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Will Florida be a Pay-to-Play Medical Marijuana Industry?


By Bill Monroe — When I attended meetings in Tallahassee back in 2013 I had heard from fellow cannabis advocates that the fix was in. That only certain groups out of Tallahassee would financially profit in the medical marijuana business in Florida, and that barriers to entry would be constructed to keep out the small mom and pop entrepreneurs, people of color, woman ownership, and only allow the rich, white, and all male, politically connected to participate.

Representative Matt Caldwell

Representative Matt Caldwell – Created the 30 Year Grow Requirement

Early in 2014 the process to construct a vertically integrated, lawmaker protected, all white monopoly began to play out. It started when Representative Matt Caldwell along with FNGLA President at the time Ben Bulusky who came up with the 30 year grow requirement and 400,000 plant count. This requirement, which was inserted into the bill, without discussion or debate, allowed the market to be tailored to large growers. No riff raff, people of color, small hungry entrepreneurs would be allowed.

Representative Matt Gaetz

Representative Matt Gaetz – Creator of vertically integrated system with high barriers to entry

Later Representative Matt Gaetz, along with Senator Rob Bradley, constructed additional barriers to entry to include a vertically integrated system, five million dollar performance bond, requirement for a medical director, overreaching security, $60,000 non-refundable application fee for each region applied for by a grower, and the construction of five zones in Florida. The zones would turn out to be a joke as any grower, can grow anywhere within Florida, as long as they are granted permission by the Department of Health. In addition, each grower can have an unlimited number of dispensaries to include delivery services. Five zones? Media foolishness for the uninformed masses.

Tallahassee lobbyists such as Brian Ballard a Florida lobbyist, representative, President-elect Trump fundraiser, would step in to represent Hackney Farms, Southern Strategy Group would represent Costa Farms, good friends of Governor Rick Scott, and lobbyists Ron Book and Billy Rubin, would represent Alpha Foliage later called Alpha-Surterra, and Bascom Communications representing Chestnut Hill. Ironically enough Sarah Bascomm would brag on her web page of having defeated the first run of Amendment Two. Now her group in 2016 would be representing a soon to be a licensed grower.

The Department of Health rule-making committee, which worked on the rules and regulations prior to picking the five licensed growers consisted Costa Farms, Hackney Nursery, Knox Farms, Chestnut Hill, and Loops Nursery. Loops was the only nursery excluded from one of the five golden tickets providing them access to a $1.8 billion dollar Florida medical market, vertically integrated, and lawmaker protected via legislative barriers to entry, and high dollar Tallahassee lobbyists, who may have company shares in their blind trusts.

If you are lobbyist like Ron Book, Billy Rubin, Brian Ballard, who may own company stock in the five licensed growers, and have access to the Governor and President-elect Trump, you certainly have the financial motivation and leverage to maintain a monopoly going into 2017.

Representative Katie Edwards

Representative Katie Edwards – Fighting for a Monopoly in Florida

Who are the champions for maintaining this monopoly in Florida? First would be Representative Katie Edwards who has ties to the large growers in Florida, and over the past year fought against advocate advances to create a safe pesticide use program and independent cannabis testing. Every legal state has gone to independent testing, and a safe use pesticide program, but apparently Edwards does not feel this is a requirement for patients with compromised immune systems.

Senator Rob Bradley

Senator Rob Bradley – Fighting for a Monopoly in Florida

Next, we have Senator Rob Bradley who has recently stated we have enough growers for now, and once the patient count reaches 250,000 there is a very generous (Note sarcasm) benchmark in the bill to allow at least one license for people of color. How generous!

Senator Rob Bradley certainly has a financial incentive to maintain the growers as is limited to six, a monopoly, vertically integrated with complete control, and backed by high dollar Tallahassee lobbyists.

I searched the political action committee for Senator Rob Bradley, and noted that over 2015 and 2016 over $60,000 dollars was donated to Bradley’s PAC by Costa Farms, Southern Strategy Group, and Hackney Farms. In Mr. Bradley’s defense, he states that money has absolutely no effect on his decision making whatsoever. Right, do you believe that statement? That is a year’s salary for some hardworking Americans.

I reviewed the PAC Economic Freedom Foundation, now closed by Representative Matt Gaetz who developed the additional high barriers to entry. Gaetz received approximately $45,000 from Costa Farms and Alpha-Surterra. Gaetz was also quick to state that money had no effect on his decision making.

Going into 2017, and the construction of the Implementation bill, we can count on Representative Edwards and Bradley maintaining their position that a monopoly is good for Florida. A monopoly where not one of these licensed growers contributed one thin dime to Amendment Two, held educational classes, worked towards pesticide testing, participated with advocates, and lack a minority presence in the ownership and licensing.

Look, this is not about throwing hand grenades, and disrupting Florida’s medical marijuana program. This is about constructing a free market where diversity is allowed, advocates can educate the public, mom and pop entrepreneurs can participate, and winners and losers are decided by the free market system, and not politically connected high dollar lobbyists, and pay-for-play lawmakers.

Senator Jeff Brandes

Free Market Champion, Senator Jeff Brandes

We have a champion in our midst. His name is Senator Jeff Brandes who demands a free market system with additional licenses. Mr. Brandes deserves our support, while Edwards and Bradley deserve our emails, letters, phone calls, demanding a free market.

2017 will be a fight. That is for sure. We will have out-of-state carpetbaggers from Colorado who grew as companies under a Colorado protected market now marching into Florida. The Five, now six licensed growers, will drop thousands into Bradley’s PAC hoping we will not notice the financial influence.

Advocates, we need to keep on top of this situation, email [or call] our representatives, and demand a free market system, which allows females owners, minority interests to enter as entrepreneurs, mom and pop entrepreneurs, and a program that rests on democratic ideals of freedom and a level playing field.

Those who are advocates of cannabis and want to ensure that Amendment 2 is implemented as it was written by its authors, should contact their Representative and Senator in their district, which could potentially affect the outcome of the spring session, which started on Tuesday, March 7th, and concludes in May.

Call or visit your Representative in person, and communicate with them what you want and do not want in the implementation of Amendment 2. It’s recommended that you do this once a week, if necessary, to keep on top of them. Be concise, keep it brief, and respectful.

You can find your representative’s contact information by following this link at GovTrack. On the GovTrack website, click on ‘Representative’ and input your zip code to find your Representative in the district where you live.

For those who would like to get in touch with their elected officials via phone, text your zip code to (520) 200 2223. You will receive a text back of your Federal and State Senators’ and Representatives’ names and phone numbers instantly.

Let your lawmakers know how you feel about the issues that matter. YOU have the ability to create change.

You can find more articles from Bill Monroe at Florida for Medical Marijuana.

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Bill Monroe

President at Advocate, Inc.
Bill Monroe is regularly featured on Cannabis Life Radio with his segment “Bill Monroe in the Know”, addressing Florida’s medical marijuana program. He was a lead technical writer with Senator Jeff Brandes in 2014 on a medical marijuana measure and has also authored numerous online cannabis-related articles, as well as continuing to work with Florida lawmakers toward a safe and responsible medical marijuana program in Florida.
Bill Monroe
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