TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) -- Trulieve, Florida's largest medical marijuana business, is asking a Tallahassee judge to strike down a state law that limits the number of dispensaries marijuana companies can operate, saying the restriction "arbitrarily impairs product availability and safety" and "unfairly penalizes" pot providers.
Gadsden County-based Trulieve is challenging the 25-dispensary limit established by state lawmakers last year, arguing the cap is two fewer than the company had applied for before the limit went into effect.
The complaint, filed in Leon County circuit court Tuesday, alleges the limit on the number of dispensaries is intended in part to temporarily suppress competition among pot operators, called "medical marijuana treatment centers."
The cap on dispensaries was included in a law, passed during a special session last year, intended to implement a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida.
The lawsuit alleges that the dispensary restrictions violate the constitutional amendment "by arbitrarily and unreasonably depriving Trulieve of property or liberty rights without substantive due process." The company wants a judge to make Trulieve exempt from the 2017 restrictions.
"The right to compete statewide without restriction was an essential part of Trulieve's business plan and a significant incentive to enter this novel business," David Miller, an attorney representing Trulieve, wrote in the 10-page complaint. "In reliance on the statutory policy to encourage statewide competition, Trulieve sought to add dispensary locations around the state, which benefits patients and the public."
Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers said in a press release that the "arbitrary" dispensary caps limit patient access.
"The restrictions force us to use extremely expensive long-distance delivery and build dispensaries on a model based on geographic distribution, not where patients live," she said. "This not only restricts access to patients in need, but forces higher prices."
Because of the cap, the company is unable to proceed with its plan to add 25 dispensaries to the 27 locations already opened and in the permitting stages, according to the court filing.
The constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2016, fueled an intensive battle for a limited number of marijuana operator licenses in the state.
Before the 2017 law, medical marijuana operators in the state were allowed to open an unlimited number of dispensaries.
Trulieve received its first permit after the passage of a 2014 law allowing non-euphoric cannabis treatment for children with severe epilepsy.
The 2017 changes maintained a five-region division of the state adopted by health officials, but imposed population-based quotas on the number of dispensaries a company could have within each region.
Trulieve has already met its quota of two dispensaries for the northwest region that covers most of the Florida Panhandle, with retail outlets in Tallahassee and Pensacola, according to the lawsuit.
Because of the caps, Trulieve "would be unable to open dispensaries in Panama City, Fort Walton Beach, Apalachicola, Marianna, Madison, and other communities that are better served by having dispensing facilities" than by having marijuana products delivered to patients' homes, Miller wrote.
In a weekly update released March 30, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use noted that the Department of Health is currently facing eight marijuana-related lawsuits.
Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said Tuesday that it's unknown how the most recent lawsuit will impact the agency's ability to implement the statutory limitations on the number of dispensing facilities each medical marijuana treatment center may operate.
"The department continues to focus on the health and safety of Florida's families and is dedicated to ensuring patients have safe access to low-THC cannabis and medical marijuana," Gambineri said in an email.
"The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report."
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