Schools are popping up in Florida to teach the ABCs of P-O-T, while new medical marijuana-related businesses are proliferating as the state approaches the Nov. 4 vote on whether to legalize marijuana for medical use.
The interest grows against a backdrop of rhetoric and money from supporters and opponents of Amendment 2.
Hundreds of eager students are paying tuition, ranging from about $300 to $500, to learn basics of growing and dispensing medical pot from schools such as Medical Marijuana Tampa, Cannabis University of Florida in Jacksonville and seminars such as the traveling Cannabis Career Institute.
Businesses listed on the Florida Division of Corporations with names starting with "marijuana," "medical marijuana," or "cannabis" numbered nearly 100 as of May 23.
The motivation is two-fold: compassion and cash. There is a population suffering from illnesses waiting to be helped and the opportunity to make money helping them. An updated state Department of Health "Use of Marijuana for Certain Medical Conditions" analysis from November says the potential number of qualified patients could be up to 417,252, with about 1,800 dispensaries needed.
Mike Ginocchi of Lehigh Acres has plunged into the educational and business aspects. He's attended the day-long seminar offered in cities by the Cannabis Career Institute and started his own business. "I have been researching, investigating and investing in so-called "Pot Stocks" since July 2011," he said.
Ginocchi, a retired federal investigator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said his business, MjMoneyMan.com, will connect real estate agents, buyers and sellers interested in purchasing property for a medical marijuana business. "I am out of the pot closet," he said. "This is a billion-dollar industry. It's above-board now. Underground has come above ground to create jobs, real revenue, taxes."
Ginocchi traveled to Miami May 23 to meet with a business expert he met while attending the seminar. There is a host of ancillary businesses, other than growers and dispensaries, connected with medical marijuana, he said. They include attorneys, accountants, processing facilities, labs for quality testing, the edibles industry (think pot brownies), consultants for set-up, including licensing and zoning. Even vaporizers. "Smoking (pot) is pretty much passe right now," he said.
Southwest Florida growers talk about growing medical marijuana. Video by Sarah Coward
Henry Grum Jr., who runs a construction and renovation company in North Naples, filed for a corporation called Medical Marijuana Wellness Center LLC, nearly seven weeks ago. "I'm just trying to get things set up if it does pass," he said. The business would be a dispensary and "provide medical marijuana services to patients with a qualifying prescription from a medical doctor," according to an online directory called Florida Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers.
Most of these businesses are just placeholders, since marijuana is illegal in Florida, medical or otherwise. You can buy land to be a grower, or a building for a dispensary, but you can neither grow nor dispense it, unless Amendment 2 passes. Ginocchi is sure it will. He's banking on it. "Once the vote is final in November, there will be a feeding frenzy, big money coming in here from everywhere," he said of investors.
Polls show percentage of Florida voters in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes ranges from 60 to 88 percent. A News-Press online poll with more than 1,300 respondents showed 96 percent were in favor.
However, others warn an apparently high favorability rate doesn't mean the amendment will skate to passage in November. Voters must show up at the polls, and 60 percent must vote yes. Opponents such as the Vote No on 2 coalition, made up of law enforcement, businessmen, attorneys, doctors and parents, launched a campaign May 15 to defeat the amendment. The Florida Sheriffs Association and Florida Medical Association and Florida Chamber of Commerce are against the measure.
People want to know more about the topic and they're going back to school to learn. More than 400 students have taken courses at Medical Marijuana Tampa, said Morris Jones, chief operations officer. The school offers courses for $500, on campus and online. They include a brief history, an overview of growing techniques, laws, cloning, growing from seeds and mixing fertilizer, he said. Students take tests and earn a certificate.
Since they can't grow pot, the schools practice with pepper and tomato plants.
Coming up are a cooking class, full history class, a class for physicians and a genetics class, he said. In addition, some students could end up as as Medical Marijuana Tampa employees. The school also plans to grow eight strains of medical marijuana, operate 15 dispensaries and hire 350, Jones said.
Jeremy Bufford, an information technology consultant, founded the school in May 2013, but had been planning the business for four years "on the belief that medical marijuana is an inevitability," he said. His motivation was his father, who used medical marijuana after a series of painful surgeries, Bufford said.
Using what Bufford said is an industry standard in other states, medical marijuana in Florida would bring in gross revenue of about $6.5 million per week, based on 100,000 patients spending $65 weekly.
However, the state's estimate is about 417,000 qualified patients. If each spent $65 weekly on medical marijuana, that projected gross revenue could increase to $27.1 million per week.
Robert Calkin knows all about potential of the medical marijuana business. He's a teacher at Oaksterdam University, founded in November 2007 in Oakland, Calif., known as the first marijuana university in the country. Calkin founded the Cannabis Career Institute in March 2009. He began taking the traveling seminar series to different states as they legalized medical marijuana. He also wrote "Starting Your Own Medical Marijuana Delivery Service: The Mobile Caregiver's Handbook," published in 2010.
Now he's stopping at cities in Florida. Calkin said the $299, one-day seminar introduces students to the industry, provides a checklist of things to do, a 300-page book and a team of experts to mentor you outside of class. "We allow you to come back for free forever," he said. Students can take the class as many times as they want and network with others who created businesses. He said the seminar will come to Naples in June.
"I can honestly tell you, with all sincerity, that we pretty much created this business model," Calkin said. "Everyone is mimicking it because it works so well."
For Chris Williams, a principal of Sunshine Cannabis, medical marijuana also is a family affair. The firm plans to open a licensed dispensary and cultivation center in Palm Beach County.
Williams said he has a brother who is dying of lymphoma and uses medical marijuana in a vaporized form to combat side effects of chemotherapy. He also lost his 48-year-old father to stomach cancer when he was a teenager, and remembers the doctor recommending marijuana.
"My mom and dad said, 'Oh no, we'd never do that. That's illegal."'
"I've waited many years to be in this business and this isn't something that anyone is taking lightly here in the state," Williams said. "A lot of people's hopes and dreams are riding on this. It's going to be crucial for the economy of Florida."