In May 2014, Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss placed a slightly controversial item on that month's agenda. He wanted to investigate how the medical marijuana industry might affect agriculture in the county.
At the time, fellow Commissioner Javier Souto wasn't thrilled.
"This is an item that's causing a lot of arguments in our society. I think we have enough problems," Souto said at the time. "It's premature to jump into things like this."
He was wrong, though. Just one month later, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure allowing patients with cancer or seizures to use low-THC marijuana. And earlier this year, the law was expanded to give people with terminal illnesses access to high-THC marijuana as well.
Now, with two months left until full-fledged medical marijuana is back on the ballot in Florida, the county has released the results of that study initiated by Moss in 2014. Considering the laws currently on the books, officials believe the total sales generated each year could be as high as $124 million in Miami-Dade.
Of the estimated 300,000 sick Floridians who would qualify for use of medical marijuana, roughly 13 percent are believed to live in Miami-Dade. The $124 million figure assumes every one of them receives a prescription at a base cost of $3,000.
But the county warns actual sales of medical marijuana is likely to be much lower. That's because most insurance plans still don't cover medical marijuana, and the state has approved only a limited number of doctors to prescribe marijuana as medicine.
The county also looked into the number of jobs that medical marijuana could generate locally with the given restrictions. Initial calculations show the industry could create 125 direct jobs, 75 indirect jobs, and 102 construction-related jobs. Combining the employment figures with a more realistic estimate for sales, officials believe currently approved medical marijuana operations could create an annual economic impact of nearly $62 million, a figure that is expected to grow in the next ten years.
As of this month, the state has approved just six farms to grow marijuana for patients in Florida. Costa Nursery Farms in South Miami-Dade was chosen to produce marijuana for the state's southeast region, which stretches from Key West to Stuart.
So far, however, few patients actually have a dispensary available within driving distance. The state's first dispensary only opened five weeks ago in Tallahassee, and a second dispensary, in Clearwater, began selling to patients only in mid-August.
In the meantime, the owners of Tallahassee dispensary Trulieve say they will definitely open a location in Miami and are reportedly sniffing around South Florida for another location.
"We are interested in going into communities that see the benefits of the products we are offering to their citizens who are very sick," Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers told the Sun Sentinel .
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