Home to two of the US’s most visited cities, Florida, unsurprisingly, has an economy ranking amongst the largest globally.
Given the $40 billion in tourism-related income statewide businesses earn yearly, Florida’s heralded worldwide standing makes sense. One could only surmise that the home to super-powered profit-generators like Disney World, Universal Studios, and Miami Beach would carry such weight.
Not to downplay the value of Florida’s high-revenue tourism space, but it only tells part of the story. The state is spearheaded by robust sectors like agriculture, construction, and defense, offering enough diversity to attract businesses across all industries that fuel sustained economic growth.
To further drive the point home, Florida’s 2021 gross state product (GSP) was around $1.3 trillion–ranking fourth in the US. The state accounts for over 5% of the US’s $21 trillion gross domestic product.
In other words, Florida is open for business–but does that novel notion extend to businesses involving cannabis?
The answer is both yes and no; a murkiness one can expect in a country that classifies cannabis as a schedule 1 drug. All the same, recent measures have led to the possession and usage of medical cannabis being legalized.
Given the business-minded approach of Florida, it could be wise to get ahead of legalization and learn how to open a dispensary in Florida.
So, if you want to get in on the ground floor of Florida's cannabis sector, read on. We'll guide you through the state's current legal landscape, upcoming licensing rounds, application fees, and other requirements.
What's The Current Legal Landscape For Cannabis In Florida?
As briefly discussed in the intro, medical cannabis use and possession is legal for qualified patients in Florida, but adult use and possession are illegal. Various cities across the state have decriminalized cannabis for possession of small amounts, leading to a fine instead of an arrest.
It's illegal to grow cannabis in Florida–even for those with prescriptions. Anybody caught growing will face possession charges. The eventual penalty hinges upon how many plants the defendant has grown.
Only medical cannabis patients can travel with cannabis in Florida–but they still can't transport their prescription cannabis across state lines.
However, the wheels appear to be in motion to legalize adult-use cannabis. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, a state Rep, filed Bill HB 291 to legalize adult-use cannabis in January 2021. If the bill had passed, people aged 21 and older would’ve been allowed to use a limited amount of adult-use cannabis. Unfortunately, the bill died in April 2021.
During the same week, two Florida lawmakers introduced bills to enable sales of adult-use cannabis in medical cannabis dispensaries. Specifically, SB 710 was introduced by Pinellas County Sen. Jeff Brandes on January 21, 2021, and HB 343 was introduced by Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith a few days before.
These two bills would’ve allowed people 21-plus to buy and use up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis or a product containing up to 2 grams of THC without a medical cannabis card. Smoking in public would’ve remained illegal, though. However, the former bill died while the latter was tabled.
Trulieve Cannabis–a Florida company–filed a constitutional amendment with the state's Division of Election on August 8, 2022. The purpose of the amendment was to allow anyone 21-plus to purchase and use cannabis. Trulieve also backed the campaign with $5 million of its own money and continues to vie for support.
Speaking further to the positive outlook of potential legalization of adult-use use, politicians and residents continue expressing support for related initiatives. For instance, one study shows that 64% of statewide voters are behind adult cannabis usage. Furthermore, the same research shows that 73% of Democrats, 54% of Republicans, and 64% of independent voters support the legal adult usage of cannabis.
Also, Nikki Fried–Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Service–believes that legalization will curb injustices in the legal system and strengthen the economy.
While pro-pot legislation hasn’t had much success (outside of the medical field), sentiments toward adult-use legalization continue to shift slowly but surely.
Is There Resistance Against Adult-Use Cannabis Dispensaries In Florida?
While most Florida voters have positive sentiments about adult-use cannabis legalization, support is far from unanimous.
To the above point, some communities–like Sarasota County–ardently oppose legalization legislation. Sarasota intends to restrict adult-use cannabis no matter what the state decides.
Moreover, cannabis dispensary bans are being enforced in the following Florida cities:
- Pembroke Pines
- Boca Raton
- Delray Beach
- Coral Springs
- Hillsboro Beach
- Highland Beach
- Sea Ranch
- Royal Palm Beach
- Southwest Ranches
- Sea Ranch Lakes
If you broke this list down geographically, you’d notice most opposition exists in Central Florida. The surrounding hospitality industry and theme parks want nothing to do with the legalization of adult-use cannabis due to the area’s family-friendly reputation.
Still, many other communities support state legislation, while others might be more mixed in their support.
Potential For Statewide Profits Upon Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization
Given the business-minded nature of many Floridians, it's a mystery why sales, usage, and possession of adult-use cannabis aren't legalized. After all, Florida is no stranger to embracing new ways to make money; a point was driven home by its enthusiasm for the Crypto Industry.
Adult-use cannabis sales in the US should top $32 billion by 2024. With adult-use cannabis only legal in 21 states, that number is jaw-dropping.
Florida’s population of around 21.8 million will likely make it a hotbed for adult-use cannabis. It’s also believed that adult-use cannabis legalization would skyrocket the state’s projected tax revenue. State economists believe there would be $2.1 billion in retail impact, driving $128 million of sales tax. Moreover, tourism taxes and sales may peak at $672 million.
These financial gains could prevent cuts to healthcare, education, and other essential sector budgets.
Experts believe adult-use cannabis could have added $190 million in tourism and sales tax dollars to Florida–had it been legalized last year. On top of that, it could have added a jolt to employment, increasing cannabis, cannabis, and hemp-related jobs more than sevenfold over the next three years.
These projections speak loudly enough. The powers that be in the state can’t ignore the results, and the ball should be rolling toward full-on legalization of adult-use use. Of course, the reality of the situation is a bit more complex than what “should be.”
Your only current pathway into Florida’s cannabis scene is the medical landscape. That said, entering the medical cannabis space now will likely make it easier to leverage the adult-use market once legislation is in place.
How To Apply For A Dispensary License In Florida
Below, we’ll detail the nuances of applying for a dispensary license in Florida.
Medical Dispensaries Are The Lone Pathway To Legal Licensing
As we’ve established, you can’t apply for an adult-use dispensary license in Florida.
Yet, you can apply for Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC) licensing in Florida. An MMTC is licensed to sell, grow, process, and deliver cannabis to Floridian patients.
It’s worth noting that your potential status as a medical dispensary limits your target market. Florida’s 661,496 approved medical cannabis users barely make up a fraction of what the adult-use market would be. However, you’d be entering a market with only 398 dispensing locations and 22 licensed medical cannabis operators. That lack of saturation could prove lucrative.
Still, be mindful that three companies have cornered two-thirds of the market, while the top six operators gobble up 90% of all sales. The “elite” six, so to speak, are owned by different multistate operators.
The Florida Department of Health presents a list of rules and regulations you must follow to open a cannabis dispensary in the state. The application fee costs $60,063–but the department isn’t accepting applications currently.
Florida’s Limited Application Period
The last application period for Florida Cannabis Licensing ended in July 2015. In 2017, Senate Bill 8A was passed in a special session, allowing ten new MMTC licenses to be issued.
Keep your ears to the ground if you’re interested in applying for an MMTC license. The date when the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU) will eventually be published in the Florida Administrative Register.
Specifically, four new facilities will be licensed for every 100,000 new registered patients. So, it’s worth trying to receive approval and apply if you meet the requirements. In fact, it is believed that eight MMTC licenses will be handed out in 2023–although these matters are often up in the air.
MMTC Licensing Requirements
Below, we’ll break down the list of MMTC licensing requirements:
- A 16-point section exists that involves 300 of the possible 1150 points assigned.
- This section calls for applicants to display technical knowledge about dispensing, processing, and cultivation of medical cannabis.
- The accountability component of your MMTC application is where you’re expected to prove your strength in internal record keeping.
- The rationale behind this section is you must measure what you manage, highlighting the critical nature of superior accountability standards.
- The accountability section is worth 200 application points.
- The state wants mature, reputable companies with built-in cultivation, processing, and dispensing infrastructure.
- Facility infrastructure is also crucial.
- There are 250 points allotted to this section.
Expenses And Financials:
- This section might be worth 200 points, but it might be the most vital component of the MMTC application.
- The OMMU will analyze your financial viability in this section.
- Your financials must be certified, adding to your costs.
Posting A Performance Bond:
There’s a $5 million performance bond that you must pay to the state on top of the $60,063 application fee.
Other Factors Involved In Receiving An MMTC License
On top of what’s been listed in the previous subsection, MMTC license applicants must also:
- Have a nursery registration certificate awarded to them by the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
- Have been registered for five consecutive years to conduct business in Florida
- Ensure owners, officers, board members, and managers pass Level 2 Background Screening
- Hire a medical director to watch over all activities
- Develop a diversity plan that prioritizes the involvement of veterans and minorities
Preparing For Potential Adult-Use Dispensary Applications
The existence of legal adult-use dispensaries in Flordia depended on the passing of HB 291. Unfortunately, the bill died in April 2021.
Had the bill passed, you’d have needed to fill out a form required by the division for the license you want. Once the division received the application, they’d forward a copy of the application and 50% of the application fee to the community where you wanted to operate. A license would’ve been renewed or awarded if you met the requirements within 90 days of the division receiving the application.
While the above scenario exists solely as a hypothetical, it’s likely similar to what’s to come if adult-use legalization comes to fruition in Florida. Thus, it’s best to keep it in mind.
How Can You Increase Your Chances Of Receiving A Cannabis Dispensary License In Florida?
The road to a dispensary license is paved with complexities. Still, you can take action to strengthen your cause.
For instance, awareness of state regulations and laws will give you a leg up. It’s wise to network with companies who can help you devise a compliant cannabis dispensary business plan to help procure investment capital and partners.
You’ll also want to build an expert knowledge of which local and county governments are friendly toward medical cannabis, so you can avoid potential zoning and permit battles.
Additionally, try to predict where you’ll receive initial funding because application and start-up costs are steep. Lastly, you’ll want to work alongside ethical corporate lawyers specializing in state cannabis regulations and laws.
Florida Application Dispensary Support
You can learn plenty about how to open a dispensary in Florida by reading articles. But theory and practice are two vastly different things.
In a state like Florida, your ability to open a dispensary is limited by laws and regulations. It can seem like you've been hamstrung before you've even started.
However, even if the forecast for adult-use legalization is murky, there are reasons for hope. Plus, while scant, there are opportunities to open a medical dispensary in Florida.
To navigate this complicated landscape, you’d be wise to discuss your plan with a trusted consulting firm like MOST. We’re always on top of the latest industry trends across the US. Our fingers are on the pulse of this in-flux sector, allowing us to provide the necessary guidance as you try to enter a sometimes unwelcoming–but potentially lucrative–market like Florida’s.
Do you have any questions? Contact MOST today about opening your cannabis dispensary.