JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The medical marijuana business in Florida is booming, which means more job opportunities for you.
Less than two years after state voters approved it, some analysts believe Florida’s pot industry will top $1 billion by 2020 -- and that has many investors and job seekers seeing green.
"We really are going to be one of the largest employers in the region," said George Scorsis, CEO of Liberty Health Sciences, a $250-million international company and one of a handful of businesses in Florida allowed to legally grow and sell cannabis.
As about 3,000 new patients are approved to use medical marijuana in Florida each week, state-of -the-art cultivation facilities are sprouting up all over the state to keep up with the demand.
"It wasn't a secret. It was used hundreds of years ago for so many ailments. And now it is coming back to the forefront of real medicine," Scorsis said. "There are people who are scared by that very word: marijuana. We need to de-stigmatize this entire industry. Come to Florida and come see that this is for truly medicine."
Making medical marijuana
Scorsis took News4Jax inside his grow house in Alachua County and showed us the entire process from seed to sale. Numerous strains of the plant are grown there, and Scorsis says each one has its own benefits.
"The flower is where the active ingredients actually, primarily reside," he said.
After the plants are harvested, they are taken to the lab where scientists pull out the medicinal elements.
"So when our oils come out of the extractor, they come out in crude form," Talaal Rshaidat, director of innovation at Liberty Health Sciences, showed us.
Lab workers make it into medicine in different forms including topical creams, oils and vaporizers with and without the psychoactive ingredient THC, which can make patients high.
Products are then sold at the company's dispensaries or delivered free anywhere in Florida.
"Using it has really made me believe how powerful this is, how effective it is, and ultimately, that it is a medicine," said Scorsis, who is approved for medical marijuana himself and uses the topical cream.
Medical marijuana patients
Not just anyone can get medical marijuana. In Florida, patients must get a recommendation from a certified doctor for qualifying conditions like:
Patients must apply for a Medical Marijuana Use Registry Identification Card from the Department of Health. (For assistance with your application or a status on your submitted application, call 800-808-9580.)
As of this month, Florida has 172,848 registered users, and 80-year-old Lois Stratton is one of them.
"I'm not as weak feeling as I was," said Stratton, who is battling Parkinson's disease and COPD.
But like many others opposed to medical marijuana, Stratton believed it was bad.
"When they told me the oil was made from marijuana I was like, 'I don't know about that,'" she said
"What has the reaction been like for you?" we asked.
"My breathing's improved 100 percent," Stratton answered.
"You're seeing more and more obviously come up because the demand from patients," said Michelle Terrell, Curaleaf's director of marketing.
And that demand is coming from children, too. Under Florida's Amendment 2, children can also be licensed to use medical marijuana.
"With CBD and medical marijuana, I have been able to control myself," 13-year-old Thomas Lee said.
Thomas tells us it's been like "night and day" since he started using medical marijuana for his ADHD, adding it is way better than traditional medication. Thomas' father, a former police officer, agrees.
"You think it is safe to use?" we asked Jason Lee.
"Absolutely," he answered.
More medical marijuana jobs coming
As more patients like Thomas Lee and Lois Stratton use cannabis, more and more marijuana jobs are sprouting up.
Knox Medical continues to expand its facilities in Winter Garden, Florida, producing cannabis that's sold all over the state.
Near Gainesville, Liberty Health Sciences is building what will be the largest cultivation facility in Florida. It's a 250,000-square-foot facility with state-of-the-art technology that CEO George Scorsis says means hundreds of new jobs to serve thousands of medical marijuana patients.
"It's a booming industry," he said.
And they're hiring for a number of different positions -- everything from gardeners to accountants to scientists to delivery drivers and pay at Liberty Health Sciences range from $11 an hour to $140,000 a year. Some companies even say salaries can top $250,000.
Curaleaf confirms it's growing too, with plans to have more than 600 employees by the end of 2019.
HempStaff, LLC, helps place people in cannabis companies. We spoke to HempStaff CEO James Yagielo, who says for people looking for employment -- even for higher paying jobs in the industry -- the jobs will be there.
"We do predict there will be about 5,000 cannabis employees in Florida, and you know, that's only medical," he said. "If (job seekers) are looking for that master cultivator or master processor, they may want, you know, bachelors, masters, some of even requested Ph.D. for these people that are commanding a $150,000 salary."
Florida law states employees in the medical marijuana industry cannot have a felony conviction, and according to Yagielo, recreational drug users shouldn't apply either.
"I would say about 50 percent of companies, probably more in Florida, actually drug test their initial employees. So if you test positive, and you don't have your medical marijuana card, that could be a problem," he said.
Medical marijuana not approved on a federal level
There is still a lot to be figured out with Florida's medical marijuana industry. For example, it is still illegal on a federal level which means medical marijuana companies cannot put their money in federally-insured banks.
And, patients are responsible for all the costs. Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance -- with many of the products costing around $100. Plus, most patients pay around $150-$200 for the doctor's visit to get the medical marijuana recommendation and then if approved, the license is $75.
As it stands in Florida, patients are not allowed to smoke medical marijuana and edibles are also against the law.
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