Week in Review: Florida’s new MMJ rules, Weedmaps joins Boston Chamber & SC hemp applications

By Bart Schaneman, Omar Sacirbey and Kristen Nichols

Florida sets new regulations for medical marijuana business license applicants, cannabis tech company Weedmaps joins Boston’s Chamber of Commerce, and South Carolina’s hemp application deadline approaches.

Here’s a closer look at some notable developments in the marijuana industry over the past week.

On the right track

Florida’s new medical marijuana regulations are a move in the right direction for expansion of the state’s MMJ market, according to one industry analyst.

“The department appears to have taken a number of steps to alleviate some of the pretty significant problems that they had during the last process,” said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care and former campaign director for Amendment 2.

He specifically applauded the state health department’s decisions to outsource the application scoring to 16 “subject-matter experts,” obscure the identity of the applicants and add provisions for tiebreakers.

Another major change is permitting businesses with Department of Agriculture certificates that have operated in Florida for five years to apply. Previously, only nurseries that had been in business for at least 30 years could apply.

While the changes add up to a stronger market and five more licenses, small businesses and entrepreneurs shouldn’t get their hopes up, Pollara said.

The application stipulates that candidates must have significant financial resources to even apply, and the scoring and financial criteria put “a gigantic emphasis on your financial wherewithal,” Pollara said. “If you’re a small business sitting on a mountain of cash, maybe.”

The state’s MMJ market has progressed dramatically since the beginning of the year, when there were only seven licensees.

“We’re on our way to having true patient access throughout the state,” Pollara said.

One thing to keep in mind, though – the state probably won’t meet its Oct. 3 deadline for issuing the next five licenses because it hasn’t selected a consultant to oversee the application scoring process.

Pollara called any assertion by the state that it will meet its deadline “absurd” and “impossible.”

Membership has its privileges

Boston’s Chamber of Commerce welcomed canna-centric tech firm Weedmaps into its fold, a move that’s not an oddity but could prove beneficial for other Massachusetts marijuana businesses and the industry as a whole.

While some chambers have refused to accept marijuana companies, most of those in major cities with established or impending recreational states have embraced cannabis business members, including Denver, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle.

Even though chambers accept marijuana businesses, a quick check of membership directories suggest that not a lot of cannabis companies join.

But they should, said Erik Williams, former director of government and public affairs for Mindful, a dispensary chain that joined the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce when he was with the company.

By joining a chamber, marijuana companies give themselves and the industry added legitimacy and access to a network that could lead to beneficial business relationships, said Williams, now a founding partner of Will & Way, a Connecticut-based consultancy with clients in 11 states.

To get the most from your chamber membership, Williams said, be as active as possible by attending chamber-sponsored events, joining committees and chiming in on policy issues that are important to your business – like electric costs, security and taxes.

“Don’t join to say you’re a member of the chamber of commerce, join to be a member. Get involved,” Williams said. “Harnessing the power of the chamber and its membership is going to come by talking to people and having strong education.”

A hard sell?

Interest is picking up in South Carolina’s new hemp program after a slow start – but some farmers aren’t yet sold on the crop’s marketability.

The state Department of Agriculture says it has at least 38 applications to participate in next year’s pilot.

South Carolina plans to license just 20 growers in its first year, then 50 in 2019, before sending its hemp program back to state officials for review.

The 20-grower limit is smaller than North Carolina’s hemp program, which licensed 97 hemp growers this year, its first in the new industry. And South Carolina applicants are limited to growing hemp on 20 acres, a size restriction not in place in other hemp states.

South Carolina initially suffered from slow interest from farmers; the program had just eight applicants before Hurricane Irma prompted the state to extend the deadline for permit applications from Sept. 15 to Sept. 22.

Still, some farmers say they’re not ready to experiment with hemp.

“There’s just too much uncertainty right now,” said Madison Turnblad, who grows peanuts and cotton about 50 miles south of Columbia. Turnblad considered applying to the hemp program but decided there isn’t enough profit in hemp yet.

“Without interstate commerce or any certain market,” he said, “there just wasn’t enough potential gain.”

South Carolina plans to announce the approved 20 hemp farmers later this fall.

Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]

Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]

Kristen Nichols can be reached at [email protected]

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