Charlotte’s Web bill sets off “green rush” in new Florida market

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Lawmakers may have wanted to keep Florida’s new low-THC medical marijuana business in-state, but the Legislature unwittingly set off a “green” rush before Gov. Rick Scott even signs the bill.

Out-of-state marijuana business owners seem to be less interested in the “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC strain Scott intends to sign into law, but more the regular pot that voters may approve for limited medical use in November.

“Florida’s a super-interesting market for us because of the potential size of it in the future,” Terra Tech CEO Derek Peterson told Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida. “But this is a great way to get started and we certainly don’t want to miss the opportunity.”

Terra Tech holds subsidiaries including a California medical marijuana dispensary and a hydroponic produce company called Edible Garden.

Last week, the Legislature passed a proposal to make available a strain of marijuana high in cannabidiol (CBD) but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that produces euphoria.

Parents of children suffering from a form of epilepsy believe the extract of the cannabis strain, known as “Charlotte’s Web,” is effective in reducing life-threatening seizures. Several families lobbied heavily for the bill this session.

Lawmakers then amended the initial bill to include cancer patients and those suffering from severe muscle spasms or seizures, widening the market for potential vendors.

To reduce the risk of questionable, out-of-state operators entering the Florida market, the Legislature restricted those eligible to develop the marijuana strain.

For consideration to grow the now-legal pot will be a few registered nurseries, ones that have operated in the state for a minimum of 30 years, produce more than 400,000 plants and have processing capabilities — the product is usually delivered to patients in paste or oil form. That leaves 21 nurseries across the state, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The Florida Department of Health will select five nurseries — spread out evenly throughout the state – as facilities authorized to grow, manufacture and sell the extract.

“Our goal was not to convert Florida into a magnet for the pot industry,” Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz told the News Service. Gaetz, along with Democratic Rep. Katie Edwards, spearheaded the successful campaign for the bill in the Legislature.

However, out-of-state pot growers are already attempting to reach out to eligible nurseries in Florida, to provide assistance and expertise.

“We know the market’s a lot greater when they ultimately pass some broader medical law and/or, down the line, potentially recreational as well,” Peterson said. “So we want to, no pun intended, we want to plant our roots and get situated there as quickly as we can.”

Peterson joins others who want a piece of the country’s largest potential pot market. If voters in November approve Amendment 2, allowing doctors to order medical marijuana — the regular, high-THC type — to treat a variety of ailments.

Several polls show vast support for the measure, but as a change in the Florida Constitution, requires a 60 percent voter approval to pass.

Much of the debate in the session over the low-THC measure centered on about 150,000 families with children suffering from what is called “intractable” epilepsy, a rare form that can cause hundreds of seizures weekly.

The addition of cancer patients, those suffering from acute muscle spasms or seizures – such as patients with ALS or multiple sclerosis –expands the patient population significantly.

Kam writes that Peterson could not yet give an estimated number of prospective consumers for the low-THC, high-CBD product in Florida, but he does believe it will be a “good market” — with one stipulation.

“You’re not building a long-term business based upon that market alone,” Petersen said. “It’s just people that want an entrée to the market want an entrée to the market for the broader medical program as well as potential recreational.

“That’s where your bigger patient numbers are.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.