Thrity-one businesses in Broward and Palm Beach counties have registered with the state as marijuana-related businesses, banking that voters will approve medical use of the drug on Nov. 4
The businesses — 17 in Broward and 14 in Palm Beach County — are among 100 that have registered with the words “medical marijuana,” “marijuana” or “cannabis” in their names. Most filed incorporation papers in the past few months.
Among them are lawyers, a retired insurance firm owner, a construction contractor and a personal trainer, all laying the foundation for businesses ranging from growing to selling through a dispensary.
“This is the little guy’s chance to get in. You want to be up and running,” said Darren Odesnik, a personal injury lawyer based in Delray Beach who in May incorporated Cannabis Center of South Florida and is scoping out a warehouse and retail location.
Some say Florida’s potential legalization of wider medical use is the business opportunity of a lifetime. For others, it’s personal: They’ve seen a family member or friend suffer and believe marijuana could have eased their pain.
Gov. Rick Scott this month signed into law the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, known as “Charlotte’s Web,” which establishes five cultivators to provide access to a strain of marijuana to treat conditions such as epilepsy, Lou Gehrig’s disease and cancer.
But that law results in only a limited market. Aspiring business owners are preparing for a broader medical marijuana market through Amendment 2, which expands the conditions that could be treated. It needs 60 percent of the vote to pass and would take effect in mid-2015.
Recent polls show that 60 percent to 70 percent of voters support the measure.
While enthusiastic about potential legalization in Florida, experts warn that the medical marijuana business is fraught with challenges and legal restrictions, and it’s a pricey proposition for most.
Odesnik estimates it will cost him and a partner $700,000 to $1 million to set up an operation that includes growing, manufacturing and selling through their own retail location. He has spent about $100 each to register three domain names for online: sflcannabiscenter.com, sscannabiscenter.com and starbudz.org.
He’s not concerned about investing money up front, before the November vote.
“This is a business that you’ll make your money back,” Odesnik said. “If it doesn’t pass, then it will probably be on the ballot again, and we’ll be ready.”
Retired insurance business owner Howard Passman plans to go into the business with his 29-year-old son, Matthew, who has been working in California’s medical marijuana business for 12 years.
In May, Passman registered Medical Marijuana Industries of South Florida, based in Coral Springs. He and his son plan a wide-ranging business from laboratory research and growing to making edibles and specialty oils. The Passmans hope to open dispensaries in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“It’s a very meaningful project for me. I’m currently on dialysis. Although there are treatments for kidney disease, you cannot be on the transplant list if you have marijuana in your system,” he said.
Passman projects that the venture will cost $1.25 million and has secured investors. But he knows that even the best-laid plans can backfire. Passman invested $250,000 to open a medical marijuana business in Arizona, but then the state decided to use a lottery to choose licensees.
Lesson No. 1: Put any funds in escrow. That protected him from losing his investment.
South Florida residents without experience in the business are turning to lawyers and medical marijuana business owners from states where it’s legal, including Colorado, California, Oregon and New Mexico. Some are signing up for seminars that cost $200 to $400.
Sheridan Rafer, a personal trainer who said he has set up dispensaries in other states, opened the Institute of Medical Cannabis in Boca Raton and has 22 people registered for classes.
“Some people are retired; some are looking for an additional source of income; and others are looking to make a career move,” he said. “They’re from 30 to 75 years old. A grandmother of six is in one of my classes.”
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