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Florida medical marijuana industry struggles to keep up with patient demand

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When Florida residents voted to legalize medical marijuana in November 2016, many believed that the battle had finally been won. Doctors began writing letters of recommendation for patients suffering from chronic and sometimes life-threatening illnesses to use as a resource to acquire MMJ cards. In a process marketed by the Florida Office of Medical Marijuana that was supposed to take only 30-days or less, many patients are still waiting after seven weeks or longer.

According to the Miami Herald, the state department is witnessing a flood of MMJ applications and is unable to keep up with the demand. As many as 3,000 applications can be sitting in the organization’s inbox at any given time, and they are receiving up to 1,300 phone calls per day from hopeful patients. Since the end of July 2017, the state registry has recorded nearly 37,000 applications from a whopping 10,000 patients or more.

Medical dispensaries are limited, despite growing interest by small business owners.

To add to the confusion, the state of Florida does not make it easy for aspiring small business owners to open medical marijuana dispensaries. Unlike growers in California where even recreational marijuana use is legal, Florida law places more severe regulations on small businesses. There are less than a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries in Florida at this time, and for a state that has one of the highest percentages of aging Americans, finding a dispensary in close proximity can be challenging for many Floridians, to say the least.

  • According to Florida law, the selling of medical marijuana is not illegal, but the dispensary must be state-sanctioned.
  • It is also illegal for anyone other than a state-sanctioned dispensary to grow even a small quantity of marijuana plants, even if a patient happens to have a letter of recommendation from a prescribing physician.
  • Since even patients are not allowed to grow their own marijuana without the state-approved license, this law also extends to local brick-and-mortar start-ups.
  • But given the backlog of MMJ patient registrations already on file, the chances of gaining approval by a small business owner to become a medical marijuana dispensary is also growing increasingly difficult.
  • Vendors are even prohibited from purchasing marijuana flowers at this time. They are restricted to purchasing only MCY oils and terpenes.

Meanwhile, even finding a bank to operate their business is proving to involve enormous amounts of bureaucratic red tape. In August of 2017, Florida’s First Green Back boasted of serving six out of seven of the available medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. By the end of December, bank officials announced that they would be closing their doors to legal marijuana businesses thanks to a new acquisition by a larger financial institution.  

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