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New Sheriff In Florida’s Weed World

An attorney with decades of military experience is taking over as the state's new pot czar at a time when the state’s medical-marijuana industry is poised to double in size.

An attorney with decades of military experience is taking over as the state’s new pot czar at a time when the state’s medical-marijuana industry is poised to double in size.

Florida Department of Health officials tapped Christopher Phillip Kimball to serve as director of the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use, the agency confirmed to The News Service of Florida this week.

As director of the medical-marijuana office, which was created in 2015, Kimball will oversee nearly 500 retail sites and more than 750,000 patients.

Kimball spent more than twenty years in the U.S. Navy and served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He received a bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and graduated from Albany Law School of Union University, according to Kimball’s LinkedIn profile.

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

Kimball, whose LinkedIn profile listed one of his “professional passions” as “helping clients solve their thorniest problems,” begins the job as the state’s marijuana industry, which has 22 licensed operators, is expected to grow exponentially.

After voters in 2016 passed a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, a resulting 2017 law laid out a framework for the industry that required the state health department to grant new licenses as the number of patients increases.

With more than 760,000 patients now authorized for medical marijuana, the state should have issued at least another 22 licenses to keep up — doubling the number of current operators.

For years, DeSantis’ administration blamed a delay on 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 the rollout of 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 fizzled.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health is facing a stack of challenges after selecting a Suwannee County man to receive a medical-marijuana license earmarked in the 2017

Kimball replaced Chris Ferguson, who ran the medical-marijuana office for the past three years. Ferguson remains at the Department of Health in a different role.

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