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Florida’s new medical marijuana czar is a lawyer and former Navy officer

Overseeing nearly 500 medical marijuana retail sites and more than 750,000 patients, Florida’s newest medical pot czar is a lawyer who spent more than two decades in the United States Navy and served in the body of Judge- General Counsel.

Florida Department of Health officials confirmed Tuesday that Christopher Phillip Kimball has been named director of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Kimball takes office as the state’s medical marijuana industry may be on the verge of doubling in size and challenges mount over the agency’s decision to award a medical marijuana license wanted from a black farmer.

Kimball replaces Chris Ferguson, who led the office for the past three years. Ferguson “has transitioned to the role of statewide service administrator for county health systems and will continue to serve the public in this new role” at the Department of Health, the spokeswoman said. the Weesam Khoury agency in a text.

Kimball comes to the Office of Medical Marijuana after serving as a “policy advisor” at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, she said.

Kimball left the Navy in May after serving as “agency counsel/general counsel” for the Judge Advocate General’s Corps since 2008, according to his LinkedIn profile. Prior to that, Kimball spent seven years as a Navy “surface warfare officer.”

Kimball listed her “professional passions” on the social media site as “helping clients solve their toughest problems; serve my clients and teammates, and help the legal and administrative systems serve their citizens fairly and efficiently. »

Kimball received a bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and graduated from Union University’s Albany Law School, according to his profile.

“Chris Kimball is a dedicated and hardworking officer and judge advocate. As supervising professor of the US Naval Academy’s Law Section, Chris spearheaded initiatives to reduce class sizes and add electives, including an elective in law. of armed conflict and the law of maritime operations. As a former surface warfare officer, Chris’ initiative and drive personified the line officer community to his colleagues and students,” Chad Bayse, an attorney who served as an adviser to the former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and who worked with Kimball in the Navy. , wrote in a LinkedIn recommendation.

Earlier this month, Kimball’s LinkedIn profile listed a stint as an assistant attorney general in Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office from June to September, followed by three months as a “health care policy adviser.” for the state.

But on Tuesday, those jobs had been removed from his profile and a listing as “Director, Florida State Department of Health” from “November 2022 — present” had been added.

Kimball’s predecessor, Ferguson, worked at the Department of Health before becoming head of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use in December 2019. His predecessor, Courtney Coppola, worked at the office after it was established in 2015.

Many medical marijuana industry insiders contacted by The News Service of Florida on Tuesday would not comment on Kimball’s nomination.

Kimball begins work as the state’s marijuana industry, which has 22 licensed operators, is expected to grow exponentially.

In 2016, voters passed a constitutional amendment that largely legalized medical marijuana. A resulting 2017 law created a framework for the industry and required the Department of Health to grant new licenses as the number of authorized patients increases.

With more than 760,000 patients now licensed to use medical marijuana, the state would have needed to issue at least 22 more licenses to keep pace, doubling the number of current operators. The current operators were among an early group of claimants after the Legislature passed a measure in 2014 that allowed a relatively limited number of patients to receive low-THC cannabis products.

For years, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration blamed a delay in granting more licenses on a challenge to the 2017 law filed by the Tampa-based company Florigrown. But the Florida Supreme Court upheld the law and finalized the litigation more than a year ago.

The delay in rolling out new licenses sparked another lawsuit filed this month by Louis Del Favero Orchids, Inc. The company has long sought a license, but its other administrative and legal challenges over the past four years have failed.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health faces a pile of challenges after selecting a Suwannee County man to receive a medical marijuana license under the 2017 law for a black farmer.

Health officials began accepting black farmer license applications in March and announced plans in September to grant the license to Terry Donnell Gwinn. The 11 candidates who lost the license are contesting the decision.

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