As the 60-day 2023 Florida legislative session approaches its mid-point there is a battle raging for the heart, soul and existence of the medical hemp market.
Florida, the third largest state in the union has one of the largest medical cannabis industries in the country. There are over 770K registered patients out of the 22 million residents in the state, but there are many patients who drop out each month, unable to pay the recertification fees, as well as the high cost of products coming from the 19 active licenses of the 22 awarded.
Many of the licenses went to applicants in 2015 who were not approved for a but got one anyway, via the courts and the governor. The vast majority of those paper licenses were flipped and sold to the highest bidder, mostly Multi-State Operations (MSO.s). As a highly profitable closed market, held down to 22 licenses (with unlimited locations) by the state government, the number of players stayed static, encouraged by the lobbying efforts of the current Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC’s), including those that started in Florida and became MSO’s.
Over regulation by the state, the high price of getting and maintaining a medical card and medical recommendation and the high cost of the plant as medicine in a closed market resulted the appearance of a separate medical cannabis market, run by entrepreneurs that were not millionaires including a large number of minority businesses. There are an estimated 10,000 small businesses across Florida selling products containing CBD, CBN, CBG and the new crop euphoric compounds derived from Hemp, made legal thru the 2018 Farm act, including Delta-8 and Delta10, and via the manipulation of the scant amounts (>3% of Delta-9 THC).
That has been a boon to the small entrepreneurs, who were previously shut out of the new MMJ industry via financial and regulatory barriers. It has also been a godsend to patients who didn’t or couldn’t join the registry to purchase products from the MMTC’s due to similar financial and regulatory issues. Some just didn’t want to be on a registry that could be manipulated to create barriers for employment and health. It also opened the market to the 120 million tourists who had no reciprocity to be able to purchase medical cannabis in the sunshine state while on vacation.
But some MMTC’s see the new market as competition, the very thing they have been fighting against for years. But many are savvy regarding the Standard Operating Procedure to manipulate the industry in Florida- Manipulate the legislature.
One of the best purveyors of this tactic and the one that has been doing it the longest is Trulieve, who has put out over $21M in contributions to candidates and PAC’s in the last few years alone to Political Action Committees mostly those run by current elected officials and to the campaigns of those same politicians.
The current Commissioner of Agriculture, Wilton Simpson, received $100k for his run for that office through his PAC, Jobs for Floridians. that’s $25K more than he got from Trulieve when he was president of the Senate.
So, when a bill appeared this session, whose main purpose was to regulate Hemp products as food and increase regulations to prevent children’s access to the products appeared, no one seemed to notice any problems with the bill language, although it seemed strange that they were trying to fix a problem that wasn’t really an issue. The hemp industry is already under the supervision of the Department of agriculture, as it was written in the rules approved by the FDA. Nearly every Hemp business already had barriers in place against selling product to those under 21, although some lobbyist gave the legislators samples of packaging of Delta-8 products such as Skittles and Nerd Ropes that a) were clearly out of compliance with Florida packaging standards and b) weren’t even produced or sold in Florida.
But hidden in the language of the bill, new regulations were written in, such as THC limitations of no more than .5 milligrams per dose of wet-weight and a maximum of 5 MG per package. That alone would cause a major shift in the products sold, but the bill also had new regulations labelling these new cannabinoids as synthetic, as long as they are created by any other means then straight extraction. Those other methods are regularly practiced safely by highly compliant Florida manufacturers, including MMTC’s, who would be immune from this new law if it took effect. It is estimated that it would remove 80% of the products on legitimate CBD dispensaries and Smoke shops and cost the loss of millions in tax income to the state, as well as thousands of jobs and businesses.
MSO’s like Trulieve have been taking a hit in the Canadians Stock Exchange of the last year, so these mega-payments to politicians are coming as capital from the major stockholder., like Vanguard and the Rothschild group. Right now, even CEO Kim Rivers, representing the original owners, is only the 9th highest stockholder.
The question now, is whether the cost of business in their methodology of running an MSOs political manipulator will pay off in a way that won’t come to haunt them later.