An appeals court in Florida refused the state’s request to review a decision that could break up the current vertically integrated medical marijuana model.

Last month the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee ruled that Florida’s decision to cap the number of licenses is unconstitutional. It followed Tampa-based company Florigrown’s decision to sue the state after failing to gain a license.

Florigrown chief executive Adam Elend called the current situation “an oligopoly” and argued it leads to supply shortages and high prices, which have a negative impact upon patients in Florida. The court ruled in his favour, but Gov. Ron DeSanctis’ administration asked it to rehear the case.

Five judges at the appellate court recused themselves, and the remaining judges were split 4-4. Instead they decided to send the case to the Florida Supreme Court, which will be tasked with deciding whether or not the vertical integration framework flouts the constitutional amendment that legalized medical cannabis in the Sunshine State.

In July, the court decided that the system does conflict with the amendment, upholding a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling. Now the top court in the state will have the final say.

Sen. Jeff Brandes has previously called vertical integration a “cartel” that needed to be broken up. Six leading companies control more than 80% of Florida’s 155 dispensaries: Trulieve has 31, Surterra has 28, Curaleaf has 25, Liberty Health Sciences has 16, Fluent has 14, and VidaCann has 12.

Companies like Trulieve grow, process, and sell cannabis flower and derivatives to patients through their dispensaries, controlling the entire supply chain. Smaller players, some politicians, and patient groups want to see a more open and competitive market in Florida.

The state’s Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Nikki Fried, hailed the July ruling as “a victory for openness and the future of medical marijuana in Florida”. Yet the current uncertainty makes the market unstable and leaves companies in limbo, so they will hope the Supreme Court hears this case quickly.

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