How the pandemic became a bonanza for Florida’s medical marijuana industry

Florida has become the epicenter of the medical marijuana boom in America. With a new state law legalizing cannabis, patients are flocking to Florida for access and treatment centers have followed suit. The industry is on pace to generate $1 billion by 2020

How the pandemic became a bonanza for Florida’s medical marijuana industry

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An increase in demand for cannabis has resulted from rising anxiety and deteriorating chronic health issues, which entrepreneurs have taken advantage of. However, according to state regulations, just 22 businesses control the sector.

In Florida, the epidemic has resulted in a medicinal marijuana boom.

Over the last two years, the number of individuals with medical marijuana cards has more than quadrupled, hundreds more physicians have been permitted to certify patients, new shops have opened on a weekly basis, and a broad range of new products have become accessible.

More Floridians are seeking cannabis as a medicinal therapy as anxiety levels rise and chronic health concerns worsen during the several COVID-19 waves, and the business has discovered a means to distribute it to them.

“We’re seeing a lot more folks requesting for medicinal marijuana,” said Dr. Paul Weisman, owner of ZC Concierge Cannabis Centers in South Florida.

“Right now, people have a lot of crippling anxiety, a lot of severe sleep disruption from their fear, and a lot of chronic pain from problems that weren’t addressed during the epidemic,” says the author.

As of April 22, 710,000 persons in Florida were legally certified for medicinal marijuana, up from 300,000 in January 2020, according to the state’s medical marijuana registry.

Seniors have had tremendous progress.

Expert Javier Hasse describes the pandemic’s expansion as “huge.”

“One of the only businesses in the world that developed during the epidemic was cannabis.” “Home delivery and the fact that it was designated vital in the United States obviously helped,” he added, “but deep down people were seeking for a way to cope with stress.”

In Florida, according to Hasse, managing director of Benzinga, a digital business platform that covers all things cannabis, supply and demand expanded at the same time, with more physicians prescribing it to patients and more retailers opening to make it available.

“The average age of medicinal cannabis users [in Florida] is 55, so there are a lot of folks who are substituting cannabis for their standard pharma drugs,” Hasse added.

“Now you have operators building storefronts in an attempt to provide this service to the public.”

As you travel across South Florida, you’ll see that marijuana stores have pushed their way into shopping malls, taking over space formerly occupied by restaurants and shops. On suburban corners, new medical shops advertise a variety of products, including edibles, smokable flowers, concentrates, topical treatments, and vaporizers.

Customers swarm in as soon as new dispensaries open, according to Hasse.

“What’s intriguing about the Florida market is that there’s still a lot of underserved people,” he added.

Everything is controlled by 22 operators.

In Florida, only 22 firms are permitted to cultivate and sell medicinal marijuana. They now run 420 dispensing facilities, often known as medical marijuana treatment clinics, with ambitions to expand.

Vertical integration means that all operators in Florida must own and manage their farming, manufacturing, and retail businesses.

According to operators, the epidemic was a watershed point for cannabis in the state. COVID-19 regulations went into effect in 2020, only eight months after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis deemed smokable marijuana legal for medicinal purposes. Sellers moved quickly, completing online orders, creating drive-throughs, and providing curbside pickup and delivery as demand for the flower was only starting to take up, and COVID-19 limitations were worsening medical issues.

Trulieve, the state’s largest medical dispensary operator, has 114 outlets in Florida, four of which debuted in 2022. (Zypherhills, Fort Myers, Boca Raton, Riverview).

Trulieve has already announced two collaborations in 2022 to bring new cannabis brands to the state. Trulieve’s dispensaries, which mimic high-end jewelry shops, sell 600 different goods.

Increased availability to cannabis during the pandemic, according to Trulieve’s Claucous Alfaro, engagement manager for Florida, piqued curiosity.

He expects the patient population to grow significantly faster than the 710,000 individuals in the Medical Marijuana Use Registry as he continues to build additional sites and provide more products.

“My objective is to increase the number of patients in Florida to one million.” “I anticipate that happening before the end of next year,” Alfaro added.

Curaleaf, the state’s second-largest operator, operates 45 dispensaries.

Curaleaf’s U.S. President, Matt Darin, said, “We are highly focused on continuing to develop into the Florida market.”

“It’s an attractive industry with a lot of room for expansion, especially in the medical area.” We’ll keep opening new dispensaries… We’ve just launched in a number of new towns, and we’ll be adding more in the near future.”

According to the MJBIZ Factbook, an industry newsletter, medicinal marijuana sales in Florida are expected to exceed $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion this year.

Is it effective?

Patients in Florida are utilizing marijuana to treat chronic pain from arthritis, nerve damage, cancer, or diseases including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in addition to pandemic-related anxiety.

Even as the business grows, a group of nine Florida institutions is studying how marijuana works as a medicinal therapy, to see whether it is effective and safe, and if the risk/benefit ratio is acceptable.

“Anecdotal evidence exists… People say cannabis helps them, but most studies lack a control group, said to Almut Winterstein, co-director of the state’s Consortium for Medical Marijuana Outcomes Research.

“It’s difficult to say what would have occurred if these individuals hadn’t utilized medicinal marijuana and if their symptoms would have improved.”

Winterstein, head of the UF College of Pharmacy’s department of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy, says there is some evidence it helps for certain types of pain and epilepsy, but no one has looked at how it would interact with prescription pharmaceuticals.

She said, “There’s a lot to learn.”

“We’re not talking about FDA-approved prescription pharmaceuticals that are subjected to a rigorous approval procedure and undergo extensive safety monitoring; we’re talking about something that is significantly less controlled.”

Winterstein said the consortium aims to go through the state’s medical marijuana registry to see whether cardholders who are permitted to use it for specific health problems nonetheless wind up in the hospital or in the emergency room.

They’ll compare it to a control group of folks who don’t use medicinal marijuana but have those symptoms.

Still, in Florida’s senior homes, word of mouth is powerful, and more seniors are praising marijuana’s capacity to relieve chronic pain.

For pain and anxiety, Stephen Buckley, 75, of Hollywood, consumes marijuana every evening.

He said, “It helps me go to sleep and remain asleep.”

Buckley supports the medical qualities but objects to the continual expense of obtaining a doctor’s endorsement. Patients in Florida must now see their physicians every 210 days, or seven months. The majority of physicians charge between $150 and $250 for this treatment. The expenditures quickly pile up, and insurance does not cover medical visits or purchases.

“All of the physicians are trying to get you into their fold,” Buckley explains.

The role of physicians

In Florida, more than 2,400 physicians are qualified to prescribe medicinal marijuana and low-THC cannabis to patients.

Some doctors focus primarily on certifying patients for medicinal marijuana, while others, such as neurologists and psychiatrists, have included it to their professions.

The number of doctors recommending medicinal marijuana to patients has varied, but the quantity of medical marijuana (mgs THC) recommended and distributed has increased dramatically. According to state figures, the quantity has climbed by 370 percent in the last 212 years.

Patients come in begging for cannabis, but require a lot of information, according to Weisman, a former emergency physician who runs Concierge Cannabis Centers in South Florida.

“There are so many different products and methods to use them, and patients want assistance figuring out where to begin,” he added.

“There are always doctors that are adding it to their practice,” he added, “but it is not for everyone.”

“It takes time to talk with and follow up with a marijuana patient.”

Looking ahead

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a supporter of medicinal marijuana, believes the industry’s boom will continue.

She does, however, want smaller enterprises to be able to contract for some of the tasks that the major operators now dominate. She thinks that the reform will gradually lower the cost of items for Floridians, especially seniors.

Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, Medicare does not pay the cost of medicinal marijuana, and regular users typically spend hundreds of dollars each month.

“More competition will push prices down,” Fried said.

“With increased competition, there are more alternatives, and dispensaries must boost their game.” If there were more participants in the business, you’d have a better product and the cost to the patients would be lower.”

In Florida, efforts are ongoing to increase minority participation. A Black farmer is guaranteed one operator’s license, and applications were received in late March.

Darin of Curaleaf said that his business would invest in Florida regardless of competition.

“We need to keep improving our accessibility throughout the state,” he added.

“As public knowledge grows and more individuals learn about the advantages through family and friends, cannabis has enormous potential.”

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