A former naval officer with a law background is the next leader of Florida’s medical cannabis regulatory agency.
Gov. Ron DeSantis named Christopher Kimball as the director of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), the oversight authority within the Florida Department of Health (DOH), the News Service of Florida first reported Nov. 16.
According to his LinkedIn page, Kimball served as a U.S. Navy surface warfare officer from 2001-2008, earned his law school degree in 2008 and served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. for nearly 14 years. He will lead the OMMU team after serving as a policy adviser to Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, News Service of Florida reported.
Kimball succeeds Chris Ferguson, who served as director since 2019 and has transitioned into the role of statewide services administrator for county health systems, according to the news outlet.
Taking over the directorship role, Kimball will oversee a program that includes 22 Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs), 494 dispensaries and 770,041 qualified patients, according to a Nov. 18 weekly update from the OMMU.
Kimball’s appointment comes on the heels of being admitted to the Florida Bar, where he is a member of the Young Lawyers, Government Lawyers and Administrative Law divisions, Florida Politics reported.
According to DOH’s most recent legislative budget request from October, OMMU officials anticipate active medical cannabis patient numbers to exceed 1 million registrants in the first half of 2024.
That anticipation comes as aspiring market entrants hoping to gain a piece of Florida’s cannabis pie through additional licensing have continued to watch from the sidelines since voters passed Amendment 2 in 2016 and the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 8-A in 2017, creating a framework for the state industry.
According to the 2017 state law, the Health Department “shall license four additional medical marijuana treatment centers … within six months after the registration of each additional 100,000 active qualified patients in the medical marijuana use registry.” But that constitutional obligation has yet to be honored, despite litigation by licensee hopefuls trying to force the issue.
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However, according to the DOH’s recent budget request, department officials anticipate licensing 23 additional MMTCs in fiscal year 2022-23 and another eight in fiscal 2023-24, meaning the total number of vertically integrated licensees would grow to 53, a 141% increase.
In addition, OMMU officials project Florida will have 546 medical cannabis dispensaries by the end of June 2023, and 647 dispensaries by the end of June 2024. As such, the office’s projections indicate the need for an additional 31 full-time employees and contractual services, for which, in part, the DOH requested $6.2 million in additional funding in the budget.
“The expansion of the OMMU’s regulatory footprint anticipated next fiscal year requires additional inspectors and administrative staff to support the OMMU [Tallahassee] headquarters and expansion of regional offices,” the budget request states.