2018 turned out to be a pretty good year to be in the legal marijuana business, but that’s not stopping some Sunshine State activists from entertaining high hopes for the future.
Legal marijuana was a $10.4 billion industry in the U.S. in 2018, with a quarter-million jobs devoted just to the handling of marijuana plants, said Beau Whitney, vice president and senior economist at New Frontier Data, a leading cannabis market research and data analysis firm.
In Florida, where medical marijuana was made legal in 2017, more than 174,000 prescriptions were filled from January through September, according to a new report from the Physician Certification Pattern Review Panel.
And while advocates of medical marijuana touted its potential use for cancer patients, it turns out they only account for 10 percent of those who received the prescriptions. More than twice as many went to people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and even more to people experiencing chronic pain — though the report notes there is some overlap in its figures (some patients suffered from more than one treatable illness).
Broward County led the state in the number of certifications for post-traumatic stress disorder, with 4,597. PTSD accounted for 35 percent of all certifications for medical marijuana in the county, according to the data.
Steven Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach physician who chairs the certifications review panel, said the PTSD certifications caught his attention and that he wanted to make sure nothing was afoul.
“If there are people who are taking advantage of the law by using a broad condition, I have some concern about that,” he said.
Activist Norm Kent, a Broward attorney who once served as president of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he has concerns too — marijuana should be more available, not less, he said. After the Republican-led state legislature drew criticism for its handling of legalization, Kent said he and fellow activists are looking to put the issue to voters again.
“The people are going to put legalization for recreational use on the ballot in 2020,” Kent vowed. “We’re not going to settle for anything less.”
Approving pot for recreational use would put Florida in line with 10 other states where it’s no longer a state crime for adults to light up.
By then, Florida can expect its legal cannabis market to reach $880 million, according to New Frontier Data. The state’s share of the market is expected to be around 12 percent by 2025.
But those projections don’t take changing laws into account — Michigan only approved marijuana for recreational use in November, making it likely Florida’s market share will go down as Michigan’s gets higher.
Kent said he sees momentum building for legalization on the federal level.
“One half of Republican senators in D.C. come from states where marijuana is legal,” he said. “In 2016, we needed 60 percent of the vote to make medical marijuana legal. We got 72 percent. Marijuana is more popular than any candidate for congress.”