If voters pass ballot question #2 in November, South Florida is ready.
“We’ve added a whole hydroponics division,” said Frances Hendrick of the local Redland Supply Company. “People ask us several times a week how to get started growing.”
The issue is medical marijuana.
Florida would be big business for marijuana growers.
The fourth most populous state has an estimated 420,000 patients who could qualify for medical marijuana.
This is not your weird Uncle Al’s pot.
Medical marijuana is not psychoactive so it won’t get you high.
Florida’s recent “Charlotte’s Web” law permits medical marijuana containing no more than 0.8 percent THC and 10 percent cannabidiol (CBD).
Proposed Department of Health rules on inspection require any batch that exceeds those numbers to be destroyed.
The November ballot question uses the definition of cannabis from the state Crimes Code including every compound or preparation.
While it would be limited to medical usage to be legal, all cannabis would be permitted, not just low-THC varieties.
“If the referendum passes, marijuana is still illegal and the state government will prosecute,’ said Craig Frank, chairman of the four-month old Cannabis Industry Association. “But that is changing fast.”
Reached at a dispensary in Portland, Oregon where he was setting up retail sales, Frank continued,
“The federal government has been issuing periodic statements but basically won’t enforce or pursue federal Code violations (for marijuana possession).”
Colorado cultivation started after a release of a 2009 memo from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that provided guidance for federal prosecutors in states that enacted laws allowing medical marijuana.
The memo interpreted the line between proper and illegal usage, allowing a new industry to grow.
Rep. Katie Edwards introduced legislation last session to approve medical marijuana.
“It never had the first chance to be heard,” said Edwards. “This session, we finally got the attention of the South Dade agricultural community. The world is run by those who show up. A late filed amendment restricted it severely but this product will come whether by legislation or ballot initiative. This is the next cash crop.”
The Stanley family of Colorado experimented to create a low-THC cannabis successfully in 2012. The five brothers (“and honorary brother Dr. Sanjay Gupta”) called it Hippie’s Disappointment until it cured six year-old Charlotte Figi’s seizures.
Now called Charlotte’s Web, the marijuana oil is promoted through the Stanley’s non-profit organization, the Realm of Caring.
“CBD interacts with receptors on brain cells,” says Josh Stanley in his YouTube video. “It plays a role in repairing brain functions and may have the capability of stopping the progress of Parkinson’s disease, ALS, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.”
“For 80 years we’ve been living under a cloud of propaganda and fear,” Stanley said. “We have a long way to go. Charlotte can’t leave the state of Colorado as it creates a life and death situation without her medication. If her family leaves the state with the medicine, they become drug traffickers.”
“The situation is ludicrous!” Stanley concludes. “Are we willing to change the national view on medicinal cannabis to save 1,000 lives?”
Opposition to Ballot Question 2 centers on fears of unrestricted access and increased marijuana potency, according to the newly formed Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot coalition.
“As someone who has seen the effects that can come from substance abuse and understands the addictive qualities of marijuana, Amendment 2 creates a system that will ultimately lead to drug abuse,” said Executive Director Kent Runyon of the NovusDetoxMedicalCenter. “There are proven alternatives to smoked marijuana that effectively deliver THC or CBD to people who truly can benefit from it, while eliminating access to the individuals who are attempting to use it for a high.”
The Florida Supreme Court affirmed that only patients with debilitating diseases and medical conditions would qualify for medical marijuana under the ballot initiative.
A doctor’s recommendation would be needed to purchase it and minors’ medical treatment requires parental consent.
“For specific medical purposes what is derived is a safe form, the Colorado extract is in oil form, and the value lies in the cannabidiol,” said Rep. Edwards. “On that basis, this question had iron-pat legislative support. Now the issue is the rulemaking process.”
Local grower Kerry Herndon called those preliminary rules “horrendous”, especially the lottery system to determine which growers can participate in the five regions set up under Florida’s Charlotte’s Web law.
“Under a lottery, two acres of shade cloth equals thirty acres of glass greenhouses and plant tissue culture laboratories,” said Herndon. “Someone has to be responsible.”
“It’s difficult to have a dispensary grow the product, as Florida is encouraging,” said Frank. “That’s discouraged in Colorado. The Florida challenge once the referendum passes is how the state will accomplish the goal of licensing growers – and how much they will be permitted to cultivate.”
Most sources agree that the state will struggle with rules to ensure patients are legally eligible, that there are convenient mechanisms for access to a sufficient supply of the product, that the product is inspected and safe, and how licenses for retail premises would be administered.
The question of taxes to raise revenue has not been considered.
“I’m not sure about taxes,” said Frank. “The tax structure around medical marijuana is not fully fair as a tax on every pound grown versus a moderate sales tax. But medicine is usually exempt from sales tax in Florida.”
There are other issues growers must contend with.
Start-up costs are very high.
“In Colorado, you need $75,000 a year for the license,” said Hendrick. “You have to set up a separate warehouse. You need state of the art cameras with monitoring, security guards, state of the art software. You need to spend between $300,000 and $500,000 just to grow the marijuana.”
Traditional banks are reluctant to lend money for inventory or mortgages.
State and federal rules designed to stop money laundering and drug trafficking prevent marijuana businesses from getting credit cards and checking accounts.
The Stanley’s operate their dispensaries as all-cash operations which is dangerous.
“We are required to comply with every law and pay employees FICA and Medicare and wage withholding taxes, and we have to do all that with cash,” said Stanley.
“To open a dispensary, you need all the employees, then the banking system to deposit the money,” Hendrick said. “Marijuana is a labor intensive product; it has to be trimmed and cut. People would be hiring growers, laborers, so many jobs thankfully!”
“The question is what role Florida agriculture will play, if and when Amendment 2 passes,” concluded Rep. Edwards. “Otherwise the product will be grown in warehouses in Hialeah or Medley.”