Saturday, September 22, 2018
Business

Tampa's Joe Redner wants to grow his own cannabis plants, says suit

Count Joe Redner, Tampa's outspoken strip club entrepreneur and a lung cancer patient, among the first to challenge the state's medical marijuana laws in court.

Less than two weeks after lawmakers put in place new laws governing growing, manufacturing and selling medical marijuana, Redner's lawsuit claims the state is not following the will of the public, which voted overwhelmingly last year to legalize it by passing a constitutional amendment.

Specifically, Redner wants to grow his own marijuana plants. But under Florida Department of Health rules, Floridians are barred from growing cannabis plants for their personal use, including those who are legally registered as medical marijuana patients. Redner's lawsuit is challenging those rules.

Those in Florida's expanding medical marijuana industry say Redner could be one of many to challenge the state's laws on pot.

Lawmakers have limited the selling and growing of marijuana to seven companies. The number will grow to 17 this year, based on last-minute legislation that came about during a special session in Tallahassee earlier this month.

Previous Coverage: Meet Florida's legal drug cartels

That legislation also allows patients to use cannabis pills, oils, edibles and "vape" pens with a doctor's approval but bans smoking.

Redner's lawsuit is based on how the state constitution amended by voters defines marijuana. He suits claims that the definition includes "all parts of the plant."

Under the current rules, he said the dispensaries are left to decide what parts of the plant to use in its products. He 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 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."

Department of Health officials declined comment, citing the litigation.

Redner, 77, the owner of the Mons Venus strip club, is a registered medical marijuana patient in Florida and uses cannabis products to treat conditions related to his stage-four lung cancer. He also battled brain cancer in the past.

SUE CARLTON: A Joe Redner you might not know

"I want to grow plants — plural. Twenty of them," he said in an interview. "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."

His lawsuit is seeking declaratory judgement on the merits of his claim and is not seeking any damages. He has been vocal about medical marijuana in the past, including speaking out against rules proposed by the Hillsborough County Commission to limit where dispensaries can operate.

More than 70 percent of voters in 2016 approved Amendment 2, expanding the legalization of 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 others. Lawmakers struggled with how to implement the expansion, which is result in a $1 billion industry in Florida within the next three years.

The Department of Health currently oversees the state's seven current operators. Redner says he plans to apply for a dispensary license as well.

Those within the burgeoning industry say Redner's lawsuit will hardly be the last.

"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. "I think you'll see lawsuits surrounding the policy positions and around the application process for becoming a licensed medical marijuana dispensing organization."

John Morgan, the high-profile Orlando trial attorney who bankrolled two Florida political campaigns to legalize it, also has threatened to sue over the ban on smokeable forms.

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," he said. "It's probably the single largest complaint that I've received over the last four and a half years doing this campaign."

Through the years, Floridians arrested for marijuana possession have argued in court with varying degrees of success that they were using the drug out of "medical necessity" to treat an illness. Jesse Teplicki won an acquittal in a Broward County court in 2015 after he was caught growing marijuana plants in his home that he said he used to treat his anorexia and nausea.

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. "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."

Redner, a frequent but so far unsuccessful candidate for political office, is no stranger to the Florida court system. He once famously claimed he was gay in a 2005 federal lawsuit to challenge a ban on public recognition of gay pride events passed by Hillsborough commissioners.

"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," Redner said on Monday. "This is a health issue as far as I'm concerned."

Times Staff Writer Michael Auslen contributed to this report. Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

Comments
Joe and Son's Olive Oils, a legacy Ybor business, finds new roots in Carrollwood

Joe and Son's Olive Oils, a legacy Ybor business, finds new roots in Carrollwood

Andrea Gebbia grew up in Carrollwood, and now she is bringing the family business to the neighborhood of her youth.In late fall, Joe and Son’s Olive Oils is slated to open a second location."I feel so blessed having the ability to grow my...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Tampa General nurses record the last heartbeats of dying patients, making a family memory

Tampa General nurses record the last heartbeats of dying patients, making a family memory

TAMPA — As John Reisinger waited with family at Tampa General Hospital, grief settled in like a fog. So some of the details are hazy.But he remembers the moment when three women in white lab coats approached him.The day before, his niece, Jessica Rau...
Published: 09/21/18
Retro Fitness sets first of several area locations in Citrus Park

Retro Fitness sets first of several area locations in Citrus Park

In early fall, Retro Fitness will open a 17,000 square foot fitness facility in Citrus Park, and it plans for more Tampa Bay area locations.Founded in 2005, Retro Fitness has 153 clubs throughout the United States and is the official fitness center o...
Published: 09/21/18
The guys who brought you Tampa’s Armature Works plan high-end offices next door, and they’ve already signed a lease with med-tech company AxoGen

The guys who brought you Tampa’s Armature Works plan high-end offices next door, and they’ve already signed a lease with med-tech company AxoGen

TAMPA — Coming soon from the developers who brought you the Armature Works: Heights Union, two high-end office buildings next door to the trendy food hall, event space and co-working complex overlooking the Hillsborough River.Developers said Friday t...
Published: 09/21/18
Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea looks to succeed where others failed

Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea looks to succeed where others failed

RIVEVIEW – Amy Lin knows that her newest Chi Chop + Kung Fu Tea store is in a location where previous businesses have not lasted.The short-lived Tap’s Brewhouse & Deli and even shorter-lived Top Shelf Sports Bar and Grill tried to r...
Published: 09/21/18
Walmart is teaming with a Seminole Heights chef to promote locally grown mushrooms

Walmart is teaming with a Seminole Heights chef to promote locally grown mushrooms

TAMPA — It might seem like an unlikely match from the outside: A distinguished chef with a restaurant known for inventive plates using produce shoppers can find at… Walmart?Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, is known for having a core consumer wh...
Published: 09/21/18
Federal loans open to Pinellas businesses struggling against Red Tide

Federal loans open to Pinellas businesses struggling against Red Tide

The U.S. Small Business Administration has extended its disaster loan program to include Pinellas and Pasco county businesses affected by Red Tide.Already, the Pinellas County Economic Development Office was taking applications for bridge loans to he...
Published: 09/21/18
Watch: A southern white rhinoceros calf just a week after being born at ZooTampa

Watch: A southern white rhinoceros calf just a week after being born at ZooTampa

TAMPA — A southern white rhinoceros gave birth to a calf at ZooTampa on Sept. 12, marking the sixth successful birth of the species in the zoo's history. In a news release, ZooTampa said southern white rhinoceroses are a nearly threatened spec...
Published: 09/21/18
Baggers, cashiers soon can grow beards at Publix

Baggers, cashiers soon can grow beards at Publix

ORLANDO — The faces of baggers, cashiers and stockers at a Florida-based grocery chain may look slightly different in the near future.That's because Publix said Friday that it would start allowing workers to grow beards and other facial hair b...
Published: 09/21/18
They spent $15,000 adding a driveway to their St. Pete House. Now the city says they can’t park on it

They spent $15,000 adding a driveway to their St. Pete House. Now the city says they can’t park on it

ST. PETERSBURG — One day in January, Dana Cremo was on her front porch hanging a vintage screen door when two city employees walked up. "You can’t park on your driveway," they said. "Why?" she asked. "Because somebody filed a complaint," they said. F...
Published: 09/21/18