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Over the past several months, New Times dug into the backgrounds of the seven companies’ current and former owners, executives, and partners. These marijuana moguls include some of the state’s best-connected and savviest businesspeople. Many also have backgrounds that haven’t been explored in-depth. Among them are a real-estate developer once tied to political corruption, a hedge fund manager who recruited two gambling tycoons as investors, an attorney embroiled in a burgeoning Tallahassee FBI probe, a Gainesville entrepreneur who bought a franchise from one of the largest cannabis companies in Colorado, an ex-IBM executive, a Miami mortgage broker, and some of the largest nursery operators in Florida.

Remember when 72 percent of Floridians voted to usher in a new era of open access to medical marijuana? That triumphant moment for medical weed was just in November, but for Florida patients this morning, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Late this past Friday, a bill to regulate the new weed industry imploded in Tallahassee. Then medical marijuana’s two biggest champions — über-lawyer John Morgan and United for Care campaign consultant Ben Pollara — viciously turned on each other in a spicy Twitter beef.

Now the fate of medical marijuana access lies in the hands of Gov. Rick Scott’s Department of Health, which has already signaled it will enact even more restrictive rules. The whole situation is likely to end up in court, meaning hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars will be wasted — and patients, in the meantime, still won’t have the easy access to marijuana that voters overwhelmingly backed in November.

Three days after state lawmakers failed to pass a bill establishing rules for medical marijuana, Miami Springs Vice Mayor Bob Best shook his head at a council meeting Monday night as the city attorney explained it was time to extend the city’s moratorium on dispensaries.

“The purpose of the moratorium was for us to have something ready when that hit, and, apparently, based on the legislative session, nothing’s gonna happen,” Best complained.

Florida’s House of Representatives proved today there is nothing its grubby little hands can’t screw up. After more than 72 percent of voters statewide voted to legalize medicinal marijuana for people with “debilitating diseases,” a term that includes cancer, AIDS, and Alzheimer’s, the Florida House today passed its own series of rules regulating the state’s new medical weed industry.

And, this being Florida, the Republican-crafted bill bans smokable weed, creates a state-controlled cartel of legal cannabis farms, and pisses off medicinal marijuana advocates across the Sunshine State. On Tuesday, that terrible bill — HB 1397 — passed the House by a 105-9 margin.

There are 21 million people in Florida, millions of whom will eventually qualify for the medical-grade marijuana that voters approved in November. Very soon, a hell of a lot of weed will be legally sold in the Sunshine State. And so far, lawmakers have given exactly seven companies the right to grow and sell all of that pot.

While Tallahassee might yet hand out a few more licenses by the end of the session, the seven-member pot cartel is already cashing in big-time on its advantage. Yesterday Canadian firm Aphria paid $25 million to buy out Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, an Alachua nursery with one of those licenses. And last year, Massachusetts-based Palliatech bought a minority stake in Miami’s only legal pot grower, Costa Nursery Farms.

As millions of dollars flow into those lucky license-holders, critics say the state is letting a de facto monopoly rake in major cash at the expense of the patients who need that medical pot.

Florida’s mostly Republican legislators can barely pass basic laws like tax cuts or budget plans without tripping over themselves or spiraling into intra-party screaming matches. They’re so bad at writing their own laws that, as the Miami Herald astutely pointed out last week, gigantic companies like Florida Power & Light have to write laws for them. The current Legislature is a Stygian pit of bad ideas.

So, naturally, Florida voters in 2016 chose to give all of those people drugs.

Last November, Sunshine State residents voted to legalize medical marijuana. This is a good development for folks with debilitating diseases such as cancer, posttraumatic stress disorder, or Alzheimer’s. But it’s not exactly the best-case scenario for many of Florida’s reactionary, conservative lawmakers, who are extremely good at tearing welfare programs apart and not quite as great at writing large, sweeping bills that help people.

Unfortunately, Amendment 2 — the one that legalized medicinal weed last year — gave Florida lawmakers tons of leeway to set their own rules and procedures for the medical-cannabis rollout.

Florida’s United for Care campaign spent two full election cycles — 2014 and 2016 — drafting, fighting, and pushing Floridians to legalize medicinal cannabis for demonstrably sick people. Last year, 72 percent of Floridians voted to amend the state constitution to legalize medical weed for people with diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Now it’s up to the Florida Legislature to adopt medical marijuana rules.

Yesterday, Fort Myers Rep. Ray Rodrigues finally unveiled the first medical weed regulations — and they would ban people from smoking marijuana or using edibles. Patients would also be prohibited from vaporizing weed if they aren’t terminally ill.

If the latest crop of polls is correct, medical marijuana will be legally available to sick people in Florida tomorrow. As of late October, close to 80 percent of Floridians supported Amendment 2, which would legalize weed statewide for medical purposes, such as helping cancer or Alzheimer’s patients. Sixty percent of the electorate needs to approve the measure for it to pass.

But even assuming it passes, many Florida residents might need to travel pretty far to get their hands on medicinal cannabis. That’s because multiple cities are already gearing up to pass six-month “moratoriums” on medical marijuana — including Miami Beach.

With the looming November 2 vote on Amendment 2, which would expand medical marijuana in Florida for specific diseases and conditions, one thing is clear: Weed is a polarizing topic. As New Times reported in August, according to one of the most respected marijuana-usage surveys in America, roughly half the residents in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties think smoking weed once a month is “harmful” and should be avoided. The other half rallied for legalization in our Facebook comments.

Although voters disagree, businesses are preparing for a yes vote on Amendment 2. Surterra Therapeutics, a hybrid company, works hand-in-hand with longtime Homestead nursery Alpha Foliage. (Disclosure: Reporter Stacey Russell is related to Surterra’s director of public relations.) Together with Alpha, Surterra cultivates, extracts, packages, markets, and dispenses medical marijuana. (Surterra cannot distribute medical cannabis without a nursery partner because of Florida law.) It’s one of just two dispensaries authorized by the state. Surterra is based in Georgia, but because of the legalization of medical marijuana in Florida, the company has set up camp in Tampa and Tallahassee. New Times toured the Tallahassee cultivation center.
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