Growing Pains for Medical Marijuana in Florida

Steve Garrison grows more than 700 plants at his Homestead farm, but there's one plant he isn't allowed to grow. And it's one he wants to the most – marijuana.

"It has been a lot of heartaches, a lot of frustrations and expenses," said Garrison.

He's been fighting to get his license to grow medical marijuana for four years.

For him, the struggle is personal.

"I owe this to my son," he said.

Garrison's son, Matt, was a combat veteran who suffered from PTSD.

He died of heart failure before medical marijuana was legalized in Florida.

"We're on a mission," he said.

As Garrison has learned, it's not an easy process to get a license to grow medical marijuana in Florida.

Farmers: "We Can't Grow Fast Enough"

The number of patients being prescribed marijuana by doctors in Florida is growing fast, but the number of farms growing the plants is not.

Right now, more than 144,000 patients are registered to receive medical marijuana. The number of patients has doubled since January 2018.

All marijuana prescribed in Florida has to be grown, processed and sold in the state.

The Florida Department of Health has granted licenses to 14 farms throughout the state over the past two years to grow and sell cannabis, but less than half of those farms are up and running.

Some businesses say they're having a difficult time keeping up with demand.

"Keeping up in six months is going to be challenging," said Josh Reed, Vice President of Production for Surterra Wellness.

NBC 6 Investigators visited the greenhouse where all of Surterra's marijuana is grown in Hillsborough County.

Inside, the facility is filled with plants that are made into oils and sold at dispensaries across the state.

"We're increasing as fast as we can, but we also don't see the need to limit the competition," said Reed. "The more people the better."

Dispensaries Running Out of Marijuana

So many patients are signing up for marijuana prescriptions, some dispensaries are having a difficult time keeping their shelves stocked with popular products.

Pain medicine Doctor Michelle Weiner says she has 800 patients who have prescriptions for marijuana.

Some of them are having a difficult time getting their prescription filled.

"The places that they've been getting their medications from will run out of what they've been taking, so I'll have to give them suggestions for different places," said Dr. Weiner. "So then they may go to a dispensary and try something else out that may or may not work better."

New License Applications Accepted Soon

The Florida Department of Health's Office of Medical Marijuana said it will start accepting applications for new licenses, but not until at least next month.

By the time the applications are reviewed and granted, it could be another year before new marijuana facilities are sprouting up in the state.

In response to the delay in licensing, the Department of Health sent this statement: "The department continues to focus on the health and safety of Florida's families and is dedicated to ensuring patients continue to have safe access to medicine."

Homestead farmer Steve Garrison is waiting for those new applications to be accepted. He's hoping his farm will be one able to grow marijuana by this time next year.

"We're going to do whatever we have to, we're not going to give up," said Garrison.

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