The Sunshine State prepares to issue 22 additional medical marijuana licenses

Medical marijuana – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by BestStockFoto

The state’s health authorities finally moved to grant up to 22 more medical marijuana licenses on Monday after years of delay, which could double the size of Florida’s marijuana sector.

Additionally, the state Department of Health released an emergency rule that would significantly increase the cost of marijuana operators’ license renewals every two years, from roughly $60,000 to more than $1 million.

After Governor Ron DeSantis complained that medical marijuana businesses weren’t paying enough to operate in the state, where licenses were sold for more than $50 million, the renewal fees increased.

Health officials announced they will accept applications in cycles under an emergency rule establishing the procedure for applying for new licenses. The plan did not specify how many licenses would be available in each cycle; it just stated that the windows for the cycles will be created in a separate rule.

The rule also increased the application fee for new licenses from $60,830 to $146,000, more than doubling it since the state’s initial licensing round more than five years ago.

Attorneys, lobbyists, and investors in the industry were immediately buzzing once the guidelines were released on Monday.

The cycle clause in the application rule was “cleverly” incorporated by health officials, according to Sally Kent Peebles, a partner in the Jacksonville office of the national cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg LLP.

Losing applicants ought to be given the chance to apply for licenses during a subsequent cycle, which can have an impact on their capacity to file legal claims, according to Peebles.

Florida is one of the most popular medical marijuana markets in the US, with more than 22 million citizens and an aging population. According to Headset, a cannabis data analytics startup, Florida had more than $1 billion in medical marijuana sales in the first half of 2022, with 22 licensed operators.

“We appreciate the department moving forward on this important next step and look forward to filing an application once the window opens,” said Daniel Russell, an attorney with the Dean Mead firm who represents applicants.

A 2017 law mandated that the Department of Health issue additional licenses as the number of approved patients rose, providing a foundation for the state’s medicinal marijuana market. With more than 775,000 patients, the state should have awarded at least 22 more licenses by now to accommodate the patient population.

But since the governor entered office in 2019, the DeSantis administration has left the application process in limbo.

Although a Florida Supreme Court ruling upholding the 2017 law was rendered permanent last year, DeSantis’ office has attributed the delay to litigation over the bill.

Insiders in the industry predicted that at least some current operators would likely object to the drastically increased renewal cost.

The cost of the state’s regulation of the business is factored into the calculation used to determine the new renewal fee. According to James Williams III, a spokesman for the Department of Health, the renewal fee in 2022 would be $1.33 million.

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