What do the founder of a marijuana business training school, the CEO of an agriculture technology company, and a guy who works processing credit card payments have in common? Each is preparing to play a role in the legal marijuana industry in Florida, even though the drug has yet to be broadly legalized here in any form.
That could happen in November if at least 60 percent of voters say yes to Amendment 2, which would make weed legal for a wide range of health problems. The debate over Amendment 2 is just beginning in earnest. Meanwhile, would-be pot industry business owners and employees, along with a spate of certification and seminar schools, and local and out-of-state investors, are laying the groundwork for what many of them described as an eventuality: that pot will be legal to a sizeable percent of Florida’s population sooner or later. But at least for the foreseeable future, their success hinges on No. 2, which has strong, organized opposition.
Amendment 2 appears good for retail sales of pot, since it would allow doctors to recommend the plant for a broad range of ailments. That’s why it seems like false advertising to opponents such as Pastor Peter Burnett, who sees it as a wink-anda nod recreational legalization. He runs the Don’t Let Charlotte County Go to Pot Coalition, part of the larger statewide organization that is fighting to stop No. 2.
The promise of broader legalization is just what attracted Adam Bierman of The MedMen, a marijuana-consulting firm based in California. He is promoting the company’s services in Florida and other states.
“Florida is an interesting market for us because it’s going potentially from zero to 100 miles per hour in a relatively short period of time,” said Mr. Bierman, who adds that his company is in it “for the long run.”
Even if No. 2 is voted down, the national trend toward medical and to a lesser extent recreational legalization is enough to convince him that Florida will eventually be one of the country’s largest marijuana markets based on its population, more than 19 million residents.
“Ultimate legalization (both medical and recreational) is going to be significant, in our opinion, inFlorida,” he said.
Going to pot school
Meanwhile, marijuana business training schools have been popping up across South Florida like exotic plants. Generally, they charge between $300 and $500 for day-long seminars and training programs of different varieties.
The Institute of Medical Cannabis started in Boca Raton this summer with a focus on marijuana entrepreneurs interested in growing operations. The school substitutes different types of produce for cannabis in hands-on sessions, and draws on the knowledge and errors of other states, said co-founder Sheridan Rafer.
“Florida has the advantage that we’ve already had 22 other states legalize medicinal marijuana,” said Mr. Rafer. “Florida knows everybody’s kind of watching what we’re doing right now and we really want to do things the right way.”
The classes, which began in June, included all kinds. Mr. Rafer described his students as a stereotypical “pothead” type, a school teacher, and a grandmother, for instance.
Cannabis Career Institute is a California based school that offers statespecific, all day seminars around the nation. One was held Sunday, July 20, at a Best Western hotel in Fort Myers. A few dozen people filled a room, taking notes and peppering speakers with questions. They covered basics such as applying for city and state business licenses, and why customers often prefer “edibles,” such as pot brownies or lollipops, to a joint.
Among the attendees was Steve Thompson, who is 27. He works processing credit card payments and believes he could do the same for local marijuana dispensaries.
Josie Gattuso, 30, is a hairdresser, but is interested in running a medical marijuana dispensary one day.
“There are a lot of people in Florida that are hooked on a lot of pills,” she said, and marijuana could be an alternative.
Carlos Hermida, 30, attended because he is hoping to land a job with the Cannabis Career Institute itself.
A Lee County man, Mike Ginocchi, handed out a brochure offering investment advice. His own “weed fund” — investments in marijuana stocks — was up 111 percent for the first half of 2014, he reported in the brochure.
“At this rate I will have made enough money to open my own dispensary or grow-op after we pass No. 2 here in Florida,” he wrote.
If No. 2 passes, Ag-Tronix CEO Sam Carns predicts “exponential growth” among pot growers in the next five years, “once we work out the bugs and everybody works out all the regulations.”
His company in Immokalee, which specializes in technology-based growing products for farmers, developed an automated system to grow marijuana. Like those for tomatoes or other crops, it would be controlled in an office by computer, alerting the grower, for example, if a door is opened after hours or a pump that delivers nutrients quits working.
“With all the agriculture we have in Southwest Florida, there are going to be a lot of businesses currently in other forms of agriculture that are going to either experiment with it a little bit, or there’ll be some that just want to go full bore into it,” Mr. Carns said.
A Collier County man, John LeFevre, said he decided to move to Colorado to start a growing operation, “get organized,” and return to Florida if the law permits. Even if voters pass Amendment 2, he is concerned that state regulations will be too restrictive for his business.
Last month, Florida legalized a strain of medical marijuana referred to as “Charlotte’s Web” for a relatively small number of patients. The strain does not contain enough of the chemical that delivers marijuana’s distinctive high. Legislators decided only a handful of nurseries around the state will be licensed to grow it.