Christian Bax, head of Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, is stepping down from his post after three years of service.
Bax has been at the helm of the office since the first cannabis products in the state went on the shelves. As such, he was a constant target of disputes clouding the state’s budding yet intensely competitive medical marijuana market, as well as of ire amid legislative delays.
In his resignation letter, addressed to Department of Health Chief of Staff Cindy Dick, Bax wrote that he will be leaving by August 10.
Bax is leaving the medical marijuana office just as state officials are preparing to deal with a barrage of applications for the sought-after cannabis licenses. His deputy director, Courtney Coppola, will be taking over as new head.
Problematic cannabis industry?
In Florida, medical cannabis has been beset with controversy since lawmakers legalized medical cannabis in 2014. Additionally, the state medical cannabis industry’s rollout had faced a series of delays due to legal and regulatory challenges. Needless to say, Bax and his office had been at the receiving end of the blame for all these.
Patients, for instance, had complained about the long processing time for medical cannabis ID cards and licenses.
Bax also came under fire for failing to meet a mandated deadline last year to award five new medical cannabis licenses. He blamed this delay on Hurricane Irma, as well as on a pending legal challenge to a 2017 law requiring health officials to increase the number of medical cannabis licenses.
Bax’s resignation is met with mixed reactions.
Cannabis advocate and Orlando-based trial lawyer John Morgan, for one, expressed pleasure over the news. In fact, he has given the harshest comment, saying that Bax was “so inept” that “anyone would be better and more capable.” He also added that Bax’s departure would be a great day for the sick and the injured in Florida.
It can be recalled that Morgan sued the state after the Legislature included a ban on smokable cannabis last year. He filed his lawsuit on behalf of medical cannabis patients. A circuit judge ruled in Morgan’s favor, but the state appealed the order.
Ben Pollara, who worked with the political committee that was behind Amendment 2 — the constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical cannabis in 2016 — also stated that “it is a shame” that Bax’s resignation has “taken this long.” Pollara also heads Florida for Care, the non-profit group that advocates for the medical cannabis industry and the patients.
Pollara recalled that Bax’s tenure had been marked by repeated failures to meet patients’ needs and expressed hope that the new head will learn from previous mistakes and act fast to get the state’s medical cannabis program fully functional.
Meanwhile, there were those who maintained that the hiccups experienced by the cannabis industry were expected as it struggled to create a clear blueprint.
Jeff Sharkey, a lobbyist representing licensed medical cannabis operators and business owners, stated that Bax had been under a lot of pressure in managing the rapidly growing medical cannabis industry, together with its politics and health care concerns.
Bax’s predecessor, Patty Nelson, also came to his defense, saying that heading the office is a hard job and that it also sometimes feels impossible. He also explained that having to face critics from all directions could make the job difficult to navigate.