Embattled Florida Medical Marijuana Chief Resigns

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida medical cannabis director Christian Bax, who has been a frequent target of lawmakers and patients over delays in the program, is stepping down.

The Department of Health said on Friday that Bax’s resignation takes effect on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. Deputy Director Courtney Coppola has been named the interim director.

Bax had led the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) since it was created in 2015. He wrote in his resignation letter that “it has been an incredible honor to have served the Department and the State of Florida in the task of building something entirely new in the state.”

During his three-year tenure, Bax’s leadership has been beset by legal challenges mostly related to the process of awarding licenses for medical cannabis growers and distributors. The office is also involved in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of patients being able to smoke medical marijuana.

Orlando attorney John Morgan, who spearheaded the passing of the state’s constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana in 2016, has been the most vocal of Bax’s critics. On Friday he said he hoped that there would be some improvement immediately since “it is hard to do worse than zero.”

“This guy was so terrible for sick and injured people that anyone would be better suited. I feel like his actions were intentional,” Morgan said.

Bax has frequently drawn the ire of state lawmakers and patients over delays in the program, ranging from licensing to delays in patients being able to receive identification cards so they could receive cannabis.

There is a provision in the current state budget that withholds nearly $2 million in salaries until the department can fully implement medical cannabis.

The state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee added $13.3 million to the OMMU’s budget to help with litigation costs, review applications for new licenses and implement a new seed-to-sale tracking system.

According to the Department of Health’s weekly updates, the state registry is adding nearly 3,000 new patients per week. On Friday, July 27, 2018, the state listed 107,127 qualified patients.

“The bipartisan frustration with the slow implementation of this law has been well documented. Last week, Ms. Coppola gave the Legislature a plan to finish implementation of the law,” Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley said in a text message. “Now that she is in charge, our expectation is for her to execute her plan and finish the job.”

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