Rush begins for legal marijuana money

If medical marijuana becomes legal in Florida, someone is going to make money from it. Already, a crowd of would-be investors and entrepreneurs are forming on the ground floor.

Since last summer, more than 60 businesses have incorporated in Florida with names suggesting the founders intend to get into the medical marijuana business, and the vast majority filed incorporation papers just in the past two months.

The companies appear to be lining up to offer everything from plant cultivation to equipment supply, medical treatment to legal advice, research and development to retail dispensing, and financial consulting to security.

Medical marijuana businesses in Florida
Medical marijuana businesses in Florida

“It’s growing exponentially,” said Ken Kavenaugh, of Apopka, a video production entrepreneur who, with his wife Cynthia, set up a business called Marijuana Farmacy LLC. “Every Tom, Dick and Harry would love to get into it, but it’s certainly not nearly as simple as some may think.”

Central Florida also now has The Cannabis Clinic LLC, of Orlando; Cannabis/Marijuana Health Products & Equipment LLC of Kissimmee; and two companies called Medical Marijuana of Central Florida Inc., both in Orlando.

Around the state, there are others: Florida Cannabis Consultants of Wilton Manors; Florida Medical Marijuana Physicians LLC of Oakland Park; Medical Marijuana Industries of Florida of Coral Springs; Marijuana RX Inc. of Margate; Marijuana Account Corp. of Fort Lauderdale; Cannabis Beverage Development of Sebastian and Medical Marijuana Business Lawyers of Boca Raton.

Many of them are being founded by entrepreneurs who have little or no background in marijuana, medicine or cultivation, but know a potential cash crop when they see one.

Quiz: Which S. Fla. critter are you?

“Logic would dictate that there should be sufficient demand,” said Craig Frank of Hollywood, a biofuels entrepreneur who is president of the new Florida Cannabis Industry Association Corp. “So naturally people looking for opportunities may be looking to start a company.”

Last year, California had about 412,000 registered medical marijuana patients, Colorado had 85,000, and Michigan and Washington each had more than 30,000, according to ArcView Market Research, a San Francisco-based marijuana investment network.

“Our rough, back-of-the-envelope estimates project that a medical [marijuana] industry in Florida regulated in a similar way to Colorado could do about $780 million in sales in a year. That’s based on what we’ve seen in other states and adjusted for Florida’s population,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association in Washington. “That would likely make it the second-largest legal market in the country, after California.”

Florida’s potential cash crop has seeds in two places.

There is a proposed Florida constitutional amendment on the November general election ballot that would make medical marijuana broadly legal.

And there are two bills, HB 843 and SB 1030, making their way through the Florida Legislature that, for now, would legalize one specific marijuana extract, an oil called cannabidiol, or “Charlotte’s Web,” which has shown promise in helping children with untreatable seizure disorders. Those bills, however, have the prospect of being expanded to include other marijuana products to treat other illnesses.

Three new trade associations have also sprung up, giving Florida at least four non-profit organizations contending to represent marijuana businesses.

“I think there is room for good people, professional folks that could really present a professional image,” said James Urban, an investor who is chairman of the Florida Medical Cannabis Association in Winter Park. “That’s what our association would like to see.”

But if the Charlotte’s Web bills die or get vetoed, and Amendment 2 fails to get 60 percent approval necessary to pass in November, then their business plans may go up in smoke.

So to improve chances that something will become legal, that association already has hired a lobbyist, veteran government ear-bender Louis Rotundo of Casselberry. The association also hired an executive director, Cerise Naylor, who has a background in organizing and fundraising.

Rotundo is pressing lawmakers to rewrite the bills to address key questions businesses want answered: Where could the seeds come from? Who could grow the plants? Who could process the products? Who could package the products? How could investors get involved? How could the product be transported for sale? Who could sell it?

“Business likes regulatory certainty,” Rotundo said. “I don’t want to have to guess what the rules are. I don’t want to guess whether the sheriff and state attorney are going to come knock on my door.”

Some business people such as Jaycelle Coltman of Winter Park, who owns two modeling agencies, are attracted to the medical marijuana industry because they are convinced marijuana can help people with a variety of chronic, debilitating illnesses. She has joined the Florida Medical Cannabis Association board.

“If this plant can help them, we’ve got to make it legal. I am passionate from a humanitarian standpoint,” she said. “I also am a business owner. I am an entrepreneur. I’m a pretty tenacious woman. The more I look at it, the more I got to see the business side as well, so my entrepreneurial side came out.” or 407-420-5441.

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