medical cannabis use

A refrigerator at Knox Medical stores ingredients used to produce medical cannabis. They include monitrile (second from left) and water (right). A new report predicts a huge increase in the medical-cannabis market. / J.D. Vivian

No one can predict with certainty what will happen when Florida’s Constitution allows an expansion of the state’s medical-cannabis program on Jan. 3, 2017, when the amendment takes effect. A new report predicts that medical cannabis use will explode.

Many in the state’s fledgling industry believe that the number of patients who will benefit from the medication will grow. They’re supported by a new report, the “2016 Florida Legal Cannabis Market State Profile,” issued by New Frontier Data and Arcview Market Research.

By 2020, sales of medical cannabis in Florida should hit $1.6 billion, according to the report. That’s a compound annual growth rate of 140 percent, the report notes. (No dollar figures on current medical-cannabis sales in the state are available.)

Cannabis grower also expects more Floridians to benefit

About 1,180 patients are now registered to receive the cannabis, according to Jose Hidalgo, co-founder and chief executive officer of Knox Medical. The Winter Garden company is one of six in the state licensed to grow cannabis for medical reasons.

Bruce Knox, who co-founded Knox Medical with Hidalgo and who serves as its chief operating officer, is optimistic about the future. “There clearly will be a lot more patients in the pool than what there originally were,” he said.

In Knox Medical’s Lab room, the Elan 6100 (left) performs trace-element and speciation (creating two species from one) analysis. At right is the SterilGard Biological Safety Cabinet, which ensures sterility of its contents. / J.D. Vivian

Hidalgo and Knox began planning the Winter Garden facility 2½ years ago, after the Legislature passed the original “Charlotte’s Web” bill, Knox explained. That bill allows patients to use medical cannabis if they meet certain conditions.

Knox Medical has been growing low-THC and full-strength medical cannabis in a temporary off-site facility and will move all operations to its new location early in 2017.

Potential impediments to growth of medical cannabis use

But how many more patients will join “the pool” is unclear, Knox added: “We won’t know the answer to that until the rules are actually created. The new law gives all rule-making authority to the Florida Legislature and the Department of Health.”

Under the recently passed Amendment 2, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) has six months to create regulations governing the dispensing and use of medical cannabis. The state Legislature, which begins its regular 2017 legislative session on March 7, is also expected to propose and to pass laws related to medical cannabis.

In addition to the state DOH and Legislature becoming involved, the future of the medical-marijuna market — according to the New Frontier Data website — “will be heavily dependent on decisions at the local level. Individual jurisdictions can enact moratoriums on legal cannabis sales, and this local autonomy could greatly impede initial market growth in the state.”

Marijuana Business Daily doesn’t expect nearly as large an increase in Florida medical-cannabis sales as the New Frontier Data/Arcview Market Research report does. Nevertheless, according to (, “Florida could generate $600 million to $800 million in sales within five years after the first dispensaries open, making it one of the largest cannabis states in the nation.”

Legislators will create “Gordian knot”

The president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network (FCAN) fears that members of the Legislature, in their upcoming session, will over-regulate patients’ access to medical cannabis.

“For other than medicinal use, cannabis should be treated like beer and wine. By working on just medical use, the Legislature is creating a Gordian knot of legislation, making access difficult for patients, restricted to only a few, and inconvenient for everyone,” Ethel Rowland explained.

The Fort Pierce resident also doesn’t like that physicians must act as “gate-keepers” for patients who could benefit from medical cannabis. Not every patient should have to get a recommendation from a physician to qualify for medical cannabis, she said.

“There will be a few physicians who see a quick buck in serving the community of marginally qualifying patients. There are people with marginally qualifying conditions who will seek out those physicians to obtain access to pure, precise, predictable products, when over-the-counter access (to them) would serve just as well,” Rowland explained.

FCAN supports legalizing, but regulating, the entire cannabis plant: “The vast portion of the existing market is about fun, wellness, and decompressing at the end of the day,” Rowland noted.