In a program that is currently both rapidly expanding and facing more than a few lawsuits, it can be easy to look to more mature and developed legal cannabis sates such as Colorado and California, and become discouraged at the current climate in the Florida Medical Marijuana business. Prices across the board at various dispensaries range from moderately high to outrageous when compared to other legal markets, causing patients to actively seek ways to save a buck with the current Florida MMJ system. Caps on the numbers of dispensaries each company is allowed and vertical integration requirements (meaning the Medical Marijuana Treatment Center must do everything from grow to sell and market the product) keep prices high and stock low, and sometimes the dispensaries themselves can add to the frustration.
However, if we take a step back and look at 2018 from beginning to date (12/16/2018), we begin to see that a lot of things really went in the right direction for patients this year. Most of the dispensaries have found a way to balance profit with affordable prices to boost patient access, or at least take a stance in favor and steps toward getting things where they need to be. Let’s take a look at a few of the things that went well in 2018.
Expansion of Product Variety
This was a big one. Trulieve and Curaleaf both released and refined their flower cup products that continue to be the only legal source of the true marijuana flower that many of us are used to – in Florida, at least. Both Curaleaf and Trulieve released several new strains of flower, and Curaleaf finally seems to be consistently improving the quality of their once dry and brittle flower. In the late summer, Trulieve released their TruShatter, a full spectrum concentrate available in several indica, sativa, and hybrid strains. MUV was not far behind in offering a multitude of shatter strains, and eventually released both crumble (MUV Blue) and terp sauce (MUV Gold) products as well. Trulieve also furthered experimentation of ratio products with their Delta 8 1:1:1 ratio product – a 1:1:1 blend of THC, CBD, and Delta-8 THC; Delta-8 is a chemical that is very slightly different from the “traditional” Delta-9 THC and claims to offer a different scope of medicinal benefits. Liberty Health Sciences acquired more products and expanded their available strains in concentrates and vape carts, as did GrowHealthy and pretty much every other dispensary in Florida. In short, there are significantly more products available now than there were at the beginning of the year; heck, there’s a significant increase in the variety from what was available in the middle of the summer. This will only trend better and expand more in 2019.
Expansion of Dispensary Locations and Delivery Services
Another item of significance for patient access was the expansion of brick-and-mortar locations for almost all the current registered MMTC’s in Florida. South Florida and the central peninsula (Tampa, Orlando, etc.) seemed to reap the greatest benefits from this, as the only notable expansion in the panhandle came from Curaleaf opening locations in Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Trulieve, Curaleaf, MUV, Liberty Health Sciences, GrowHealthy, and VidaCann all began rapidly opening new locations in the second half of the year. Curaleaf began offering free state-wide delivery early in the year, as did Liberty Health Sciences and GrowHealthy.
My only criticism is the lack of attention to opening locations in the panhandle; while I understand the greatest population of patients is focused in central and south Florida, the only dispensaries most of the panhandle currently has access to are from Trulieve, Curaleaf, Knox, and Surterra. Hopefully more MMTC’s will expand to locations like Pensacola, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and areas in between during 2019. With Florida Medical Cannabis Collective’s HQ being located near Tallahassee, we look forward to having a much greater variety of products to review in the coming year. We hope to see continued expansion, especially if Ron DeSantis follows his word on implementing the will of the voters and ceasing to enforce the ridiculous caps and vertical integration requirements of dispensaries. Even with the cards turned against the patients, we were able to see significant growth in 2018 – this is a win in my book.
The fight against Florida Cannabis patients seems to be turning in our favor
Several judges have already ruled the caps on the number of dispensaries a MMTC can open, vertical integration requirements, and even the smoking ban as unconstitutional and a direct violation of the will of the voters when they overwhelming voted to implement Amendment 2 in the 2016 election. The main factor preventing these rulings from ending the prevention of expansion was Rick Scott and his constant appeals against the judge’s ruling. That may all change in 2019, though, as the Ron DeSantis administration has indicated that it will not continue some of the legal battles against marijuana in 2019, and that DeSantis respects the will of the voters and what they intended to implement. While we won’t believe this until we see results, it is admittedly better than another year with Rick Scott as Governor – thankfully, his term limit prevented that nightmare from becoming reality. While exactly what DeSantis will or won’t do remains to be seen, we remain cautiously optimistic that he will keep his word and drop the appeals; this will allow an even more rapid expansion of both products and dispensary locations in 2019. It can only get better from here in that scenario, and that scenario is what we will do everything in our journalistic power to make a reality. 2018 seemed to turn in favor of Florida patients – let’s all work together to make sure that gain in our strength increases exponentially in 2019.