We were excited when medical marijuana in Florida was legalized during March 2019. The measure had swept through legislation fairly quickly and overnight, just like that, flower could be sold in stores. Customers were buzzing that many different strains of flower would be on shelves in no time because the state-licensed cultivators had been growing cannabis for concentrates since medical cannabis was legalized in FL during November 2016. Surely, it would be straightforward to flip the switch for a new product that didn’t need any processing. We were in Tampa recently visiting a friend with a medical cannabis card and were looking forward to trying some of Florida’s finest flower. As we would soon find out the reality was more nuanced than we had expected.
Our friend’s first call to the MUV Tampa dispensary took us to a centralized customer center that managed incoming calls for the 4 MUV dispensaries in the area. He was told that there was plenty of Gorilla Glue (yes, our favorite strain!) and Rainmaker. Awesome. He arrived less than one hour later and it was all gone. “We’ve still got some flower cups that you can use for your vaporizer” the polite attendant informed him. Yeah, sweet.
Florida dispensaries have been surprisingly slow to roll out flower to its customers, and those that do offer it tend to sell out quickly. The process is causing some confusion and frustration for patients who have been eager to move their flower purchases from the black market to the legal market.
The bumpy start to the new regulation is primarily due to the fact that a dispensary can only sell flower that it has grown itself. This has led many dispensaries to scramble to expand their facilities to accommodate the sale of an additional product that most anticipate will have significantly more demand than the concentrated products being sold in dispensaries today.
MUV’s manager told us the best thing to do is to call Thursday since they typically receive new flower product at that time and we could place an order on hold. When asked what kind of strains they expected to receive that week we were told he didn’t know (“they don’t tell us in advance what we’re getting, they just send us what they’ve got”). We found it a little strange that there isn’t more communication between the stores and the growers since it is the same Company. After all, the dispensaries interact with patients every day and should know what they want and what sells the best.
Instead of waiting until Friday for our flower we decided to try some other places. Fluent Dispensary in Saint Petersburg (formerly known as Knox) had some absolutely killer Grandaddy Purple cartridges, but no flower. “We’re hoping we get some flower by the end of the month,” the attendant said. He wasn’t sure why they didn’t have any already.
Next we called Trulieve to see if they had any flower (at this point we weren’t going to just drive around given the dearth of places with flower). We dialed into an automated message with about 5 different options based on the purpose of our call. Pretty extensive for a small cannabis dispensary. We chose option 2 (Place An Order). We waited…..and waited…..and waited. After about 7 minutes we just hung up. Maybe they do have flower, but we’re not going to wait over 5 minutes on the phone to find out.
The bumpy rollout is primarily due to dispensaries racing to get approval from the Department of Health to sell loose flower, limited growing facilities in place, and a surge in demand from patients. The process can take several months in some cases. Fluent, for example, was held up due to the fact that they had just bought their dispensaries from previous owner Knox Dispensaries and were still in the transfer process of their licenses in general (a week after we visited they received approval and started selling loose flower, albeit in low supply). At the same time that operators race to expand services, patients in FL are booming. As of March 2019 there were about 3,000 new patients a week licensed in FL, a number we expect has grown since then given the legalization of flower in the state. As of March 2019 there were just under 200,000 medical marijuana patients in FL.
Exacerbating this, dispensaries likely do not currently have grow rooms that can accommodate a surge in demand like the one seen after flower was legalized in Florida. MUV’s grow house, based in Apollo Heights, is over 150,000 square feet, and serves the Company’s 4 dispensaries in the area. That’s pretty large for a small city. Surterra Therapeutics has about 400,000 square feet of warehouse space in Tallahassee, but this serves all 23 dispensaries in the state. Trulieve’s two warehouses in Glasden County FL have about 100,000 square feet of cultivation space and serves all of its 27 dispensaries in the state. Knox is in the process of expanding its facilities.
Eventually, we went back to MUV and called the call center to reserve an order from the Apollo Heights dispensary. We bought ½ ounce of Gorilla Glue and ½ ounce of Rainmaker. We had to drive 45 minutes from Saint Petersburg to get there, but we did eventually get our flower.
Prices are pretty reasonable in our opinion. The ounce that we bought cost $400, all fees included. Unlike many states where cannabis is legal either medically or recreationally there are no taxes charged for cannabis purchases in Florida. Some places, like Liberty Health Sciences sell 1/8ths for as low as $25.