Florida lawmakers made a sound decision earlier this year when they legalized Charlotte's Web for the treatment of children with epileptic seizures. Now state regulators setting rules for who can grow and distribute the drug should establish a free-market competition rather than a lottery for businesses that meet the law's minimum qualifications for growers. Patients and parents of children who will use the drug should be able to do business with companies that will produce the safest, most efficacious products on the market — not simply the grower whose name is pulled out of a hat.
Lawmakers approved Charlotte's Web and Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law after months of lobbying by the parents of sick children who said the drug eased pain where traditional medicine had failed. The drug is a noneuphoric strain of marijuana that is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It contains high amounts of cannabidiol, an ingredient known for treating seizures, cancer and Lou Gehrig's disease. The strain was developed in Colorado and named after a 7-year-old girl who had 300 epileptic seizures a day until she found relief using Charlotte's Web. Advocates say more than 125,000 children in Florida could be helped by Charlotte's Web.
In Florida, lawmakers placed significant restrictions on the drug's composition and on how it will be grown and distributed. The law calls for the creation of five dispensaries around the state. Growers must have been in business for 30 continuous years, pay for a $150,000 license and post a $5 million performance bond. Proposed rules from the Department of Health create five regions for the drug's distribution. If there is more than one applicant for a region, the department proposes a public lottery "to determine the order in which applications are considered." Companies chosen in the lottery will have 120 days to begin dispensing the products or lose their license.
The health department's lottery proposal is a wrongheaded move that leaves the important selection of growers and distributors of noneuphoric marijuana up to chance. Setting up a lottery may ultimately discourage qualified companies from participating in the selection process. If that happens, sick children and adults who are counting on robust, trustworthy medicine stand to lose the most. Just as in any free market, all qualified growers that meet the law's minimum standards should be able to compete for dispensaries. Regulators should make the time to thoroughly investigate each application and choose the best growers on their merits and potential.
Entrepreneurs around the country are already jockeying to secure a piece of what they see as the state's lucrative medical marijuana business. Many are complaining about the strict rules surrounding Charlotte's Web, particularly the requirement that growers have a continuous 30-year operations record. The state is right to hold the reins close during such an important product rollout, which if handled improperly could lead to abuse and mismanagement. But the licenses for growers should be awarded on merit, not chance.