On November 8, 2016, Florida voters embraced Amendment 2, also recognized as the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, marking a significant expansion of the state's medical marijuana landscape. Prior to this amendment, Florida's medical marijuana regulations restricted the use of low-THC marijuana to patients with seizures or a limited list of severe medical conditions. The governing statute for medical marijuana use in Florida is Fl. Stat. § 381.986, enacted in 2017 following the constitutional amendment's approval.
Distinguishing itself from other states, Florida mandates that its Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTCs) adopt a vertical integration model. This entails MMTCs securing authorization to cultivate, process, and dispense medical marijuana before distributing it to eligible patients. Critics argue that this requirement poses barriers for smaller businesses entering Florida's medical marijuana market. As of June 2022, 16 centers were operating 438 dispensing facilities across the state, with three MMTCs overseeing nearly half of them.
Florida's already substantial medical marijuana industry is poised for further growth by 2023. In October 2021, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) introduced Emergency Rule 64ER21-16, addressing marijuana license set-asides for two groups of Black farmers. These applicants, victorious in Pigford v. Glickman and In re Black Farmers Litigation, submitted 12 applications during the five-day window from March 21st to March 25th, 2022. These applications are currently under Phase Two Review as of June 2022. Additionally, the OMMU is progressing with rulemaking to establish an application process for up to 22 additional MMTC licenses.
On the recreational marijuana front, citizen-led initiatives persist in advocating for a ballot amendment to legalize recreational marijuana. However, hurdles exist, including Governor Ron DeSantis signing SB 1890, which imposes contribution limits ($3,000) to political committees supporting proposed constitutional amendments during the signature gathering process. Florida residents are likely to see recreational marijuana on the ballot on Nov. 5, 2024.
Marijuana Cultivation Licenses in Florida
In Florida, the cultivation of marijuana is intrinsically tied to the Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MTC) license, reflecting a vertically integrated model that emphasizes cultivation, processing, and dispensing within a single entity.
Who Can Cultivate Marijuana in Florida?
Licensed marijuana treatment centers (MTCs) exclusively hold the legal authority to engage in marijuana cultivation within the state. Staff working within MTCs must be qualified individuals above the age of 21, passing a level 2 background check in adherence to state laws.
Staff of MTCs do not require specific cultivation permits. However, strict adherence to state regulations is mandatory, and training on marijuana cultivation and handling is a prerequisite for staff members. Notably, Florida prohibits individuals with felony convictions from working within marijuana treatment centers.
The Application Process
To secure a marijuana cultivation license, prospective entities must apply for an MTC license, the sole license in Florida allowing marijuana cultivation. The Department of Health oversees the application process and requires a comprehensive submission, including detailed documentation and a non-refundable application fee.
Applicants must furnish evidence of a Florida-registered business existing for at least five years, a current Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services certificate, and thorough documentation of key personnel. Compliance with application format, blind grading, and organization is crucial.
The Department of Health engages a team of subject matter experts for a meticulous review and scoring process. Additional points are allocated to applicants with facilities used for canning, concentrating, or processing citrus fruits, promoting diversity in licensing.
Seven subject matter experts in various relevant fields evaluate applications using a Scorecard for Medical Marijuana Treatment Center Selection Form. Each applicant's overall score determines eligibility, with specific emphasis on financials, business structure, diversity plans, and operational accountability.
Florida law mandates the issuance of 10 licenses at the inception of the medical marijuana treatment center program. Priority is accorded to applicants meeting specific criteria, including those with administrative or judicial challenges and recognized class members of Pigford v. Glickman.
In the event of tied scores, preference is given based on financials, business structure, diversity plan, and operational accountability. Additional points are granted to applicants with facilities engaged in processing citrus fruits.
Successful applicants must fulfill post-approval requirements, including posting a performance bond or providing financial assurance of $5 million. Verification of property ownership and leases is mandatory within ten days.
The state emphasizes financial stability, technical capability, and adherence to regulations in maintaining operations for a two-year approval cycle.
The Florida marijuana cultivation license is bundled with the MTC license. As of December 2022, the state revised fees, with the MTC license fee increased to $146,000.
The revised fees underscore the financial commitment required for participation in Florida's medical marijuana industry. Entities must be prepared to meet these costs to contribute to the state's growing medical marijuana landscape.
As the cannabis landscape evolves in Florida, the state's distinctive vertical integration model, requiring Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MTCs) to oversee cultivation, processing, and dispensing, sets it apart in the industry. The rigorous licensing process, coupled with the recent fee adjustments, reflects Florida's commitment to maintaining a responsible and robust medical marijuana market. With the ongoing citizen-led initiatives for recreational marijuana legalization facing challenges, the state's focus on fair allocation and continuous regulatory refinement positions it for sustained growth. As Florida navigates the intricate intersection of legislative changes, public sentiment, and industry dynamics, the cannabis sector is poised for further development, promising an intriguing journey ahead.