Florida’s medical marijuana industry has grown significantly since last November. The competitive cannabis industry has seen many changes with more licenses being distributed to cultivators, medical marijuana treatment centers going up in towns around the state and both the number of medical marijuana patients and doctors increasing substantially. The laws are confusing and are being challenged, so from the outside the medical cannabis industry is keeping Florida residents busy. But, what has been happening within the inner workings of the cannabis industry itself?
There are whole slew of wealthy investors working in the very competitive cannabis industry here in Florida that come from backgrounds that cover all sides of business. Have you considered how you might get involved in this very fast and competitive cannabis industry?
A pudgy man in a white lab coat, protective goggles, and a white hardhat ambles down several long rows of potted marijuana plants. An industrial A/C unit cranks frigid air into the capacious grow room, located inside a 300,000-square-foot warehouse just outside Tallahassee, while an array of high-pressure sodium lights bathes the indoor crop in a sunny, golden hue.
Wearing latex black gloves, the tender gently inspects the flowery orange, green, and purple buds bursting from a cannabis plant that is so leafy it looks like a small tree.
All of this legal pot, pictured in a promotional video, belongs to Surterra Therapeutics, which teamed up with Homestead-based farm Alpha Foliage in 2015 to win a state medical marijuana license. Surterra is also building a 100,000-square-foot greenhouse in Hillsborough County. Together, the two facilities are about half the size of Marlins Park.
Jake Bergmann, Surterra Holdings CEO, is a soft-spoken entrepreneur with stylishly gelled brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard. A private equity manager who also owns a firm called Valkyrie Capital, he’s one of a handful of people set to make a windfall in the burgeoning medical marijuana market. His firm’s facility near the state capital is built to crank out 3,000 plants per grow cycle. Surterra has already opened two dispensaries, one in Tampa and another in Tallahassee. Plans call for six more by year’s end.
The company’s fast rollout recently prompted a private equity firm to predict Surterra could generate $138 million in sales by 2021. Though Bergmann won’t confirm that total, he’s optimistic. “We are honored outside investors believe we have such a great chance of success,” Bergmann says. “In all honesty, there is no way I could estimate the number of patients we will have or future revenues.”
Surterra is one of seven firms the state has chosen so far to manage the new medical marijuana business following last year’s 71 percent vote in favor of a constitutional amendment that legalized it. At first, pot advocates hoped state lawmakers would establish a free marketplace where as many as a half-million patients could choose from dozens of providers.
Instead, Florida’s nascent medical marijuana industry, which could be worth $1 billion by 2020, remains in the hands of seven firms — located from Tallahassee to the farmlands of South Miami-Dade. They were chosen to provide a nonpsychoactive form of weed to epilepsy patients after the state Legislature passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014. Each is licensed to grow, process, and dispense cannabis. All of them, like Surterra, had to partner with Florida-based nurseries that have been in business for at least 30 years.
To get a leg up on possible new competitors, Bergmann and leaders of the other six companies have spent a combined $1.5 million on lobbyists and $667,000 in campaign contributions to Florida legislators in the last election cycle and in the 2018 matchups so far, according to a New Times review of state data. Critics — such as state Sen. Jeff Brandes — have dubbed these companies and their executives Florida’s medical marijuana “cartel.” During the legislative session this past spring, the St. Petersburg Republican proposed scrapping the state’s current program and replacing it with one similar to Colorado’s, which allows more than 500 operators to grow and sell cannabis for medicinal purposes. That bill never got out of committee.