Let’s begin with some math. As of this week there are 293 dispensaries open in Florida, patronized by the 441,000 Floridians who at the moment possess a medical marijuana card.

Meaning there’s roughly one dispensary for each 1,500 sufferers within the state.

Which will look like a stable ratio. New Jersey has solely 12 dispensaries serving 81,000 sufferers—that’s one dispensary for each 6,750 sufferers.

However in contrast to New Jersey, Florida is an enormous state when it comes to its space. A fast look at Florida’s dispensary locations reveals tight clusters in city areas and alongside the coastlines. If you happen to don’t reside in these areas, you’re out of luck. There are a number of sprawling areas with no dispensary for greater than 100 miles.

These hashish deserts current a irritating problem for sufferers, who discover themselves having to drive a number of hours to succeed in the closest dispensary not less than as soon as a month. Florida has strict buy limits, so it’s not attainable to fill up prefer it’s a visit to Costco.

A 3-hour spherical journey for meds

The state’s greatest medical marijuana desert is in north-central area of the state, centered round rural Suwannee County.

Situated midway between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, Suwannee County has a inhabitants of just below 50,000 individuals. The county seat of Reside Oak has the densest inhabitants within the area, however the closest dispensaries are positioned 70 miles away in Tallahassee. That’s a 90-minute drive every manner.

Reside Oak residents who deal with their power ache with opioid prescriptions can fill them on the native CVS, Walgreens, or Winn-Dixie—Reside Oak has all of them. However sufferers who flush their tablets in favor of hashish should take almost a full day to drive to and from the dispensary. That’s one thing many individuals with common work schedules, younger youngsters, or disabilities merely can’t do. 

florida-cannabis-desert
Loads of dispensaries in Gainesville—however none within the surrounding area. (Dispensary map out there on Leafly app.)

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Why aren’t there any dispensaries right here?

Blame the state, blame native municipalities, and blame the dispensary corporations themselves. All three have created this case.

There are solely 22 corporations with medical marijuana licenses in a state with greater than 20 million individuals.

Cities and municipalities in Florida may be stingy with what number of dispensary licenses are granted of their respective jurisdictions and to whom these licenses go. Native startup corporations are sometimes handed over in favor of larger, established corporations with deep pockets. A lot of these greater corporations aren’t occupied with serving small communities. It doesn’t make financial sense. In order that they cluster in essentially the most population-rich areas.

That wouldn’t be an issue in a wide-open trade. If a city or county is underserved, normally an area entrepreneur will begin a small boutique and fill the area of interest.

However Florida’s medical marijuana trade isn’t huge open. It’s tightly regulated and vertically built-in. Meaning there are solely 22 corporations with medical marijuana licenses in a state with greater than 20 million individuals. Of these 22 corporations, solely 14 have truly opened dispensaries.

And people 22 corporations are required by regulation to be absolutely built-in, which suggests they should develop the crops, manufacture the merchandise, and promote them in retail dispensaries. There’s no specialization—and meaning it prices a lot of cash to even get into the enterprise.

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A top-heavy trade in Florida

In Florida, a small handful of corporations personal licenses that enable them to divulge heart’s contents to 30 or extra dispensaries. These corporations might not open all 30 shops, although, they usually don’t unfold them evenly across the state. That wouldn’t make financial sense for them. They open dispensaries the place the encircling inhabitants is dense, and affected person foot visitors is robust and regular.

A neighborhood entrepreneur has no shot at opening a distinct segment dispensary to serve a small city.

That’s made for a top-heavy market. There are 22 licensees, however the prime 5 corporations function two-thirds of all dispensaries.

Why don’t native entrepreneurs simply apply for a license? They will’t. The state isn’t issuing any new ones. Current licenses value hundreds of thousands of {dollars}, in the event that they’re out there. Final yr the proprietor of two separate Florida medical hashish licenses put one on the market for $40 million (with an choice to divulge heart’s contents to 30 dispensaries) and the opposite for $55 million (with an choice to divulge heart’s contents to 35 dispensaries).  

Highlands County: Lastly, a dispensary

Ben Pollara, chief of Florida for Care and one of many state’s longtime advocates for sufferers, entry, and legalization, acknowledges the issue. However he’s optimistic that issues are slowly getting higher.

“Entry is getting higher, even when it’s nonetheless not nice,” Pollara informed Leafly. “A yr in the past individuals needed to drive two, three counties away. The entry wasn’t there then, nevertheless it’s significantly better now than it was even then and ought to be bettering extra sooner or later.”

That’s precisely the scenario in South Florida’s Highlands County. With greater than 100,000 residents, this isn’t a podunk county. However till not too long ago, medical marijuana sufferers who reside within the county seat, Sebring, needed to drive greater than 90 minutes to the closest dispensary, in Sarasota.

Lastly, in October, a single dispensary opened within the city of Avon Park. The One Plant retailer there’s operated by Bluma Wellness, which has 5 different One Plant dispensaries open in Florida. These different retailers are in population-rich areas like Jacksonville and St. Petersburg, which suggests the corporate wished to get established in high-traffic areas earlier than branching out into smaller markets. (Bluma Wellness officers declined to answer Leafly’s request for remark from the corporate.)

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Supply companies supply some entry

For a lot of sufferers trapped in these deserts, supply companies have stuffed the hole.

“For all of the methods [the state of Florida has] screwed up,” Pollara stated, “one factor they did proper was create a mandate for supply entry.”

Florida law particularly protects residence supply of medical marijuana, so long as drivers and automobiles meet sure safety rules. And although there are some restrictions on timing of deliveries, there are not any limits in the case of how far a supplier is legally allowed to move medical marijuana.

After all it could be impractical for particular person dispensary supply drivers to journey hours to distant pot deserts, however the firm OnePlant has created an answer: a medical marijuana supply hub system that serves completely different components of the state on completely different days, streamlining deliveries and tremendously increasing entry in distant areas.

As of Nov. 2020, OnePlant’s community fully covers all rural areas in each Central and South Florida, and plans are at the moment underway to broaden in North Florida counties, notably within the Panhandle area, which continues to be essentially the most underserved space of the state in the case of dispensaries and entry.

Change might be coming

On the state degree, the Florida Supreme Court docket goes to be taking a look at arguments within the close to future to pave the way in which for non-vertically granted licenses for dispensaries within the state.

Ending Florida’s vertical-integration rule may open a door for smaller corporations to enter.

That would tremendously broaden alternatives for small and native companies to open places in these underserved communities. You’ll be able to learn extra in regards to the legalities involving this case at South Florida Hospital News.

Medical marijuana has been authorized in Florida since 2016, and efforts for full marijuana legalization are transferring full steam forward for a possible vote in 2022. Whereas a number of progress has been made to this point, the necessity for advocacy by no means ends, particularly as accessibility of secure and authorized medical marijuana merchandise stays a problem in a number of giant parts of Florida.

Floridians in search of sources and methods to assist can try each Florida for Care and Make it Legal Florida for extra on this situation.

Amanda Kondolojy's Bio Image

Amanda Kondolojy

Amanda Kondolojy is a contract author with a ardour for espresso, journey, and her three cats. She’s primarily based in Central Florida.

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