Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Entrepreneurs aren't waiting for lawmakers to plan the future of medical cannabis

WESLEY CHAPEL — Mute the sound and it would have felt like a real estate seminar. The hotel conference room was half full. It was an older crowd, professionally dressed. Notepads sat on top of the tables, which hid the khakis below.

The topic, though, was cannabis — don't get caught calling it marijuana around here — at the first Florida Medical Cannabis Conference and Exhibition, which started Friday and runs through the weekend at Saddlebrook Resort.

The conference spoke to the rising legitimacy of cannabis, and sought to educate those interested in using cannabis for medical treatment, or very interested in the business opportunities of doing so.

In other words, it was people who aren't waiting around for Tallahassee to make a decision.

"This is going to happen," said Dr. Allan Zubkin, a Clermont physician who is already certified to recommend medical marijuana to patients under Florida's Compassionate Use Act. "I want to be part of the revolution."

The revolution started last year in Florida, when voters passed Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment designed to expand medical marijuana legalization beyond the limited use allowed under the Compassionate Use Act. But before departing Tallahassee earlier this month, the Florida Legislature failed to pass rules regulating marijuana's medical use.

Negotiations over regulations that are needed to implement the amendment stalled because of disagreements on the number of dispensaries each marijuana grower would be allowed to open. The Legislature will either reconvene in a special session this summer or let the Florida Department of Health's Office of Compassionate Use draw up the rules.

Until then, there's work companies can do to prepare themselves for when the rules come online, said Carlos Hermida, executive vice president of Florida Cannabis Coalition.

And, he said, the uncertainty isn't all bad, quoting the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu:

"In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity."

But the opportunities won't come without challenges. During a session entitled a "crash course" in Florida's cannabis industry, Hermida outlined the obstacles facing companies that operate in the cannabis space:

They find it hard to open bank accounts. That's because banks are regulated at the federal level, where marijuana remains illegal. For the same reason, finding credit can be difficult. And advertisers hoping to market on the airwaves, which are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, run into similar problems.

Still, there was plenty of optimism about the medical, and business, opportunities ahead.

"I see a huge opportunity to break into the industry right now," said Russell Hollander, 35, whose company, Care2Grow Inc., plans to sell high-quality, U.S.-grown hemp, which has low levels of the mild-altering tetrahydrocannabinol and high levels of cannabidiol.

The latter doesn't make people high and is thought to have medicinal benefits. Hollander said the fits and starts on regulation are all part of the process and will ultimately yield a better market.

The cannabis industry doesn't just support companies that grow, process and sell marijuana, but ancillary businesses as well. One such business is Compassionate Care Clinics of Pinellas, a company that will evaluate patients to determine if medicinal cannabis is right for their ailments.

The company's owner, Alex Adams, 38, of St. Petersburg said he came to the conference to learn about diagnosing patients and different treatment options. While his business won't be limited by the rules that will eventually govern Amendment 2, he has his own reality to contend with: planned obsolescence.

"For my part of the industry, it only lasts until it becomes recreational," said Adams, who estimates recreational use in Florida is only five to seven years away.

For others who attended the conference, the uncertainty surrounding the industry's regulation is less of an opportunity and more a point of frustration.

Melanie Cissone, 57, of Santa Rosa Beach said she attended to learn about the medicinal effects of cannabis. She's a full-time caregiver to her husband, who has a malignant blastoma in his brain.

Research suggests cannabis could help, she said, but Florida is behind the cannabis curve compared to other states that legalized it years ago.

"I don't understand why Florida isn't more ahead of the curve on this," Cissone said. "There are models out there."

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.

Entrepreneurs aren't waiting for lawmakers to plan the future of medical cannabis 05/19/17 [Last modified: Friday, May 19, 2017 9:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. St. Pete's Downtown Looper expands service with $900,000 grant

    Transportation

    By DIVYA KUMAR

    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG ­— The Downtown Looper will expand its route and its hours starting in October 2018 thanks to a $900,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.

  2. Latest sewage crisis fallout: Higher utility bills in St. Pete

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — For months the cost of the city's sewage crisis has been measured in terms of environmental damage, legal ramifications and political repercussions.

    Now residents are about to get the bill.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage during the height of the city's sewage crisis. Now the City Council is considering how much to raise utility rates to pay the $326 million bill to fix St. Petersburg's sewage system. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. Rays add a bat, too, acquiring Lucas Duda from Mets

    Blogs

    The Rays made another big move today, acquiring 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.

    Duda, 31, is a lefty slugger who will take over as the Rays primary DH against right-handers, with Corey Dickerson now playing most of the time in the outfield.

    To get Duda, the Rays gave up minor-league RHP Drew Smith, …

    The Rays acquired 1B/DH Lucas Duda from the Mets.
  4. Florida's legal losses up to $19 million and counting since 2011

    Blogs

    From Gary Fineout of the Associated Press:

    This is getting expensive.
  5. Susanne Bartsch installation at Tampa Museum of Art

    News

    Susanne Bartsch and Raquel Martuscelli adjust the hat and hair on a mannequin in the Susanne Bartsch: Art-a-Porter exhibit on Thursday July 27, 2017 at the Tampa Museum of Art, in Tampa, Fla. The exhibit features designs worn by Bartsch and highlights her career in fashion. Bartsch is known for her over the top style and lavish parties thrown in the New York club scene, since the 1980s. The exhibit runs July 30 through November 12.