Bowen firm, who
represented the Department of Health during trial Wednesday. "I don't
think this is what you are intending to do, but it is what binding
Florida Supreme Court precedent provides."

Gonzalez said that the language of the ballot summary that Floridians
read when they voted on Amendment 2 could be used to spur future
lawsuits or throw out the amendment all together.

"The ballot summary never informed voters that they were voting to
allow individuals to produce or grow marijuana. The ballot summary
informed the voters that only registered and regulated 'centers' would
be given immunity for growing marijuana," he said. "This is
significant, if your final ruling is consistent with your prior ruling
that there is a Constitutional right for individuals to cultivate and
process marijuana."

Lawmakers have limited the selling and growing of marijuana to 13
companies. That number could grow based on demand and the number of
registered patients in the state. Currently, the licensed companies
can sell cannabis pills, oils, edibles and "vape" pens with a doctor's
approval, but the law bans smoking.

More than 70 percent of voters in 2016 approved Amendment 2, expanding
who can legally use medical marijuana in Florida from just the
terminally ill and some other patients with epilepsy and cancer, to
those with other debilitating conditions such as glaucoma, HIV/AIDS
and post traumatic stress disorder, among other conditions. Lawmakers
struggled with how to implement the expansion, which is expected to
become a $1 billion industry in Florida within the next three years.
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