The Florida law that legalized medical marijuana took effect July 1, 2014. Thirty-one months later only seven facilities hold state licenses to cultivate, process, and distribute the drug. Few shops sell medical cannabis in the state.
Furthermore, a mere 538 physicians and 2,997 patients are qualified to prescribe and use marijuana to treat epilepsy, cancer, chronic seizures, chronic muscle spasms and terminal conditions.
Looking for Florida-grown medical marijuana to cure your child’s epilepsy seizures or to ease your pain? Good luck with that, said Bobby Loehr, vice president of the Pensacola-based Ray of Hope dispensing organization.
Loehr’s company is battling the state for a license after being passed over. He said the seven current licensed facilities already cannot meet demand from Florida’s five regions. Loehr claimed many patients who could benefit from medical marijuana have turned to using “Charlotte’s Web” marijuana, a strain grown in Colorado by the Stanley Brothers.
Plus, Florida growers have a difficult time producing a consistent level of medical marijuana high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — below 0.3 percent, Loehr reported. It is THC in marijuana that creates the “high” users experience.
“It’s creating a chilling effect on doctors and patients,” Loehr said. “Physicians want to start people on the medication, but they want to be able to continue on it. No attention was paid by the state to fact versus fantasy. It’s very frustrating to watch.”
Ray of Hope teamed with Colorado’s Stanley Brothers and Loop’s Nursery & Greenhouses in Jacksonville. It was one of 28 applicants to apply for a state license. Loop’s, which has about 20 greenhouses, built a brand new 34,000-square-foot building for growing marijuana.
“We had a well-planned, well-financed business,” Loehr said. “However, we apparently forgot to raise money for well-placed politicians.”
The Florida Department of Health issued licenses to CHT Medical, which is affiliated with Chestnut Hill Tree Farm; The Green Solution affiliated with San Felasco Nurseries; Trulieve affiliated with Hackney Farms; Surterra Therapeutics affiliated with Alpha Foliage; Modern Health Concepts affiliated with Costa Nursery Farms; Knox Medical affiliated with Knox Nursery; and GrowHealthy affiliated with McRory’s Sunny Hill Nursery.
Loehr pointed out that only four of the licensed businesses have produced legally grown, state-manufactured pot, so far. One of those that has failed to produce any cannabis, Loehr said, is the Chestnut Hill Tree Farm backed by Jay Odom, a Destin developer who was convicted of a felony election offense in 2013. Odom admitted to funneling $23,000 to former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee through employees’ families and friends and served a six-month federal sentence. Chestnut Hill has an approximately 6,000-square foot greenhouse, significantly less space than Loop’s Nursery had available.
“(DOH) gave a huge monopoly to very politically connected folks,” Loehr alleged. “They haven’t shown any dedication to treating sick children.”
With little fanfare, the Pensacola City Council unanimously approved on Feb. 9 to allow brick-and-mortar medical stores to sell medical marijuana in locations zoned for commercial use, or C1 sites.
But the seven facilities allowed to grow medical marijuana face obstacles in more than 60 communities across the state that have enacted moratoriums on stores selling legal marijuana to the public. Other governmental entities are drawing up laws to regulate the dispensaries.
Not only that but Amendment 2, which passed in November with 76 percent of the vote statewide, is expected to expand medical marijuana use in Florida and put an even bigger strain on state-licensed marijuana manufacturers. Amendment 2 approves “full strength” pot for anyone with debilitating conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, epilepsy, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, and more.
The amendment is expected to make medical marijuana a profitable industry, serving 400,000 Florida residents and generating $1 billion. Many political observers expect hot debates in Tallahassee by lawmakers in the upcoming session on how to implement Amendment 2.
One proposal by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) would allow three more state-licensed growers once 250,000 Florida residents qualify and allow another five licensees at 300,000 and 350,000 medical marijuana users. Eventually the state would have 20 licensed dispensaries total. Another bill pushed by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) would eliminate restrictions on the number of growers, creating a free enterprise market for medical marijuana.
Unlike the 2014 medical marijuana act that took nearly three years to structure, the amendment gives the state roughly six months to come up with regulations.
Florida trial attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan, the primary supporter and most vocal advocate for Amendment 2, recently visited Pensacola to speak to the Tiger Bay Club. Morgan said he expected “dispensaries” to become as common as bars.
Loehr, however, disagreed. He maintained 30 to 50 growers will be needed to meet future demand and to allow law enforcement authorities to ensure state law is followed. He pointed out in Colorado, more than 650 companies grow and sell marijuana.
“It doesn’t make sense to get there with seven nurseries,” Loehr said. “We don’t want 1,500 either. It’s important Florida have enough people in business to have an adequate supply. We’re not recommending we turn into the Wild West.”
He added: “I don’t envision a high-volume thing like CVS where everybody is going in to buy their pot. That is just not going to happen. Some reasonable regulations make sense.”
Florida Approved Dispensing Organizations
•CHT Medical affiliated with Chestnut Hill Tree Farm (Alachua County)
•The Green Solution affiliated with San Felasco Nurseries (Alachua County)
•Trulieve affiliated with Hackney Farms (Gadsden County)
•Surterra Therapeutics affiliated with Alpha Foliage (Hillsborough County)
•Modern Health Concepts affiliated with Costa Nursery Farms (Miami-Dade County)
•Knox Medical affiliated with Knox Nursery (Orange County)
•GrowHealthy affiliated with McRory’s Sunny Hill Nursery (Polk County)
Source: Florida Department of Health Office of Compassionate Use
How Do Patients Qualify for Medical Marijuana?
Florida law has several requirements for patients to be eligible to receive low-THC cannabis or medical cannabis.
•A patient must have been diagnosed with a qualifying condition.
•A patient must be a Florida resident.
•If under the age of 18, a patient must have a second physician agree to the use of low-THC cannabis or medical cannabis in order to obtain an order from a qualified physician.
•A patient must have tried other treatments without success.
•An ordering physician must determine the risks of using low-THC cannabis or medical cannabis are reasonable in light of the benefit to the patient.
•A patient must be registered with the Compassionate Use Registry by their ordering physician.