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Florida medical marijuana operators form a trade association to promote pot

Shamarial Robinson
AP, file
Shamarial Roberson, an epidemiologist and a former deputy secretary with the Florida Department of Health, will serve as executive director of the Florida Medical Marijuana Trade Association.

Executive director Shamarial Roberson, an epidemiologist, says the association will advocate for “research and advancement” for medical marijuana.

Pointing to a need for education, a handful of the state’s medical marijuana operators have formed a trade association designed to “foster a thriving medical marijuana industry.”

Members of the new Florida Medical Marijuana Trade Association include some of the state’s largest pot companies.

The group’s president is Chris Ferguson, a former director of the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use who now is a vice president of Verano Holdings, which operates in Florida as MuV.

The association’s goal “is really to foster a thriving medical marijuana industry,” Ferguson told The News Service of Florida in an interview.

Companies that have joined the group include Verano, AYR Wellness, Curaleaf, Fluent, Green Thumb Industries, Surterra and The Cannabist Co., the association said in a news release. Trulieve, the state’s largest medical-marijuana operator, is not a part of the group.

Along with Ferguson, the association tapped Shamarial Roberson, an epidemiologist who is a former deputy secretary at the Department of Health, to serve as executive director.

Roberson said the association will advocate for “research and advancement” on the medical marijuana front.

“There’s a need for a coordinated effort on medical marijuana to look for those options for research,” Roberson said. “Having a trade association really helps to push out the message to make sure education is there.”

The association’s creation came as cannabis insiders and investors await a decision from the Florida Supreme Court about a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana for people age 21 and older. The court heard arguments about the proposal but has not ruled on whether the measure meets legal requirements to go before voters in November. Justices have until April 1 to issue an opinion.

The association also kicked off as the number of medical marijuana operators, currently at 25, is poised to nearly double.

State health officials for the past year have been sifting through a batch of more than six dozen applications for 22 new medical marijuana licenses. The applications were submitted more than six years after Florida voters in 2016 approved a constitutional amendment broadly authorizing medical marijuana and after lawmakers in 2017 approved a framework for the industry.

The association will advocate for medical marijuana companies “by promoting pro-patient and pro-business policies and regulatory initiatives, fostering collaboration and best practice sharing, and promoting education, training and public awareness for the many benefits of medical cannabis,” a news release said.

Ferguson said the group wants to highlight marijuana’s medicinal qualities and pointed to recent actions by the Biden administration that could lead to the “rescheduling” of marijuana, which is classified by the federal government in the same group of drugs as heroin.

The move “shows that the federal government is keenly aware that there are medicinal properties,” Ferguson said. “We’re very hopeful about that.”

Jim Turner - News Service of Florida