m.d.m.j.

Money for Nothing

Medical marijuana roll out seriously short of funds ... perhaps by design?

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It borders on the axiomatic to say that when government agencies are underperforming, the standard solution is to throw more money at it. Even though that almost never works, it’s Tradition, so what can you do, really? This is true in all areas of the bureaucracy, and even the newest additions have followed suit. The state’s embattled Office of Medical Marijuana Use was only given $935,000 in the most recent state budget; that is just enough to exist, without actually doing anything, which some cynics might say has been the plan all along. But that number is low, say officials—way low. Like, $13.29 million low.

Are they serious? Oh yes. According to an article in the Panama News-Herald, the office is expecting costs to exceed $14 million in this fiscal year, necessitating an emergency appropriation to cover about 90 percent of that. The key point is that more than half the requested amount—$7.34 million—will be spent just to process applications for dispensary licenses. “The licenses are highly coveted,” goes the story, “and the department estimates it will receive up to 400 applications for the additional licenses. The information provided to the legislative budget commission says it will cost $18,354 to review each application.” This is a crazy number, and it’s remarkable that it was presented with little explanation, and nary a snicker to be had.

They also want $3.4 million for a “seed-to-sale” system of computerized product tracking, as well as “24-hour access to data from medical marijuana treatment centers and laboratories,” according to the article. Another $1.67 million will be spent contracting a vendor to issue the actual medical cards, and a full tenth of the proposed budget will be set aside to cover legal costs, which makes perfect sense in the current political climate.

The request was granted at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission on July 19, but not without some controversy. “Most if not all of the costs that are outlined in this request have been known or anticipated for quite a while,” said Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz. “Why are we using a process that essentially is meant for fixing mistakes... to fund the implementation of a constitutional amendment that 71 percent of Florida voters approved almost two years ago?” The clear implication is that the governor deliberately underfunded the office so as to impede the progress made in implementing Amendment 2.

Initially, $5.6 million was dispensed, while the remaining $7.7 million will remain in reserve until the Department of Health can convince legislators that the money is actually needed. And I have no doubt whatsoever that they will find a way to do just that. After all, nature abhors a vacuum, and public officials feel the same way about their unused funds.

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