Medical Marijuana Implodes in Florida—Whose Fault Is It?

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This year, Florida state lawmakers had a clear mandate: Figure out how to give the state’s voters their constitutionally mandated weed, and do it by May 5.

On the same day they helped hand Donald Trump a not-so-historic Electoral College victory, Florida voters told their legislature—loudly, by an overwhelming 72 percent to 28 percent margin—that they wanted legal medical marijuana.

But the problem with Amendment 2 was that it left the job only partly done—it only modified the state constitution to say seriously ill Floridians could have medical cannabis. It left the how—how many dispensaries, how many growers, how is this going to work and how can I alleviate my AIDS or cancer-related suffering, please—to state lawmakers.

Writing rules for the growing and selling of marijuana is a big job, one that dozens of other states have successfully managed. But too big for Florida lawmakers, it turned out.

They failed, with a last-minute squabble over how many dispensaries is too many for 20 million people—50? 100?—ensuring that the legislative session would end with no medical-marijuana rules in place.

“If I were a voter I would be very disappointed,” state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, a sponsor of the state bill, told “They had a legitimate expectation that we would pass an implementing bill.”

So now, Governor Rick Scott’s Department of Health will write the rules—rules that are almost certainly going to be stricter than what the state legislature was going to come up with, according to observers.

So sick people won’t be able to get legal weed from any other source than the seven companies already licensed to grow low-THC medical marijuana in the state—a situation one activist likened to a “cartel.”

And so, medical marijuana patients in the state are “totally screwed,” as the Miami New Times put it.

The two main architects of legal weed in the state—Ben Pollara, the medical marijuana campaign’s manager, and prominent attorney John Morgan, its main bankroller and a potential candidate for governor—are now blaming each other for the spectacular debacle in a most public and personal breakup.

At the heart of the matter is how much of Florida’s $1 billion estimated medical-marijuana industry would go to the “Original Seven,” the existing license-holders—whose licenses may be worth as much as $200 million, according to a purchase made by a Canadian marijuana firm.

As the New Times reported, “[t]he biggest hangup was on whether the rules should set a limit on how many storefront dispensaries each company with a medical pot license could open.”

There was a proposal to cap the limit at 50. There was another to cap it at 100. There was a third that would have set a much lower cap, requiring the issuance of more licenses by the fall, and then even more every time another 75,000 patients joined the program. (With 20 million people and many of them elderly, Florida could easily have more than a million patients, if other states like California are used as benchmarks.)

At least some in the state house (read: Morgan) are blaming Pollara.

According to a Sunshine State News report published hours after the collapse, it was Pollara’s Florida For Care “which pushed the issue of limiting the number of dispensaries for growers at the last minute in order to force the state to issue more licenses to get rid of medical marijuana ‘cartels,’ the original seven growers allowed to dispense the drug across the state.”

In his defense, “[t]he cartel’s position was unlimited dispensaries for themselves and their investors,” Pollara told Sunshine State News. “Their lobbying team, led by Michael Corcoran, was very successful at holding that position. They got what they wanted and the bill died.”

With competing lobbies blaming each other for upending a bill and lawmakers walking away from an issue that became more trouble than it was worth, it seems pretty clear what happened—plain old greed, pure and simple, a “quality” shared to some degree by everyone involved.

Morgan has since called for a special session solely dedicated to medical marijuana.

But remember: the fewer licenses that are issued, the bigger the market share each will enjoy. Strict caps create marijuana millionaires. And that’s OK! It’s OK to make money off of growing and selling weed. How many millionaires there will be is the problem that’s currently keeping weed away from the Florida voters who want it and need it—and may create only a few select weed tycoons in the process.

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