Health Care

Judges consider Tampa patient’s right to grow medical marijuana at home

Joe Redner, a 77-year-old Tampa strip club owner and medical marijuana patient, appeared in court Tuesday for oral arguments in his case to grow his own medical marijuana.
Joe Redner, a 77-year-old Tampa strip club owner and medical marijuana patient, appeared in court Tuesday for oral arguments in his case to grow his own medical marijuana. sgross@miamiherald.com

What does it mean to use marijuana for medical purposes?

The state and a strip club owner don’t seem to agree.

Joe Redner, a 77-year-old Tampa strip club owner and medical marijuana patient, appeared before the First District Court of Appeal on Tuesday for oral arguments in his case to grow his own medical marijuana.

His attorneys point out the definition of medical use of marijuana under the statute, which says qualifying patients or caregivers are not subject to criminal or civil sanctions.

The Florida Department of Health says that pulling out the definition is unfair, and that judges should consider the portion of the law that bars patients or caregivers from cultivating marijuana or purchasing marijuana from any person or entity other than a medical marijuana treatment center.

Judge Karen Gievers ruled last April that Redner could grow his own medical marijuana but can’t share the plants or the juice with anyone else. She also judged that the Department of Health had violated its constitutional duties.

Gov. DeSantis announced that he tasked the Legislature with changing the law to allow smoking medical marijuana. If it doesn’t by mid-March, he’ll drop the state’s appeal of a court decision that says banning it violates a constitutional amendment.

The department appealed the decision almost immediately, saying Redner’s request would disturb the status quo, since Florida law has never permitted anyone other than medical marijuana treatment center license holders to grow marijuana.

They contend that if Redner can possess and grow whole cannabis plants, it would “open the floodgates to private medical marijuana farms.” They also argue that the constitutional amendment only gives licensed medical marijuana treatment centers the right to grow, process and sell marijuana.

“They’re taking one definition and pulling it out, reading it in isolation, to turn Amendment 2 on its head and ignore the rest of it,” said Jason Gonzalez, attorney for the state. “Gievers never once addressed the medical marijuana treatment center definition. She didn’t cite it or refer it.”

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In 2016, about 71 percent of Floridians who voted were in favor of a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. The 2017 bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott legalized access to the drug in pill, oil, edible and vape form, and gives licensed medical marijuana treatment centers full control over growing, processing and distributing of the drug.

Redner’s doctor — Barry Gordon of Venice — recommends that Redner drink eight ounces of juiced medical marijuana per day, according to court documents. Gordon, who operates the largest medical cannabis clinic in the state, says drinking the juice is the best way for Redner, a raw vegan in remission from stage-4 lung cancer, to get the benefit of the whole marijuana plant.

Raw marijuana juice is not offered at certified medical marijuana treatment centers.

Redner says that growing cannabis at home ensures quality and freshness, especially when the juice is extracted directly from his garden. He says toxic chemicals and genetic modification used by corporations place a harmful burden on his immune system. Raw vegans practice daily purification through their food choices.

Redner’s attorney, Luke Lirot, argues that because his client and others are banned from growing their own marijuana, chronically ill people are being denied medicine in the form they need it.

“The plain language gives the patient the right to possess a growing plant,” Lirot said. “You have to look at every word in the amendment and give it meaning.”

Redner, who paced in and out of the courtroom during the arguments, said he hopes the judge rules in their favor.

“All this is just crazy,” he said. “Give the people what they voted for. “

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.
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