On Tuesday, I wondered aloud who was ready to make some money if medical marijuana becomes legal in Florida after November's vote. There was only one corporation with "marijuana" in its name listed in the state so far.
Since, then I heard from a few others who said they're waiting to see what happens with the vote or that they are purposely registering under names that don't have "marijuana" in the title because in other states that have legalized weed, it's been hard for pot businesses to get bank accounts. (While "drowning in cash" sounds like a great problem to have, there are crazy security concerns.) Don't worry, though -- pot entrepreneurs are out there salivating.
One man, Jeremy Bufford, proprietor of Medical Marijuana Tampa, has already pounced. He is preparing to open a chain of 15 dispensaries with a quality-control lab and next week will launch his school for medical marijuana workers and entrepreneurs. He has already hired five people and expects to hire 350 more, plus trigger a mini-real estate boom assuming the initiative passes and he signs leases on the properties he's already scoped out. His website is already advertising for 15 positions from "lead botanist" to "delivery driver" to "executive chef" to "professor of cannabis."
I spoke to Bufford at length about his preparations and predictions for the medical marijuana industry in Florida:
New Times: I was surprised that there was only one corporation with the word "marijuana" in the name registered in Florida so far. Jeremy Bufford: I'm equally surprised that there hasn't been more announcement, that there has not been any other company that is standing up and saying they're going to have competitive offerings in the medical marijuana space.
There's one company in Tampa -- they're in the neutraceutical space -- moving to produce some sort of pill or product that is derived from cannabinoids. They're going more towards the medicinal pharmacology route. We plan on opening the actual treatment centers -- we have 15 in Tampa Bay area from Bradenton to Lakeland to New Port Richey. We will also have a lab testing facility -- for quality control of the product -- in early 2015. We're already in operation with our classroom environment -- to educate caregivers, and the general public. Our first class is next Tuesday. It will cover the historical, legal, botanical aspects of medicinal marijuana, plus what's going to happen in the marketplace in Florida in 2015 based on our analysis of the ballot language. We can make educated guesses and prepare our students for careers or opportunity that's going to develop in that space.
Are you going to franchise? That's a really good question. We feel comfortable with the opportunities in the Tampa Bay area, but we do have development partners [in other regions of the state] who are consulting with us on how they can roll this out.
Are you worried about chains from Colorado or California coming in and dominating the market? You don't see that type of market consolidation -- some businesses have multiple locations in California and Colorado, but the landscape is dominated by the mom-and-pop model... Though I do anticipate that development in the future.
Like Home Depot wiping out small hardware stores... Yeah, one day Marijuana Depot will own it all! [Differing state laws make it difficult for one national corporation to dominate in the U.S., but] look up Tweed in Canada -- they have aspirations to go with the Costco model -- they bought a former Hershey chocolate manufacturing facility.
Have you already signed leases and will you be ready to go the day after this passes, or are you holding back and waiting to see how the vote goes? We are absolutely all in... [The classroom is ready and we've identified locations for dispensaries but] won't execute leases until November/December. [The ballot initiative specifies that the state Department of Health has six months to set up the regulatory framework.]
Did you do a lot of research? I personally have traveled extensively through Colorado, California, Massachusetts, and D.C. talking to people in both the legitimate and black markets about best practices. Twenty states have some degree of medicalization or legalization.
Tell me about these classes you offer. We advertised, and within 24 hours, the February slots sold out -- we're taking preregistration for March. The syllabus is on our website. Classes start every four weeks -- they're an intensive deep dive. You meet two times per week for four weeks -- 16 hours of instruction. You come in the classroom, led by the professors of cannabis, and there's outside work in grow spaces to learn to grow your own crops. Of course, we're very, very sensitive that's it's not a legal environment [for growing marijuana], so we have peppers and tomatoes, so people can get comfortable using hydroponic and aeroponic systems. We're preparing for medical-grade product -- it's far more difficult than putting a seed in the ground.
How much is the class? $499.
Where is all this medical weed going to come from? Won't it take a while for crops to grow after legalization? Is there enough to import from Colorado at first? We won't be able to buy from other states -- that would fall under interstate commerce, which is regulated by the federal government. We're relying on our growers, and each of our retail shops will be able to cultivate.
So you're saying that there are people in the shadows already growing weed who will be ready to sell on Day One? Anecdotally, pot is being grown everywhere around the world. We won't be working with the black-market growers. Everything we want to do is professional and transparent. I feel very strongly that product will be available. [Growers will do what they need to do to meet the law], patients will follow steps to becoming registered, caregivers will have to go through that step of licensing concerns -- [and part of what my company does is] prepare people [for all of this].
What about concerns that medical marijuana will be abused? Are there standards developed in other states that Florida is likely to follow? [This was addressed in] the controversy the Supreme Court just settled. One of the major oppositions to the ballot language was that it was very lenient -- doctors can prescribe it for patients with debilitating conditions for whom the benefits outweigh the risks. Certainly, this covers a lot of different people -- elderly, people in palliative care conditions. [There are different standards in different states and] a lot of gray area. A lot of this is being written as we go.
Can I get some for my insomnia? That's not up to me. You'll have to talk to a physician. A doctor can prescribe anything -- he has morphine to give you, if that is [appropriate], in the doctor's opinion.
Did you smoke a lot of pot to prepare for this? Is there a "best" strain? I'm not a smoker -- this is purely an entrepreneurial play for me. It's professional -- there's not going to be a Willie Nelson vibe, no Bob Marley posters on the wall.
How much will medical marijuana cost? [There are a lot of variables with] pricing in medical care. The insurance system is a big one. Prices in other states tend to be slightly above black-market rates -- but this is the highest-quality product. If you purchase on the black market, you have to consider, has the grower used pesticides, what percent of this is beneficial compounds? We bring that type of testing or quality assurance -- at a premium but [worth it].
Can you give me a ballpark dollar amount? Low quality costs about $250 an ounce, high quality about $400 an ounce; that's approximately what you see on the street. Part of what drives up the cost on the black market is [sellers factoring in associated risks of doing business]. We'll do everything in a well-regulated and brightly lit environment.
Do you feel bad for all the pot dealers who might get put out of business? No. That's one of the best things, is if we can bring this product out of the dark and into the light, it will impact the money the cartels are making, that's funding their operations. I will feel very good about myself knowing that I'm helping to eliminate that element.
What's your background? How did you come to the medicinal marijuana business? My story reads like the John Morgan story you hear on the radio. My father went through a serious abdominal surgery to repair a hernia -- it was beset with a series of problems. I've seen personally how it relieved pain, improved his quality of life, improved his appetite.
Then I started traveling and learning. I come from an IT background. What I bring to table is the ability to solve some of these problems and come up with some interesting tech solutions. [On our site, you will be able to] log in as a patient, see our online dispensaries, look at ratings and feedback from other patients... It will be the Yelp of pot --- the best growers will rise to the top. We also have a seed-to-sale tracking method; the product is accounted for at all times.
Do you have investors? Is John Morgan providing all your capital? Haha -- hey, can you send him a message for me? No, we have four or five investors. Most of the seed funding has come from me. [There is a link on the website for investors, who must meet SEC qualifications for accredited investors.]
Do you have advice for people looking to capitalize and move into this sector? Honestly, my best advice is to take the class. You and I have been talking for a while and just scratched the surface... Spend the time, read the curricula... This is a next-generation industry for those wanting to have the skills to operate in it. There's opportunity there for anyone who wants to give [the time to learn].
Do you accept bitcoin? We certainly do. We accept bitcoin for payment for the classes and as investor capital. We will also accept bitcoin for our medicine when it becomes available.
Can I interview your Professor of Cannabis? [Carlos Hermidas bio says he "is a distinguished alumni of Oaksterdam University [a "cannabis college": in Califonia] (Cert.), Nova Southeastern (MBA) and USF (BA: Business Mgmt, Religious Studies, Philosophy) and was recruited to Tampa to join the Medical Marijuana Team as the first Professor of Cannabis in Florida."]
I'm sure Professor Hermida would be happy to speak with you, but I might recommend waiting until after the first day of class next Tuesday as he is in a mad scramble right now preparing for our students. I'll pass your info along.
Send story tips to Deirdra.Funcheon@BrowardPalmBeach.com
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