MEDICAL MARIJUANA, SPECIAL INTERESTS, AND HOW OWNING YOUR OWN “CANNABUSINESS” IS STILL JUST A PIPE DREAM

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Despite 71% of Florida voters statewide agreeing to “legal[ize] medical marijuana for individuals with specific debilitating diseases or comparable debilitating conditions as determined by a licensed state physician,” it seems the Florida legislature blew smoke in the face of those voters this past week when they failed to pass any “framework for carrying out a voter-approved constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.”

The original version of HB 1397, the original House Bill, would have banned smokable versions of marijuana while also supporting special interests, mainly the seven dispensaries currently licensed in Florida that many refer to as a “cartel”. As the bill went back and forth through negotiations between the Florida House and Senate, it became clear late in the legislative session that negotiations were being derailed due to two main issues: The number of dispensaries that could obtain a license and the amount of retail stores each licensed dispensary could have. From what was discussed, the House wanted a system that would favor current license holders, where 10 new licenses would be issued by July 2018 with a cap of 100 storefronts per license, while the Senate favored a system that might allow a more competitive market, where 10 new licenses would be required by this Fall with a cap of 10 storefronts per license. Under the House’s proposal, the seven already existing dispensaries could have setup 700 storefronts before any new licenses were even issued, allowing them to corner the market in Florida before any competitors could even receive a license. The Senate’s version would have capped the number of stores the already existing licensed dispensaries could have in Florida and allow a bit more competition in the market much sooner, by this Fall.

On May 5, the Florida Cannabis Action Network sent out a message to supporters regarding the failure of both the Florida House and Senate in enacting a workable framework that did not pander to special interests. “The House and Senate both gave lip service to working in the interests of patients while taking tens of thousands of dollars from the ‘Have’s’ (those who have a license) and the ‘Have Not’s’ (those who want a license).” Those hoping for a more diverse marketplace for medical marijuana should also not look to the Florida Department of Health (DOH) for such framework. The DOH has been criticized by many for its past roll-out of the 2014 law regarding access to low-THC marijuana, and its draft version of its proposed rules after the passage of Amendment 2 are seen as overly restrictive.

Considering one analysis has valued a Florida cannabis license at around $200 million, it’s no wonder why the already existing dispensaries are highly motivated to pressure legislatures into passing a framework that would allow them to keep their shares of the pie in Florida for as long as possible. With all that money at stake, those companies can afford to lobby members of the House and Senate, which is a reason some believe special interests have played such a prominent role in preventing an actual framework geared toward a more open market from coming into effect.

For many hoping to open their own medical marijuana related company, such hopes might stay a pipe dream…for now.

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