Cancer survivor Steve Bate says he ate his way through chemotherapy.
The treatment typically causes nausea and loss of appetite, but Bate credits his unusual response to the copious quantities of medical marijuana he consumed during chemo.
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Bate is one of more than 250,000 Floridians with active medical marijuana cards, a total that illustrates the strong growth of Florida’s pot program. The experience turned Bate him into a pot proponent.
"This is not about smoking pot and getting high," said Bate, 58, of Delray Beach. "This is about getting back to work and being productive."
Florida voters in 2016 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medicinal cannabis, and the state’s new industry has taken off. While smokable marijuana remained illegal until this year, new rules allowing the sale of joints — “flower” in industry parlance — have boosted patient interest.
Gov. Ron DeSantis in March signed an order legalizing smokable cannabis, and the substance has proven a hit in state-regulated pot shops. Florida’s 13 licensed cannabis companies sold nearly 11,000 ounces of smokable marijuana for the week of Aug. 2-9, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Until the state allowed the sale of cannabis flower, Florida dispensaries sold only "concentrates" — cannabis oils and extracts taken orally, inhaled through a vaporizer or applied to the skin.
While those choices might be confusing to consumers uninitiated in the new world of cannabis, the leafy green version of marijuana requires little explanation.
"It’s a familiar form," said Kim Hawkes, associate director of Surterra Wellness, the cannabis company headed by Palm Beach County billionaire William "Beau" Wrigley Jr.
In other states that allow cannabis, smokable marijuana accounts for as much as two-thirds of sales, said cannabis expert Tom Adams of BDS Analytics. The legalization of flower should spur growth in Florida’s pot industry, he said.
"That was a major hold-back," Adams said. "Why would you open stores if typically two-thirds of your business comes from flower?"
Meanwhile, the pace of new marijuana dispensaries has accelerated as local authorities have sorted out rules for pot shops. While the town of Palm Beach and Boca Raton ban dispensaries, other municipalities have proven more welcoming.
There were 150 state-licensed marijuana dispensaries operating in Florida as of Aug. 9, according to the state Department of Health, including 11 in Palm Beach County. Six of those stores are in unincorporated areas of the county. The others are in Lake Worth Beach, Boynton Beach, Wellington and West Palm Beach.
The proliferation of pot shops should boost sales, too, Adams said.
"Generally speaking, lots of dispensaries drives growth," Adams said.
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The county’s newest pot shop is a Surterra Wellness store located in an unincorporated area west of Delray Beach.
Bate, who attended the opening of Surterra’s store, said his advanced lymphoma is in remission. His hair fell out during chemotherapy but has grown back.
Bate said that when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, doctors didn’t expect him to survive. Now, he’s pushing for more research into why and how cannabis works.
"I’m alive, but why?" Bate asks. "Is it a miracle? Am I just lucky?"
Weed remains illegal at the federal level, and prohibition has hampered research into the medical properties of cannabis.
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But states such as Florida are seeing a green rush as capital flows into the budding industry.
A Canadian cannabis company in 2017 paid $40 million for one of Florida's licensed pot purveyors. And in 2018, a New York marijuana venture upped the ante, paying $48 million for another Florida licensee.
Florida's cannabis companies aren't required to publicly disclose their sales figures.