Medical marijuana passed, so what’s next for pot companies?

MANATEE – The country was divided on the 2016 presidential race, but voters from both parties made a joint push to legalize marijuana recreationally and medically in states across the nation.

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Amendment 2 overwhelmingly passed in Florida with 71 percent of the vote, but medical marijuana companies can’t roll out plans for opening dispensaries just yet. Garnering public support was the first step. Now medical marijuana companies will work with legislators on implementing a set of rules and regulations for Florida’s medical marijuana industry, a first for the Sunshine State.

Passing Amendment 2 more or less expanded a similar ballot measure that narrowly failed in 2014, with 58 percent of the vote. Constitutional amendments must have 60 percent of the vote to pass, but the 2014 amendment was so close to passing that it prompted the Florida Legislature to pass a bill in 2015 allowing medical marijuana use. Critics assert the bill, signed into law in March, was so limited in allowed products and permissible patient conditions that it throttled any chance for a medical marijuana industry. Thus, the Amendment 2 appeared on Tuesday’s ballot.

Under the 2016 measure, access to marijuana will be limited to people with debilitating medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma and neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and multiple sclerosis.

“The Department of Health shall register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes and shall issue identification cards to patients and caregivers,” according to the ballot summary. The amendment goes into effect Jan. 3.

On Tuesday, medical marijuana measures in North Dakota and Arkansas also passed. Voters in California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine approved recreational use. In Arizona, a bid for recreational use failed, but medical marijuana is legal there.

WASHINGTON REALIZES THIS IS A LEGITIMATE AND GROWING INDUSTRY.

Todd Beckwith, spokesman for Altmed LLC

Todd Beckwith, spokesman for Altmed LLC, a medical cannabis company headquartered in Lakewood Ranch with production facilities in Arizona, said the company looks forward to educating officials and residents to help them embrace and create an industry they can be proud of.

Arizona has roughly 100,000 medical marijuana patients, Beckwith said, and Florida is projected to have 400,000. Altmed will bring its line of transdermal patches, pain-relief creams and lotions, and marijuana extracts to patients in Florida once the state’s implementation plan is set.

“Our hope would be that Florida implements the country’s finest and most robust medical cannabis program,” Beckwith said.

Some municipalities, including Manatee County and the city of Bradenton, have indicated interest in placing a moratorium on medical marijuana businesses for the first few months after Jan. 3. But those measures shouldn’t interfere with a healthy medical marijuana business climate.

“A lot of those moratoriums look as if they’ll run parallel to the implementation timeline,” Beckwith said. “We anticipate overall the industry will be an economic and health-care boost to Florida.”

Altmed has approximately 30 employees in Arizona who often travel to Sarasota. Beckwith estimates the Lakewood Ranch workforce eventually will reach the same level as Arizona.

President Barack Obama declared his support for states’ rights with marijuana, and President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t said much about the budding industry except that he also believes it should be left to the states. Beckwith isn’t concerned about the new administration’s effect on Altmed. He said he gets the feeling that Washington, D.C., is on board with helping the marijuana industry succeed and finding ways to help banks be friendlier to the business.

400,000

number of expected medical marijuana patients in Florida

For Cathy and Robert Jordan, a Parrish couple who have been through the ringer with pushing for medical marijuana the past 20 years, Tuesday night’s amendment victory left them feeling vindicated. At the same time, they fear being taken advantage of by the many companies and investors who are looking to join the “green rush.”

“My gut feeling is that people are going to want to use us to make money,” Robert Jordan said. “And we’re not going to allow it to happen unless we make money, too.”

Cathy Jordan is afflicted with ALS, and Robert Jordan, a veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of her years of outspoken advocacy for the cause, Cathy Jordan is a renowned and well-respected name in the cannabis industry, Robert Jordan said.

Cathy Jordan emphasized her purpose in advocating for safe, responsible medical marijuana laws.

“It’s not about the money,” Cathy Jordan said. “It’s about compassion and getting medicine to as many people as possible.”