In South Florida, legal growers operate only a handful of dispensaries. But those dispensaries — including Knox Medical, Curaleaf and Trulieve — are laying the groundwork for new locations in the tricounty region and across the state. And California-based MedMen is getting ready to enter the market, which could heat up competition.
Expansion by existing and new operators could result in more than 500 dispensaries across the state — and thousands of jobs. Each may employ 10 to 15 people in jobs including manager and customer service positions at dispensaries, as well as delivery workers, cultivation experts, and makers of medical marijuana products.
“It’s a new industry in Florida, and people see great potential,” said Michael Costa, dispensary operations manager for Curaleaf, which has one location in Lake Worth and two in Miami.
Some companies have deep pockets to invest in expansion. MedMen, a publicly traded company with a $1.6 billion market valuation, recently agreed to acquire Treadwell Nursery in Eustis for $53 million. MedMen has 13 dispensaries in California, Nevada and New York, and is planning about 45 new stores — that could include as many as 25 in Florida.
MedMen is seeking a toehold in Florida because of the rapid growth of the state’s medical marijuana program, according to spokesman Daniel Yi. As of June 15, there were 100,000 Florida residents with approved medical marijuana cards, and nearly 3,000 in processing, according to the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.
MedMen is gambling that Florida eventually will legalize recreational marijuana. Yi points to California and other states that began by legalizing medical marijuana and later legalized the adult use of pot.
“We feel Florida is going to be on that path eventually,” Yi said.
But even for medical marijuana locations, finding a city that allows a dispensary has been challenging, as many in the state passed ordinances to keep them away, and not all landlords have been willing to lease their property to operators.
“For the industry to continue rapid expansion, local governments have to be expand their willingness for medical marijuana stores,” said Jeff Sharkey, founder of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. “They should know that dispensaries that have opened in the state don’t look like head shops. They’re very well done.”
Currently, there are 13 companies in Florida with licenses to grow and make medical marijuana products, and each is allowed 25 dispensaries.
“Another eight licenses, including four authorized when the registry hit the 100,000-patient mark, could be approved in the next three to six months,” according to Sharkey. “And by 2020, the 25-dispensary cap per operator goes away.”
South Florida’s dispensaries currently include Curaleaf; Knox Medical in Lake Worth; Trulieve in Miami; and Surterra Wellness Center in Miami Beach.
Curaleaf’s parent company is Massachusetts-based PalliaTech, which has 23 dispensary locations in 11 states. Miami-based Costa Farms received one of the first licenses in the state to grow marijuana for medical purposes, launching a separate business, Modern Health Concepts, that in 2017 partnered with the more experienced PalliaTech to open dispensaries.
Curaleaf, which already employs 180 people in Florida, recently opened in Palm Harbor, Palm Bay and Fort Myers.
“In the works are locations in North Miami, Lakeland, Orlando, Tampa and Ocala,” Costa said. “Our goal at Curaleaf is to open as many locations as we can where we can bring value to patients who are not associated with Costa Farms. At the Lake Worth store, which opened in January, customers were lined up before the doors opened on Friday. This is our busiest store.”
In South Florida, Broward County has been a gap in its service, because its major cities haven’t allowed dispensaries. Curaleaf has only been able to offer home delivery there, but the company hopes to soon open a dispensary in Broward as well, Costa said.
There could be an opportunity in Fort Lauderdale, where the moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries expired in March. As a result, there could be up to four dispensaries allowed, according to City Manager Lee Feldman.
Toronto-based Liberty Health Sciences is expecting to open a dispensary in a few weeks at 4500 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, according to spokeswoman Karen Chase. Liberty, which calls its dispensaries “cannabis education centers,” has two locations in Tampa, as well as stores in St. Petersburg, Port St. Lucie, and The Villages.
“Plans call for a total of 12 in Florida by year’s end,” Chase said.
Trulieve, based in Quincy near Tallahassee, operates 15 dispensaries in the state, including one in Miami, and has hired more than 800 employees. Spokeswoman Victoria Walker said Trulieve has plans for additional dispensaries in Miami as well as stores in Boynton Beach and West Palm Beach. It also is exploring sites in Broward.
“We know the patient population is growing, and we’re committed to expanding as quickly as possible,” Walker said.
Miami-based Knox Medical, which has a dispensary in Lake Worth across from City Hall, also is getting ready to open new locations in South Florida and across the state. It has been recruiting at local job fairs in South Florida.
“We’re taking on new folks for dispensaries that will be launching in the next few months,” said Scott Klenet, spokesman for Knox Medical. “There will be six more and open by the end of the year — several will be in South Florida. Knox Medical is also hiring for positions at its headquarters in the Wynwood district of Miami. While job candidates aren’t expected to have experience in the industry, dispensary workers need to be compassionate and understanding. Many patients are very sick. They don’t know what product is best for them, or how to take the product.”
Workers receive training on the types of products available, which may include capsules, vaporizers, oil concentrates and topical creams. Before they can be hired, medical marijuana workers must pass a criminal background check by the Florida Department of Health.
“While physicians write the orders for a type of cannabis and how to administer it, there can be choices within that,” Costa said. “With inhalers, for example, there are different strains. Part of our training is educating staff on that and the quantity they can take. Some strains are more sedating, and some are more energizing.”
James Yagielo, co-founder and CEO of HempStaff in Key Largo, said his staffing company has trained more than 5,000 individuals for the medical marijuana industry through classes in Florida and other states. Students often include nurses, pharmaceutical assistants and other medical professionals, he said. Of those trained, Yagielo estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent have found jobs.
“While there are recent college graduates interested in medical marijuana jobs,” Yagielo said, “20 percent of our students are 55 or over looking for a part-time job.”
Evan Eisenberg, 29, recently started a new job as dispensary manager for Curaleaf’s new Palm Harbor location, the first to have a drive-through service window. Eisenberg previously worked as an assistant manager at another company’s dispensary in Champaign, Ill. Wanting to return to Florida, he applied to an Indeed.com ad for a dispensary manager position and was hired by Curaleaf, where he now oversees eight workers.
Eisenberg said he likes the job because it gives him “the ability to come in and help people every day … it’s cool to be able to shape a new industry like this.”