Within the last few months, the Florida Supreme Court (the “Court”) issued three (3) separate rulings that have a significant impact on the future of Florida’s legal marijuana market. First, the Florida Supreme Court issued its long-awaited ruling in the Florigrown case involving the licensing structure of the state’s burgeoning medical marijuana program. In reversing both the trial and appellate court findings, the Court ruled that the state’s laws creating a limited, vertically-integrated licensing structure are valid. Second, the Court struck down two (2) separate initiative petitions seeking to place marijuana legalization for adult use on the ballot for the 2022 election. This article will explore the practical implications of these rulings and discuss upcoming opportunities in Florida’s medical marijuana market.
Adult-Use in Florida…Not So Fast
As discussed in The 2020 Election Takeaway For Marijuana: Ballot Initiatives Work blog, there were two (2) separate adult-use marijuana initiatives seeking to get legalization in front of the voters for the election in 2022. On June 17, 2021, the Court effectively closed the door on both efforts after striking down the second adult-use marijuana petition on the grounds that the ballot’s summary was misleading. The Florida Legislature has expressed its distaste for citizen-led ballot initiatives and has been passing laws making it more difficult and costlier for such initiatives to succeed. Thus, it will be a tall order for another initiative to successfully make it on the ballot for 2022. And given the current composition of Florida’s Legislature and Governor DeSantis’ stated opposition to adult-use marijuana, it looks like Florida will be a medical-only state for now.
Medical Marijuana is Big Business in the Sunshine State
Florida’s medical marijuana market is one of the largest and fastest growing in the country. In 2020, it is estimated that marijuana sales in Florida topped $1.2 billion. And with the program adding roughly 15,000 to 20,000 new patients each month, Florida’s patient population has already increased by 20% in the first half of 2021. In the midst of enormous growth, the Court upheld a licensing structure that requires a limited number of companies to operate what amounts to at least four types of businesses under one license without any size or facility restrictions. By upholding the “super license” market structure, Florida has appealed to big business. Cognizant of the opportunity presented by Florida’s Legislature, more than half of Florida’s market is composed of large, multi-state cannabis operators who have acquired MMTCs through multi-million dollar acquisitions on the secondary market.
New Licenses for Florida’s Medical Marijuana Program Should Be Available Soon
Florida’s medical marijuana laws tie new licenses (known as “Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers” or “MMTCs”) to the state’s patient population. For every 100,000 new patients registered in Florida’s medical marijuana program, four (4) additional MMTCs become available through a competitive application process. With Florida’s patient count set to hit 600,000 soon, there will be nineteen (19) additional MMTC licenses available through the state, almost doubling the number of licenses currently serving Florida’s market.
The application process for new MMTC licenses has been delayed since the enactment of Florida’s expanded medical marijuana laws in 2017. The delay was caused, in large part, by the Florigrown case. Now that the Florigrown case has been resolved, there should be nothing standing in the way of the Department of Health moving forward with the rule-making process that will ultimately finalize the application it began preparing in 2017. In fact, Florida law requires the Department of Health to issue new licenses within six (6) months each time the patient count adds 100,000 patients, which occurred already in 2018, 2019, twice in 2020, and March of 2021. The four-year wait should be over, but this is Florida…