Marijuana Industry Sees Green In Florida
There wasn't a tie-dyed shirt to be found this week at a gathering in Central Florida where the buzz was all about the business of pot.
More than 3,000 people from across the nation and seven other countries swapped information about grow lights, soil nutrients and safes --- to stash money and products --- at the marijuana industry's premiere trade show. And the choice of Florida for the event was no accident.
"We're here in Florida, because at all of our national events that we've hosted, we've had very strong attendance out of Florida. We are confident that when, and it's not going to be an if, when Florida legalizes marijuana on a medical or a recreational level, the Florida market is going to be absolutely huge," said Marijuana Business Daily CEO Cassandra Farrington, whose publication organized the three-day convention at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center.
For the second time in two years, Floridians in November will have a chance to legalize medical marijuana for a variety of debilitating illnesses. A similar measure narrowly failed in 2014 to capture the 60 percent support required to pass constitutional amendments.
"(Florida) is going to be a bellwether state, not only in the Southeast, but across the country, for marijuana legalization," Farrington said. "As such, the business opportunities here are accordingly very, very large."
While Florida's emerging market --- projected to be home to the second-largest population of marijuana consumers, if the measure passes --- was a draw for some of the convention attendees, for others the event was just an opportunity to network and scope out the latest equipment and merchandise in what some experts estimate is a $4 billion-a-year industry.
Wandering through the convention exposition floor, visitors could stop by the "Bud Bar," which specializes in displays for marijuana dispensaries.
A few feet away, several men in white lab coats embroidered with a pot plant handed out green Mardi Gras-style necklaces festooned with flashing marijuana leaves.
A sign above a piece of machinery declared "Trimming sucks. The Twister T2 doesn't."
During an introduction to one of Tuesday's speeches, Marijuana Business Daily Publisher George Jage begged the audience's pardon before encouraging attendees to network, which "helps us all reach a little higher."
And while the parties and after-parties were reminiscent of any other convention or trade show, the hosts, vendors and attendees were all mindful that the product that is the focus of this week's event is different. While Florida is one of 24 states that have legalized some sort of marijuana, cannabis is still outlawed under federal law.
"The use, distribution or sale of any products containing THC is strictly prohibited at the event, in the exhibit hall, conference sessions or any other function space where the event is conducted," the convention show guide warned. "Any individual who possesses, transports, or consumes any THC-based products is solely responsible for his/her compliance with local and state regulations."
Florida legalized non-euphoric cannabis for patients with severe muscle spasms or cancer two years ago, but the products aren't available yet. This year, lawmakers approved full-strength cannabis for terminally ill patients. But the November ballot's Amendment 2, largely bankrolled by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, would vastly expand medical marijuana for patients with a broad array of diseases. Morgan addressed the convention Tuesday.
"Your market is huge and the demographics are so perfect for cannabis," said Sara Batterby, president and CEO of Hifi Farms in Hillsborough, Ore., who left her Silicon Valley job as a venture capitalist to start up a grow operation.
Baby boomers and seniors who may have experimented with pot "back in the day" might be more amenable to using cannabis as a treatment for ailments as they age, backers of ballot initiatives like Amendment 2 believe.
Adam Bierman, CEO of MedMen, hosted a fundraiser Tuesday night in the hotel's presidential suite for United for Care, a political committee backing Amendment 2.
November --- when 20 states will have marijuana-related measures on the ballot --- will be a "watershed moment for the industry and policy in general," Bierman, whose California-based management company operates in four states and Canada, said in an interview Wednesday.
"From a political standpoint, it becomes harder and harder to be against," Bierman said.
A poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University showed that Floridians agree with Bierman.
The poll found that 80 percent of voters support the proposed constitutional amendment, which would allow medical marijuana for patients with a wide range of conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Dixie Elixirs CEO Tripp Keber, called by some the "Gordon Gecko of the marijuana industry," refers to his products as "a new wellness platform" superior to prescription pain pills or alcohol.
The industry creates jobs, helps sick people and puts money into state coffers, said Keber a developer from Alabama who launched his Colorado-based company six years ago and is now operating in six states.
Keber's company will join forces with one of the six nurseries licensed to grow medical marijuana in Florida, he told The News Service of Florida this week.
"The fact of the matter is that the money is real," Keber said.