TALLAHASSEE — For the second time in less than a week, a Tallahassee judge has given Tampa strip-club owner Joe Redner the go-ahead to grow his own pot, rejecting a request from state health officials to keep in place a stay blocking the cancer survivor from cultivating medical marijuana.
Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, ruling from the bench Tuesday, lifted an automatic stay that had been triggered last week when the Florida Department of Health appealed her decision allowing the 77-year-old Redner to grow his own cannabis for juicing.
Redner’s doctor ordered a juicing treatment that uses live marijuana plants to prevent a relapse of stage 4 lung cancer, according to court documents. Emulsification, or juicing, of the “biomass of the marijuana plant” was determined to be “the most effective way” for Redner, a longtime vegan, “to get the benefit of medical marijuana,” according to Gievers’ decision last week.
The decision applied only to Redner but could open the door for more legal skirmishes over the state’s medical-marijuana regulations and could signal how the judge will rule in a challenge to the state’s prohibition on smokable pot as a treatment.
In the Redner case Tuesday, a lawyer representing the Department of Health told Gievers the state would immediately ask the 1st District Court of Appeal to reverse her ruling that lifted the stay. The state also is asking the appeals court to overturn the judge’s decision last week allowing Redner to cultivate marijuana at home.
Redner’s lawsuit, filed last year, rests on a voter-approved constitutional amendment known as Amendment 2, which broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida in 2016.
Asking Gievers to lift the stay during a Tuesday morning hearing, Redner’s lawyer Luke Lirot told the judge that the fear of cancer returning is “terrifying” for Redner.
“Every day he misses (his treatment), we just can’t get that back,” Lirot said.
But Jason Gonzalez, a private lawyer representing the Department of Health, told Gievers she should keep the stay in place because maintaining the “status quo” wouldn’t harm Redner, who maintains that he isn’t currently using the juicing treatment.
In a motion filed Monday, the state’s lawyers warned that the harm to the state, if the stay were lifted, outweighed any negative consequences for Redner.
Allowing Redner to grow his own pot “opens the door for plaintiff and other qualified patients to grow medical marijuana unchecked from any state regulation,” the lawyers argued.
“The only way to prevent the proliferation of unregulated homegrown marijuana is to maintain the status quo” while the appeals court considers the case, the state’s lawyers wrote.
But Lirot argued that “maintaining the status quo is yet another day of irreparable harm that Mr. Redner will suffer by not having access to his medication.”
The health department’s contention “that somehow this is going to cause widespread panic throughout the state, I think would be inaccurate,” he told Gievers.
“The department will suffer nothing,” he said.