Florida officials have suffered a setback in their bid to enforce tighter restrictions on the state’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry in a landmark court case.

The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled that Florida’s decision to cap the number of licenses is unconstitutional. It came after a Tampa-based company called Florigrown sued the state following its failure to gain a license.

The court ruled in its favour and the decision should pave the way for Florida to reach its full potential as one of the largest medical cannabis markets in the U.S. It upheld a 2018 ruling and it represents a shot in the arm for other firms bidding to enter this potentially lucrative industry in Florida.

The state could still appeal the decision and take the fight to a higher court, but the case was filed during the Rick Scott administration and the new governor, Ron DeSantis, has been reluctant to uphold Scott’s medical marijuana policies.

Florigrown chief executive Adam Elend called it “a game changer”. “It drops a bomb on the current licensing scheme,” he said. “It’s just changing the whole regime.”

He claims that Floridians are unable to access the medicine they need as dispensaries are frequently out of stock, products are limited and the prices are too high, branding the current situation “an oligopoly”.

Sen. Jeff Brandes has previously called vertical integration a “cartel” that needed to be broken up. He claims it is ripe for abuse and he was also pleased by the court’s decision.

In 2016, 71% of Floridians voted for medical marijuana to be legalized and there are now 240,000 people registered with the state to legally use medicinal marijuana. The industry in the Sunshine State could be huge, as it has an above-average number of retirees and there is a clear clinical need for medical cannabis to alleviate their various medical conditions.

Just 142 dispensaries owned by fewer than 10 operators serve them through vertically integrated models, and various forces within the state want to see a far more open and competitive market.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried hailed the ruling as “a victory for openness and the future of medical marijuana in Florida”.

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