The Florida Department of Health announced last week that it will open a new round of licensing for medical marijuana businesses that will double the number of vertically integrated cannabis operators in the state. In an emergency rule released on Friday, the health department revealed that 22 new medical marijuana business licenses will be available, a move that would double the 22 operators currently licensed to produce and sell medical marijuana in Florida.
The new emergency rule comes more than six years after Florida voters legalized the medicinal use of cannabis with the passage of a constitutional amendment ballot measure in 2016. The following year, state lawmakers passed legislation to regulate the state’s medical marijuana industry, with provisions to issue additional cannabis business licenses as the number of registered patients grew.
With the number of registered medical marijuana patients now standing at nearly 790,000, according to data released last week, state regulators should have issued nearly two dozen medical marijuana business licenses to keep up with the program’s growth. But until last week, the Department of Health had failed to take action on issuing additional medical marijuana business licenses since the administration of Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis took control of the state’s executive branch in 2019.
“This is an exciting milestone for Florida’s medical cannabis program, more than five years in the making,” Courtney Coppola, a former director of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, told The News Service of Florida. “These additional licenses are an important step in moving the program forward for Florida’s patients and future licensees.”
Florida Applications To Be Accepted In April
In December, cannabis regulators at the state health department announced that it had developed a process to apply for new medical marijuana business licenses, with plans to accept applications in “batching cycles,” according to media reports. Under the emergency rule published on Friday, the department will accept applications for 22 additional licenses between April 24 and April 28. Louise St. Laurent, a former general counsel for the state Department of Health, said that the state’s medical marijuana operators “are thrilled” by last week’s announcement from regulators.
“There’s been no shortage of companies waiting and watching the department for these rules since probably at least 2017 to be able to have an opportunity to be able to compete for these licenses,” St. Laurent said on Friday.
Florida’s existing medical marijuana operators were licensed under a 2014 law that legalized “non-euphoric” forms of cannabis for a limited number of patients. The new licensing round announced on Friday will be the first batch of new licenses issued since the measure to regulate the state’s medical cannabis industry was passed in 2017.
The 2017 legislation also required the Department of Health to issue a license to a Black farmer with business ties in Florida. In September, regulators announced that the license would be awarded to a man in Suwannee County, but legal challenges have forced the health department to delay issuing the license to the successful applicant.
Recreational Weed Initiative Planned For 2024
Although Florida has so far only legalized medical marijuana, a constitutional amendment campaign to legalize cannabis for use by adults is currently underway, with plans for the proposal to appear on the ballot for the 2024 election. Last week, organizers for the constitutional amendment campaign, which is largely funded by Florida’s largest medical marijuana Trulieve, submitted enough signatures from voters backing the measure to require the Florida Supreme Court to review the proposal.
Under state law, the Supreme Court must approve initiatives before they can be placed on the ballot. In 2021, Florida’s highest court used that power to strike down two separate proposals to legalize recreational marijuana, denying the state’s voters the opportunity to weigh in on the initiatives. But Jade Green, the president of cannabis industry consulting firm Next Titan Capital, believes that the fate of the 2021 proposals is not likely to impede support for this year’s attempt to legalize adult-use cannabis.
“Florida is definitely a market of interest, especially compared to some of the other more mature, more saturated markets,” said Green. “The main reason is, everybody has a similar belief that, whatever happens in 2024, eventually adult-use (recreational) cannabis will come to Florida.”
Florida’s existing medical marijuana industry is estimated to generate about $1 billion in annual sales for the state’s operators. Adding legal recreational marijuana would open the market to all adults in the state, offering companies an added incentive to enter Florida’s medical marijuana industry.
“If you can make it in Florida until rec (recreational marijuana) hits, then you will have a significant advantage in what will be one of the largest cannabis economies not just in the U.S. but in the world,” Green said.