The Florida Department of Health (DOH) and Florida Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) announced a plan Dec. 19 to issue up to 22 additional medical cannabis licenses across the state.

The rule would allow health officials to accept new license applications in a batching process, limiting all new licenses from being available at once. It would also increase the nonrefundable application fee for new licenses to $146,000.

According to the emergency rule, a “Batching cycle means the grouping for comparative review of applications for MMTC (medical marijuana treatment centers) licensure that are submitted for a specified number of available MMTC licenses within the same application window.”

The application window would be a five-day period during which the DOH can accept applications for the batching cycle. The emergency rule states that the DOH will release a separate rule to specify the number of licenses it will issue per batching cycle.

This long-awaited move from regulators would allow aspiring cannabis businesses to enter the state’s market, whose retail footprint remains limited to 22 operators, with Trulieve, Verano, Ayr Wellness and Curaleaf representing more than 58% of the state’s 501 retail locations as of Dec. 16, according to a weekly update from the OMMU.

Under state law, the DOH is required to issue four additional MMTC licenses for every 100,000 new patients. With 776,365 active patients as of Dec. 16, the state would need to issue more than 20 additional licenses to keep up with the number of active patients, Cannabis Business Times previously reported.

When CBT Associate Editor Tony Lange asked Jonathan Robbins, chair of Akerman’s national cannabis practice, in September if he thinks the DOH would issue those additional licenses before the 2024 election, he was hopeful.

“Before the 2024 election? I sure hope so,” Robbins said. “I have a lot of clients who are extremely anxious to be able to apply for a license, and they have been promising this since 2017. And even though we have 22 licensees here, we’ve never really had a formal application process. They had an application process back in 2015 for the original five high-CBD, low-THC licenses. They gave out those five. Every other license that has been given out since then, meaning the other 17, have been by way of resolution of litigation.”

The DOH also issued an emergency rule that increases the biennial license renewal cost from about $60,000 to $1.33 million, CBS News reported.

According to the news outlet, the increase in license renewal fees comes after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced earlier this year that “companies weren’t paying enough to operate in the state.”

DOH spokesman James Williams III told CBS News that the “renewal fee is based on a formula that includes the amount of money it costs the state to regulate the industry.”

While the new rules “drew praise” in the state, some industry leaders suspect that the license fee increases could “draw pushback” amongst existing operators, according to CBS News.