Pubdate: Mon, 23 May 2016
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2016 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Jeff Ostrowski


Proponents Cite Benefits to Many Ill Floridians, Thousands of Added 
Jobs, Millions in Tax Revenue.

Entrepreneurs in the budding cannabis industry are salivating at the 
prospect that Florida might legalize medical marijuana.

Pot proponents say hundreds of thousands of Floridians with cancer 
and other ailments would benefit from medical marijuana - and they 
see the potential for a billion-dollar industry that could create 
thousands of jobs and generate millions in tax revenue.

"I look at this as one of the big job savers, job creators, tax 
getters," said Orlando attorney John Morgan, who's bankrolling a 
November ballot initiative to legalize pot for medical use. 
"Technology is taking jobs away every day. This business here is 
going to replace jobs and income like never before."

Morgan spoke on Tuesday at the Marijuana Business Conference in 
Kissimmee, an event where vendors hawked a variety of products and 
services for growers and sellers of cannabis. Farmers browsed a 
selection of fertilizers, humidity-control systems, lights and 
blackout curtains.

One exhibitor pitched crop insurance. Others displayed pot packaging, 
labels, display cases and vaporizers. Attendees could browse rival 
trade publications Marijuana Business Magazine and Cannabis Business Times.

While Morgan sees reefer as an antidote to offshoring of jobs, and 
cannabis boosters stress that humans have been smoking the low-tech 
plant for centuries, the new breed of "ganjapreneurs" doesn't shy 
away from technology. One company at the trade show marketed 
"seed-to-sale software."

Another vendor, Denver-based Jane, displayed electronic kiosks where 
dispensaries - as pot shops are known - can collect cash from 
customers. The machines mean dispensaries face less risk of employee 
theft, and require fewer workers.

"You all who are in this business, if you stay with it for the long 
haul, are going to make a small fortune," Morgan told hundreds of 
people attending the conference.

Medical marijuana industries already are up and running in 
California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan and a dozen other 
states. Nuances vary by state, but the details are generally the 
same. Patients must get a doctor's permission to buy marijuana.

Weed must be grown within state borders, at indoor farms, typically 
in converted warehouses. Banks and health insurers steer clear of a 
product that the federal government considers illegal, so customers 
pay cash, with no reimbursement. Depending on the patient's 
preference, the pot can be smoked, eaten, vaporized or applied to the skin.

Florida would be the second-largest state to legalize weed, and pot 
proponents say the state's large population of seniors is ripe for 
relief from marijuana.

"This could end up being one of the largest medical marijuana markets 
in the country," said Chris Walsh, editorial director of Marijuana 
Business Daily, a publishing company that covers the cannabis 
industry and hosted the conference in Kissimmee.

First, though, proponents must persuade Florida voters to legalize 
the industry. In 2014, a medical marijuana initiative was approved by 
57.6 percent of Florida voters, short of the 60 percent required to 
amend the state constitution. A poll released this week by Quinnipiac 
University found that 80 percent of Florida voters support legalizing 
pot for medical use, although a caveat is in order: A Quinnipiac poll 
months before the 2014 election showed 88 percent support for medical 

Just how big Florida's ganja business gets depends on how many 
Floridians decide to treat their ailments with weed, and how much 
cannabis they consume. Morgan places the market at 400,000 to 500,000 
Floridians with such diseases as cancer, epilepsy, AIDS, Parkinson's 
disease, Crohn's disease and muscular dystrophy.

Medical marijuana consumption varies by state.

In Colorado, nearly 2.2 percent of the population uses weed to treat 
health conditions, according to a report by the Florida Legislature's 
Office of Economic and Demographic Research. If Floridians prove that 
they're as keen on cannabis as Coloradans, more than 440,000 patients 
would sign up to buy legalized pot.

In California and Washington, just 1.5 percent of residents use 
medical pot. Apply that rate to Florida, and 300,000 patients would 
buy medical marijuana.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research issued a wide range 
of estimates for potential sales of legalized pot, from as little as 
$197 million a year to as much as $3.3 billion.

The low estimate is based on 250,000 Floridians signing up for the 
state's medical marijuana program, then using 3.5 ounces a year at a 
price of $225 per ounce. That works out to an annual weed budget of 
$788 per person.

The high estimate assumes the same number of patients consume 30 
ounces a year at a price of $450 an ounce - a pace that seems 
unlikely, considering that users would have to come up with $13,500 a year.

Assuming medical marijuana is subjected to a 6 percent sales tax, 
state revenue would range from $12 million to $357 million a year, 
the Office of Economic and Demographic Research said.

Colorado, which has a broad legalization policy that allows anyone 
over 21 to buy marijuana, collected $111.9 million in marijuana taxes 
and fees in the first nine months of the 2015-16 fiscal year, 
according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

"There's a lot of unknowns at this point," Walsh said. "But we are 
very bullish on the Florida market. This could be an industry that 
generates hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and tens of 
millions in revenue to state coffers."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom