Entrepreneurs Prepare for MMJ Businesses

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  Entrepreneurs Prepare for MMJ Businesses

Posted by CN Staff on June 29, 2014 at 17:49:07 PT
By Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun Sentinel 
Source: Sun-Sentinel 

Florida -- Thirty-one businesses in Broward and Palm Beach counties have registered with the state as marijuana-related businesses, banking that voters will approve medical use of the drug on Nov. 4The businesses — 17 in Broward and 14 in Palm Beach County — are among 100 that have registered with the words "medical marijuana," "marijuana" or "cannabis" in their names. Most filed incorporation papers in the past few months.
Among them are lawyers, a retired insurance firm owner, a construction contractor and a personal trainer, all laying the foundation for businesses ranging from growing to selling through a dispensary."This is the little guy's chance to get in. You want to be up and running," said Darren Odesnik, a personal injury lawyer based in Delray Beach who in May incorporated Cannabis Center of South Florida and is scoping out a warehouse and retail location.Some say Florida's potential legalization of wider medical use is the business opportunity of a lifetime. For others, it's personal: They've seen a family member or friend suffer and believe marijuana could have eased their pain.Gov. Rick Scott this month signed into law the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, known as "Charlotte's Web," which establishes five cultivators to provide access to a strain of marijuana to treat conditions such as epilepsy, Lou Gehrig's disease and cancer.But that law results in only a limited market. Aspiring business owners are preparing for a broader medical marijuana market through Amendment 2, which expands the conditions that could be treated. It needs 60 percent of the vote to pass and would take effect in mid-2015.Recent polls show that 60 percent to 70 percent of voters support the measure.While enthusiastic about potential legalization in Florida, experts warn that the medical marijuana business is fraught with challenges and legal restrictions, and it's a pricey proposition for most.Odesnik estimates it will cost him and a partner $700,000 to $1 million to set up an operation that includes growing, manufacturing and selling through their own retail location. He has spent about $100 each to register three domain names for online:, and's not concerned about investing money up front, before the November vote."This is a business that you'll make your money back," Odesnik said. "If it doesn't pass, then it will probably be on the ballot again, and we'll be ready."Retired insurance business owner Howard Passman plans to go into the business with his 29-year-old son, Matthew, who has been working in California's medical marijuana business for 12 years.In May, Passman registered Medical Marijuana Industries of South Florida, based in Coral Springs. He and his son plan a wide-ranging business from laboratory research and growing to making edibles and specialty oils. The Passmans hope to open dispensaries in Broward and Palm Beach counties."It's a very meaningful project for me. I'm currently on dialysis. Although there are treatments for kidney disease, you cannot be on the transplant list if you have marijuana in your system," he said.Passman projects that the venture will cost $1.25 million and has secured investors. But he knows that even the best-laid plans can backfire. Passman invested $250,000 to open a medical marijuana business in Arizona, but then the state decided to use a lottery to choose licensees.Lesson No. 1: Put any funds in escrow. That protected him from losing his investment.South Florida residents without experience in the business are turning to lawyers and medical marijuana business owners from states where it's legal, including Colorado, California, Oregon and New Mexico. Some are signing up for seminars that cost $200 to $400.Sheridan Rafer, a personal trainer who said he has set up dispensaries in other states, opened the Institute of Medical Cannabis in Boca Raton and has 22 people registered for classes."Some people are retired; some are looking for an additional source of income; and others are looking to make a career move," he said. "They're from 30 to 75 years old. A grandmother of six is in one of my classes."John Macaluso, a construction contractor in Hollywood, is working with family members to seek a license in Colorado, with hopes he can gain experience and open a business eventually in Florida."Our parents passed away last year of cancer. They were able to use a liquid form that helped them, took the pain away," he said.To get organized, he attended the MMJ Business Academy in Colorado, which Macaluso said he found inspirational.Academy founder KC Stark said he opened one of the first medical marijuana businesses in Colorado, selling it in 2010. Since then, he has educated people on how to prepare to open such a business and locate financing. He will conduct seminars July 19 and 20 in Miami.If Amendment 2 passes, Stark sees a ready market for Florida growers and sellers."There are certainly enough sick people out there. They will fly and drive and come to this state. They're doing it in Colorado," he said.Macaluso said he and his family have spent thousands of dollars on preparing to set up a business in Colorado, and he thinks it's worth it."With a medical marijuana business, you're helping people and able to get an income that's not going to be taken away from you by some big tycoon," he said. "You make an honest living from honest work, and you're with your family. I don't know what's better than that."Florida's Department of Health has scheduled a rule-making session July 7 to begin implementing the Charlotte's Web law. But would-be medical marijuana entrepreneurs have no way of knowing exactly what the rules or restrictions would be if Amendment 2 passes.That concerns Wilton Manors lawyer Norm Kent, past president of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws."I've never seen anything like the Green Rush in Florida. People are counting their votes before anybody has cast one," said Kent, who said he and his law partner are "walking people through the minefield."Potential business owners should know, for example, that they won't be able to write off business expenses as in other companies because, on the federal level, marijuana growing and selling is illegal."This is a very risky business. If you make a mistake, you can be charged with a felony," Kent said.David T. Aronberg, a Delray Beach lawyer — not the Palm Beach County state attorney — said he is working with "two wealthy business owners" who want to get into the business. He said the biggest hurdle will be to find a "master grower," a horticulturist who is able to grow the crop to the state's specifications.The medical marijuana will have to be grown in Florida, but the seeds and expertise are likely to come from other states, he said.Miami resident Michael Weisser and his son David own dispensaries in Colorado and New Jersey. They plan to apply to be one of the five dispensaries in Florida, following the Charlotte's Web law.Weisser established a not-for-profit business in New Jersey after his wife died of pancreatic cancer. Now the Weissers are talking with nurseries in Florida to develop a similar business near home.But he knows there will be plenty of obstacles.A marijuana crop and a cash business needs heavy security. Because banks are federally regulated, "it's almost impossible to find a bank to allow you to open an account," he said.Business owners can expect inspections, audits and extra hassles in trying to open a business, Weisser said. "In a normal business, you would just install lights. Not in this business. You have to certify everything."His advice to budding marijuana entrepreneurs: Be prepared for a less-than-mellow experience."I've been in the business world for 50 years, and I've run a number of public companies and private companies. Nothing comes even close to the challenges of this business," he said.Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel (FL)Author: Marcia Heroux Pounds, Sun SentinelPublished: June 29, 2014Copyright: 2014 South Florida Sun-SentinelContact: Medical Marijuana Archives 

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Comment #4 posted by Hope on June 30, 2014 at 09:30:05 PT

We have some pretty good Democratic candidates,
but we haven't had a Democratic governor since the nineties. I don't know if it could happen.
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on June 30, 2014 at 04:53:01 PT

I wish you the best of luck in Texas. It takes a lot of money to get it done. I believe that is why Ohio has been having so much trouble. If we could only get a liberal Democrat as Governor it would help but Kasich will probably win 4 more years since we don't have a person like Sharrod Brown running yet.
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Comment #2 posted by Hope on June 29, 2014 at 23:38:11 PT

Oh yes!
Thank you, Marijuana Policy Project!
[ Post Comment ]


Comment #1 posted by Hope on June 29, 2014 at 23:36:11 PT

Powerful D.C. activist group pushing for Texas marijuana reform
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