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Despite US policy change, Florida dispensaries promise to continue distribution

One company calls Jeff Sessions decision "callous"
Posted at 4:47 PM, Jan 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-05 17:19:34-05

The medical marijuana industry in Florida is on the defensive, after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended an Obama-era policy of non-enforcement.

The company Surterra, which has a storefront in Tampa, called Sessions' decision "callous" and said they would continue to distribute despite the policy change, and predicted Florida patients would not be impacted.

Trulieve, which has several storefronts in the Tampa Bay Area including Tampa, Bradenton, St. Pete and Sarasota, also says it will continue to distribute and urged customers to contact their representatives in Congress.

It's true that Congress could create new federal laws for the regulation of marijuana and medical cannabis, but in the meantime, Sessions said he would no longer ignore some federal laws on the subject, and President Donald Trump's spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated that sentiment by saying the President believes in the "rule of law."

It's not yet clear how the Justice Department will now operate without a policy of non-enforcement, which had deferred policy on marijuana to the states.

The decision came just days after California legalized recreational use of marijuana.

"My initial interest in the medicine was from a professional standpoint," Tricia Schuster told ABC Action News. "I did end of life nursing for a lot of years, that was my initial interest in it, how can it help people at the end of life? And then my eyes were opened to all these other benefits, and I was like, 'oh my gosh, I could be a potential candidate," said Schuster, who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Order, potentially acquired during years in end-of-life nursing, working as a nurse in the trauma center of a Tampa area hospital, and a series of tragic deaths in her personal life.

"It started manifesting as anxiety and insomnia. Very debilitating, actually," says Schuster of the symptoms she experienced.

About 6 months ago she tried treating her symptoms with low or non-THC medical marijuana, and found the results to be very welcome.

 "I'm just incredibly grateful for this natural medicine that has been very effective at managing my symptoms," said Schuster.

Schuster is one of just over 40,000 Floridians allowed to purchase medical marijuana in Florida, according to the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana, a division of the state's health department.

Florida voters legalized medical marijuana in Florida as an amendment to the state's constitution in a referendum in 2016.

If the Justice Department, either through the DEA or the FBI, were to challenge Florida voters on the subject by prosecuting distributors of medical marijuana, it could become a major legal battle between the state and the federal government.

ABC Action News reached out to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, which includes the Tampa Bay Area, to ask how this policy change might affect how attorneys prosecute or pursue people who violate federal marijuana laws that conflict with state law. So far, the office has not replied.