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. Car bomb kills 13, injures 24 in Baghdad; Islamic State claims responsibility

    World

    BAGHDAD — A car bomb exploded outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad just after midnight today, killing 13 people and wounding 24, hospital and police officials said.

  2. Leaping shark floors angler in Australia

    World

    In The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist battles for three days to pull in his prized catch. For Terry Selwood, it came a little more suddenly.

    A 9-foot shark lies on the deck of a fishing boat at Evans Head, Australia on Sunday. Fisherman Terry Selwood said he was left with a badly bruised and bleeding right arm where the shark struck him with a fin as it landed on him on the deck. [Lance Fountain via AP]
  3. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  4. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber

    World

    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  5. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant

    Nation

    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]