Medical marijuana is booming in Florida, but the industry is nervous. Here’s why | Feeling Fit4 min read
During a year in which the state lost more than 400,000 jobs, Florida’s cannabis industry employed nearly 15,000 people in 2020, according to cannabis website Leafly.
Four years after Florida voters approved medical legalization, marijuana is a $ 1.2 billion business. Industry insiders say it is growing every day.
That kind of success would normally deserve support in Florida’s business-friendly legislation. But the 2021 legislative session is anything but a winning streak for Florida’s pot sector. Business owners and medical marijuana patients are concerned about major reform in the form of law or an opinion from the Florida Supreme Court.
Right now, Florida’s medical marijuana market is notoriously difficult to enter: only 22 companies have government licenses to dispense the drug. The companies that the state allows to sell medical marijuana must also have sufficient resources to be vertically integrated. This means that they harvest, package and sell the products prescribed to patients.
In 2017, Tampa’s Florigrown State denied its right to become one of the companies licensed to sell medical marijuana. Now the company is suing, arguing that the 2017 law that launched the Florida medical marijuana program is an unconstitutional series of state giveaways for certain lucky private companies.
“It could have a huge impact,” said Ben Pollara, a medical marijuana attorney for Florida for Care who was instrumental in the 2016 push. “The Supreme Court has so much leeway, it could be nothing, it could be anything.”
Then there is legislation. The legislation offered by Republicans SB 1958 and HB 1455 would limit the amount of the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). According to the Republicans’ proposals, smokable plants should contain a maximum of 10% by volume of THC. Most of the smokable marijuana offered to patients has more THC than that.
The issue of caps has been raised earlier – Florida House passed a 10% THC cap for patients under the age of 21 in 2020. However, that measure died in the Senate.
This year, Republican sponsors of the action, Senator Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero and Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, plan to extend the proposal to include all medical marijuana products – with the exception of terminal marijuana prescribed to patients.
Brady Cobb, the CEO of One Plant, one of the state-approved medical marijuana treatment centers, said the proposed caps would improve the ecosystem that nearly 470,000 patients across the state rely on. Patients, thousands of whom suffer from severe chronic pain, would have to change the drug they are used to. Unsatisfied with the product, many would inevitably leave the legal medical program for the black market, Cobb said.
“This is not science, this is not patient advocacy,” Cobb said. “This is a political fight.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only nationally elected Democrat, spoke out in 2018 in part for expanded access to medical marijuana. She also called for recreational marijuana legalization, which lawmakers are sure to ignore.
At a press conference last week, Fried called the proposed caps “outrageous”.
“It could put the program back years,” Fried said. “The people in our state should be angry. Should be frustrated. “
Proponents of the caps say they are necessary to combat the negative long-term psychological effects of marijuana.
The House Health Professions and Public Health Subcommittee welcomed Harvard Psychobiology Professor Bertha Madras in February to deliver a talk on some of the negative societal consequences of expanding access to highly potent cannabis.
Much of Madras’ presentation had little to do with Florida’s medical cannabis program: a slide described the alleged relationship between marijuana use and psychiatric admission in one part of India in the 19th century.
Madras’ central argument, however, was that lawmakers should not allow highly potent marijuana to spread across the state without knowing the possible consequences for the human brain.
This argument is made at the highest level of the legislature.
“The sticker, the advertisement, doesn’t always match the reality,” House spokesman Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said at a news conference last week, noting the US Food and Drug Administration Cannabis products are not approved as medicine. “I think it is appropriate, since this was a political creation rather than a science creation, that we go and see if, ‘Hey, does that make sense?'”
A US Senate report also called for further federal investigation into the long-term effects of high-potency marijuana.
Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said he would run the THC cap proposal through the Senate committees. That could be good news for the industry: the Senate killed last year’s cap proposal.
But cannabis advocates don’t take any chances. Florida for Care, Pollara’s advocacy group, submitted more than 30,000 signed forms from people who opposed the caps to the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate on Thursday.
Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, the vocal Republican opponent of the THC caps, said those who understand medical marijuana best make their voices heard. You’re not for the hats.
“If we had a number of doctors here diagnosing and treating people with medicinal cannabis to aid this, that would be one thing,” Brandes said. “But not you. In fact, they’re going in exactly the opposite direction. “