More smokable marijuana on its way to South Florida

Many of Florida’s marijuana dispensaries were not ready when Gov. Ron DeSantis made smokable medical marijuana legal in March. They were busy making oils, capsules, vape cartridges and other cannabis products.

In recent months, dispensaries have been struggling to provide enough smokable whole flower, which is the entire marijuana bud, to meet patients’ demands. Some patients prefer smoking flower to other cannabis products because it provides quick delivery into the blood stream for pain relief, medical experts say.

But in recent months, Florida’s dispensaries have jump-started cultivation of whole flower to make more available. Some dispensaries say that as early as December, they will have a larger supply to sell.

“Demand for flower has been extraordinary,” Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers told Wall Street analysts on a recent conference call.

Some of South Florida’s dispensaries, including GrowHealthy, have had trouble keeping their stores supplied. “We have smokable flower on a Monday and by Wednesday that product is out of stock," said Jeff Finnerty, senior director of marketing and sales for GrowHealthy. "We get it on Friday and then we have it to about Sunday morning.”

Dr. Barry Gordon, owner of Compassionate Cannabis Clinic in Venice, Fla., said patients are turning to smoking cannabis because it the most reliable way to ease their pain.

Gordon, known best for recommending cannabis to Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner to keep his cancer in remission, said inhaling is the safest means because many patients know what to expect in the high from a small pipe or a pre-rolled joint. They also know it will take only five to 10 minutes to get the pain relief they need.

Dave Clemmons, 54, of Boca Raton, was checking out the products at GrowHealthy’s dispensary in Deerfield Beach, which opened Wednesday. He said his first choice is to smoke flower because “you can see it and smell it." Clemmons, who uses medical marijuana to help with anxiety, said he prefers inhaling marijuana with a bong.

His experience with South Florida dispensaries selling flower is that every once in awhile “nobody has it. Then they’re back with 10 strains," or varieties.

Meanwhile, demand for medical marijuana has been growing.

In 2019, the number of active, qualified patients increased to 287,000 in mid-November from 169,000 in early January. To smoke legal marijuana in Florida, a qualified physician has to determine whether it is an appropriate method for a patient and can be added to their state medical marijuana card.

Florida dispensaries, which can grow marijuana only inside the state, have been scrambling to add space to cultivate whole flower. Dispensaries are adding indoor spaces lit by lamps, which can result in higher quality, more consistent flower. Cannabis plants take about four months to generate from a clone or rooted cutting to packaging for a dispensary, experts say.

GrowHealthy, a dispensary that cultivates cannabis in Lake Wales, has been busy since summer converting several buildings into indoor grow-houses, labs and other operations to expand whole flower production.

“We expect in December to have almost three times amount of flower,” Finnerty said. He said whole flower has made up a quarter of GrowHealthy’s sales since May. With new inventory coming online, Finnerty said he expects whole flower to soon make up 50 percent of GrowHealthy’s business.

Rivers, of Trulieve, told Wall Street analysts that whole flower makes up about 50 percent of Trulieve’s product mix, and dispensaries can’t meet consumers’ demand for it. The medical marijuana company, based in Quincy, Florida, near Tallahassee, says it already operates 1.7 million square feet of cultivation and has 120,000 square feet of growing space under construction.

California-based MedMen also said Tuesday that it was expanding its cultivation near Eustis, Fla., north of Orlando, “to keep up with the growth of its retail footprint in the state.”

Kevin Fisher, chief operating officer of Atlanta-based Parallel, the newly named company operating Surterra Wellness dispensaries, said the company has 350,000 square feet of greenhouse space and 100,000 square feet of indoor cultivation space coming online in the Tampa area in 2020.

“It was a bear of a summer down there,” Fisher said, adding that sun-grown flowers may have lower levels of THC, the chemical compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Sun Sentinel



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