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Cannabis cocktails at the club? How the marijuana industry may change in Florida

What’s the future of marijuana in Florida?

First, a ballot issue in November that will ask voters whether they want to legalize recreational use.

Then there is the business.

Cannabis company CEOs say they’re preparing for increased demand for cannabis products and accessories if recreational pot is legalized. Giving the OK to recreational weed could also boost the hospitality industry in South Florida by cashing in on cannabis.

Cannabis beer on tap? Edibles instead of after-dinner mints?

In some states where recreational marijuana is already legal, restaurants can apply for a “social consumption lounge license,” which lets customers consume marijuana on site.

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While Florida isn’t considering that yet, it’s something cannabis entrepreneurs think could happen in the future if voters approve Amendment 3 in November.

Florida has a strong and growing $2 billion medical marijuana market with lots of opportunity for growth, especially if weed becomes available to all adults, according to Florida-based Sunburn Cannabis CEO Brady Cobb. State data shows there are more than 878,000 medical marijuana card holders alone.

But “the devil is in the details,” said Cobb, noting that the Florida Legislature would likely restrict where and how people can use recreational pot if the measure passes. Medical marijuana, for example, while legal in the state, is prohibited in public.

Cobb was one of hundreds of entrepreneurs and industry leaders who gathered at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood this week, leading up to Saturday’s 4/20 cannabis culture day, to talk all things weed at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference. Exhibitors showcased vapes, rolling papers and non-alcoholic hemp-derived THC beers and sodas, which have been growing in popularity and are available at some licensed stores including Total Wine & More.

THC is the substance that makes you feel high when you smoke marijuana or eat an edible. “While there are many forms of THC, the THC extracted from hemp is the same as the THC extracted from the marijuana plant, and they have the same intoxicating effects,” according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

READ MORE: What happens if Florida legalizes recreational marijuana? Where could you buy and smoke?

THC beverages: a growing trend in the cannabis industry

THC beverages can give the same effects as edibles, but quicker, and are a product that could help change the perception people have of cannabis, said Diana Eberlein, chair of the Cannabis Beverage Association.

The target consumer for these low-dose drinks are the “canni-curious,” who have never tried or have rarely used cannabis products before, said Aaron Nosbisch, founder and CEO of BRĒZ, a cannabis-infused beverage company.

While some licensed dispensaries might sell THC beverages, hemp-derived THC beverages can be found at licensed liquor and alcohol retailers, though drink availability varies by state, said Mark Flores, the marketing director for Florida-based Rexis Biotech, which unveiled its new non-alcoholic hemp-derived THC drink Squared at the conference. The drink will be available in Florida online and in select retailers in the next few weeks.

Rexis Biotech showcased their new THC beverages on April 17, 2024 during the 2024 Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Hollywood, FL.
Rexis Biotech showcased their new THC beverages on April 17, 2024 during the 2024 Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Hollywood, FL.

The legality of hemp drinks

Currently, non-alcoholic hemp-derived THC beverages are legal in Florida, though that could soon change if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs HB 1613 into law, according to Dustin Robinson, founding partner of Mr. Cannabis Law, a firm with offices in Fort Lauderdale, New York, California and Maryland, and co-founder of nonprofit Mr. Psychedelic Law, which is advocating for legal psychedelic reform in Florida.

The bill, if signed by the governor, would ban hemp-derived THC beverages in Florida, just like how marijuana-derived THC beverages are currently banned, he said. Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant species, but THC levels differ. Hemp is legal under federal and state law because it contains 0.3 percent or less THC.

The law would set more rigorous THC caps on hemp-extract products, which would also affect “full-spectrum CBD products” and strengthen restrictions on how edible hemp products are packaged, according to Florida Politics.

CBD, or Cannabidiol, is an ingredient found in cannabis, but it doesn’t cause a high by itself, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, people 18 and older in Florida are allowed to buy CBD products, including oils and topicals, from authorized sellers if the product has 0.3% or less of THC and was extracted from the hemp plant.

Under the bill, Florida businesses would be prohibited from “manufacturing or selling products that contain more than 0.3 percent delta-9 and place limits on other cannabinoids,” according to Health News Florida. Critics say the measure is driven by medical marijuana operators that want less competition if recreational marijuana is approved, according to Health News Florida.

The future of the cannabis business

For the growing THC beverage market, it’s not just regulations that will define its future success, according to Rachel Burkons, a cannabis hospitality entrepreneur who is the chair of the Food and Beverage Committee for the Cannabis Hospitality Coalition.

The industry also needs to hone in on educating customers on how to safely enjoy their products, she said.

“Consumers know what to expect from a glass of wine. They know tequila might make them a little crazy and that gin gives them a hangover,” Burkons said. “So how do we train them to understand where THC beverages fit within their own personal consumption?”

Here is where marijuana laws stand in each state. Hover over the state to learn more.