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Nikki Fried proposes new bank to serve medical cannabis providers

Freshly fired as a Wells Fargo bank customer for taking campaign cash from the medical marijuana industry, Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried on Monday envisioned a state-sponsored bank to work with cannabis providers.

During a news conference outside the Capitol office she would occupy if she secures the Democratic nomination and wins in November, Fried supported federal legislation that would ease providers’ access to financial services.

“I have also brought up the opportunity for the state of Florida to actually open up its own bank for this industry,” Fried told reporters.

She said she would discuss that prospect with whoever gets elected chief financial officer and “see if we can’t start moving that policy forward.”

The bank’s move in no way compromised her standing as a candidate, she said. But she did not rule out legal action.

“It is a private company. They are allowed to make their own policies. However, we are definitely looking into what legal options may be available to us,” Fried told reporters. A request for comment is pending with the company.

The bank first raised questions in July about whether Fried was “advocating for expanded patient access to medical marijuana.”

A representative asked the campaign, “Can you confirm the types of transactions expected for this customer & if any of the transactions will include funds received from lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity?”

On Aug. 3, Wells Fargo notified the campaign it would need to close all accounts.

Fried is a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and lobbyist who has represented industry players and has made access to medical marijuana a central campaign plank.

At first, “I thought this was a joke,” she said of the bank’s action.

Fried complained that she was “kicked out of the bank for voicing support” for a provision “that is literally in the Florida Constitution.” Meanwhile, marijuana providers across the country have trouble opening bank accounts because of “outdated federal laws,” she said.

“This is much bigger than my campaign. I’m happy to tell Wells Fargo, ‘Good riddance.’ And finding a bank to take my campaign contributions without making a value judgment on my platform was not difficult. But when this happens to medical marijuana business, as it does every day all over the country, it has a much more devastating impact,” Fried said.

“Small business owners — families, veterans, hard working Americans — every day live in perpetual financial instability. Will I be able to pay my mortgage? Will I be able to pay for day care? Can I keep my lights on at home? What if I get kicked out of another bank tomorrow? Will I be held up at gunpoint, or worse, when I’m on my way to work because I’m forced to run an all-cash business?”

Fried said she has moved her campaign account to BBT, the Branch Banking and Trust Co. She also moved the account for Florida Consumers First, her PAC.

“I would like to urge Floridians, Americans, to re-evaluate their relationship with a financial institution that would refuse a checking account to a candidate for office abiding by every federal and state campaign law,” she said.

“We need to re-evaluate our approach to medical marijuana on the public policy level, and to re-evaluate the laws that are on the books — and the politicians who obstruct them, and ignore the life-changing impacts of medical marijuana by keeping these laws in place.”

She stressed that she is not directly involved in the medical marijuana industry.

“I am a candidate. I have the right to be heard,” Fried said. “I am not touching the plants; I am not selling the plants; I am not producing the plants. I’m simply advocating for the expansion of medical marijuana, and that was the reason for closing me down.”

Fried was asked why no bank has gone after other medical marijuana advocates but singled her out for taking money not even from the industry directly, but from its lobbyists.

“I am the first candidate, to my knowledge, across the country that is coming from the industry. So I think that my campaign, in particular, was targeted,” she said. “The rest of the state knows I have a real shot at winning in November,” and that this was an opportunity “to slow me down or stop my voice.”

“It is too coincidental that it’s my campaign on these issues, that I do believe that somebody along the way — and I don’t know who — but that somebody tipped them off to this.”

She advised other candidate across the county who hold similar views and bank with Wells Fargo to “rethink their banking relationship and pull their account.”

To that end, Seattle-based GRN Funds has come to Florida to offer banking services to the state’s medical marijuana providers. It already handles about $500 million in deposits for clients in the cannabis industry on the West Coast.

Moreover, Florida’s agriculture commissioner oversees a number of aspects of the industry, including regulation of pesticides and food safety, Fried said: “Once we start getting edibles out, they would oversee all of the food safety aspects.”

The bank’s move might turn out to be a blessing, she said.

“If it gets my message out there for expansion of medical marijuana, that’s the whole point of this — is to make sure the will of the people is heard,” Fried said. “If this is how this has to be done, then this is how it has to be done.”

Citing marijuana, Wells Fargo won’t take Nikki Fried’s money

Wells Fargo closed down campaign accounts for Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried after finding out she supported legalizing medical marijuana and accepted money from players in the industry.

The Fort Lauderdale Democrat plans to address the bank’s “arbitrary, unprecedented action” at a Tallahassee news conference at the Capitol Monday morning.

The bank first started inquiring about Fried’s political position on marijuana on July 11, about a month after she opened a campaign account with the bank.

Antoinette Infante, a Miami-based senior “relationship manager” and business banking vice president at Wells Fargo, wrote to the campaign that bank officials uncovered information Fried was “advocating for expanded patient access to medical marijuana.”

Nikki Fried speaks at a Tallahassee news conference Monday morning.

“Can you confirm the types of transactions expected for this customer & if any of the transactions will include funds received from lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry in any capacity?” Infante wrote in an email to Fried campaign treasurer Gloria Maggiolo.

Fried in fact holds medical marijuana access as a central plank of her campaign. She used to be a registered lobbyist working on behalf of the industry, and she’s taken contributions from players in that space.

A review of Fried’s campaign finances shows donations from Savara Hastings, executive director of the American Medical Marijuana Physicians Association, and Jake Bergmann, CEO for medical marijuana company Surterra Holdings, among others in the industry.

In a letter noting contributions “will be, and have been” received from medical marijuana lobbyists, executives, employees and corporations, Maggiolo wrote back to Wells Fargo questioning the unusual inquiry.

“I’ve never received a request of this nature from a financial institution,” Maggiolo wrote.

Wells Fargo on Aug. 3 notified the campaign it would need to close all accounts at the institution. The bank sent out a letter to that effect the same day.

“As a result of a recent review of your account relationships, we determined that we need to discontinue our business relationship and close the account,” the letter reads. Indeed, all accounts were closed as of Saturday, Aug. 18.

Medical marijuana is legal in Florida: More than 71 percent of voters in 2016 voted in favor of a constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis for debilitating medical conditions.

Since then, the regulation of the industry evolved slowly in Tallahassee. Orlando attorney John Morgan is supporting a legal challenge to Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Morgan, as it happens, has been a major supporter of Fried. Last week, he served on a host committee for a fundraiser for the candidate in Orlando.

But Morgan has been a major financial player in politics for years; it’s hard to imagine Wells Fargo would refuse to cash his checks.

The big banks, though, have struggled with doing business with cannabis retailers. Because federal law still prohibits the sale of marijuana, even in states where it has been decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes, most FDIC-insured institutions won’t risk doing business with marijuana companies.

That led GRN Funds in July to announce it would enter the Florida market and do business with companies that can’t work with other banks.

But financial institutions say trepidation in handling marijuana money comes from fear of being charged with money laundering.

Closing down Fried’s accounts goes a step further, refusing to do business with someone who supports the legalization or medical marijuana and who might accept money that comes from individuals potentially profiting from its sale.

Personnel note: Rachel Nordby joins Shutts & Bowen

Rachel Nordby, who’s been a deputy solicitor general for Attorney General Pam Bondi, is heading to the Shutts & Bowen law firm as a partner in the Tallahassee office, the firm announced Friday.

Nordby, who starts Sept. 10, will be vice chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group.

Her hire follows another recent high-profile addition from state government: Ben Gibson, a former deputy general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott, joined the firm as a partner in its Business Litigation Practice Group in Tallahassee.

“Shutts & Bowen is Florida’s oldest statewide law firm, founded in 1910 when Henry Flagler recruited his favorite lawyer, Frank Shutts, to relocate to Miami and handle legal affairs for his railroad and resort hotels,” said Jason Gonzalez, managing partner of the Tallahassee office.

“With the hiring of Rachel Nordby and Ben Gibson, we are carrying on Flagler’s tradition of recruiting the best legal talent in Florida.”

Nordby, a 2008 graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, is married to Daniel Nordby, currently general counsel to Scott — and a former Shutts partner. As general counsel, he’s Scott’s top legal advisor holds great sway over who Scott taps for judicial appointments.

Gonzalez himself is a former general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida and to Gov. Charlie Crist, whom he advised on four state Supreme Court appointments: Charles CanadyRicky PolstonJorge Labarga, and James E.C. Perry.

“I hired Dan Nordby, Rachel Nordby and Ben Gibson as my law clerks when they were in law school over a decade ago,” Gonzalez said.

“Rachel and Dan have become hands-down the most talented husband and wife lawyer duo in this state,” he added. “Just look at the cases they have won at the highest courts and the clients they have been representing (the governor and attorney general). It’s an amazing record of winning.”

To name a few, those cases include successful defenses of Florida’s teacher evaluation policies, the state’s fuel tax policy (challenged by the Seminole Tribe of Florida), and the Communications Services Tax and Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Gonzalez said.

Rachel Nordby was less successful on another high-profile case this year: She was on the team of lawyers that lost a challenge organized by Orlando attorney John Morgan of the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana. That decision is now under appeal, however.

Activists launch effort to light a spark for medical marijuana

Florida medical marijuana activists announced the formation of a new money group aimed at legalizing the drug for medicinal use nationwide.

The organization, called “Empowering Wellness,” was formed in part by longtime Florida activists Eric Stevens and Ben Pollara. The pair worked on Florida’s medical marijuana campaigns in both 2014 and 2016.

The group was formed as a coalition of more than 30 state and national organizations which support federal legalization.

“Empowering Wellness is going to do whatever we can to help move the needle forward on medical marijuana policy in Washington, D.C., and here in Florida,” Stevens said.

“Medical marijuana is legal in 31 states, and D.C., but an outdated, out-of-touch federal policy still stands in the way of patient access for too many Americans. We aim to change that, starting here in Florida.”

As Vox recently explained, “the federal government classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it’s perceived to have no medical value and a high potential for abuse. The classification puts marijuana in the same category as heroin and a more restrictive category than schedule 2 drugs like cocaine and meth.”

To begin, Empowering Wellness is throwing its support behind a pair of bipartisan lawmakers who have spoken out in favor of the group’s goals.

Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida’s 1st Congressional District and Democrat Darren Soto of Florida’s 9th Congressional District both earned the group’s “Champions of Wellness” designation for their commitment to the issue.

The organization has endorsed both Gaetz and Soto in their respective primaries, and plans to expand its financial support of candidates in the general election.

Pollara said that Empowering Wellness “will be a powerful, bipartisan voice for creating meaningful, patient-friendly policy in D.C. that respects states and treats medical marijuana users, caretakers, physicians and the industry with compassion and fairness.”

He also lamented the” vacuum of strong advocates on these issues in Washington. Empowering Wellness will itself be such an advocate, but also do whatever we can to send ‘Champions of Wellness’ back to their seats in Congress, and hopefully pick up some new champions along the way.”

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2016 which authorized medical marijuana. However, that was followed by state legislators passing a series of restrictions on the use of medical marijuana, including a ban on smoking and limiting the number of dispensaries.

Many of those restrictions have been challenged in court and struck down, with Florida taxpayers footing an increasingly larger bill as the Rick Scott administration continues to challenge those rulings.

Unsurprisingly, Florida groups that stand behind the legalization of medical marijuana were eager to join together to form Empowering Wellness, including NORML Florida, Buds for Vets and attorney John Morgan. Morgan bankrolled the marijuana amendment and litigation challenging the smoking ban.

“It’s really incredible to see such a diverse array of advocates and businesses join together for the shared cause of moving medical marijuana policy meaningfully forward,” Stevens added.

State has spent $2M on legal bills for medical marijuana

As it defends a slew of cases over medical marijuana, the state of Florida has spent close to $2 million on outside lawyers. Nearly all of that went to one firm.

Records reviewed last week show at least $1.9 million approved by the Department of Health (DOH) going to two law firms — mostly Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli, but also Shutts & Bowen.

The contracts, which were usually amended for increasing amounts of money, were posted on Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis‘ Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System, or FACTS. It’s an “online tool developed to make the government contracting process in Florida more transparent.”

Meantime, medicinal cannabis advocates – including Orlando lawyer John Morgan – have called on term-limited Gov. Rick Scott to drop appeals of cannabis-related rulings that went against the state. That includes a case that Morgan backed, challenging the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

“Enough is enough, drop YOUR #MedicalMarijuana appeal,” Morgan said in a May 29 tweet that he has pinned to his Twitter page. “Do it for the PEOPLE!”

Paying big bucks for hired legal guns isn’t surprising: Under Scott “and other top Florida Republicans,” the state has “quietly spent more than $237 million on private lawyers to advance and defend their agendas,” the Associated Press reported last year.

That figure doesn’t include the nearly $16 million “Florida taxpayers have been forced to reimburse (for) opponents’ private attorney fees” when the state has lost, the AP said.

A request for comment with a Health Department spokesman was pending as of late Friday. It regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Its director, Christian Bax, worked his last day Friday after tendering his resignation last month. Deputy director Courtney Coppola will serve as interim head. And the department’s general counsel, Nichole Geary, who signed the legal-work contracts, also has resigned. She leaves later this month.

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Contracts for outside legal work on medical marijuana begin in March 2015, with a $230,000 deal to the Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli law firm of Tallahassee, for “legal representation to DOH in a rule challenge.” Total paid: $219,568.09. 

Dahlia Barnhart, a then 4-year-old with a brain tumor, and her mother, Moriah Barnhart, challenged the department in order to “expedite … (patients’) access to low THC cannabis.”

This was before passage of the state’s constitutional amendment authorizing medical marijuana, but after lawmakers OK’d use of low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help severely ill children. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through the “Right to Try Act,” which includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

The state won the case, with an administrative law judge finding among other things that the Barnharts alleged “insufficient facts … to show (Dahlia) would be substantially affected.”

Moriah Barnhart recently told the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau “she is still getting her daughter’s medical marijuana from out of state,” adding that she’s “never gotten a legal product from the state of Florida.”

The same law firm, in August 2015, also inked a contract eventually worth $1.275 million for “legal proceedings.” Total paid: $1,053,836.46.

Services include reviewing and analyzing files, attending meetings and preparing any court filings needed, the contract shows. For example, the firm has represented the state in administrative hearings on other medical marijuana rule challenges.  

Moreover, partner W. Robert Vezina III is listed as attorney of record for the department in an Okaloosa County lawsuit. That’s over whether a medical marijuana license preference for black farmers should include “Native American farmers and ranchers.”

The firm scored a third contract, similar to the second, worth a total of $700,000 in February 2017. Total paid: $540,721.34. 

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A fourth contract found on the FACTS system shows an August 2017 deal potentially worth $300,000 for the Shutts law firm, which has an office in Tallahassee. Total paid: $177,990.24. 

For instance, the firm helped represent the state in the lawsuit brought by Tampa strip club mogul, free speech fighter and medical marijuana patient Joe Redner.

Redner is suing the state to be allowed to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it; his doctor recommended fresh juice as the best way to keep his lung cancer in remission. He won at trial, but the state is appealing.

The firm has connections to Scott: Ben Gibson, a former lawyer to the governor, joined the firm this summer as a partner in its Business Litigation Practice Group in Tallahassee.

Gibson served as Deputy General Counsel and Assistant General Counsel to Scott for nearly five years, “helping advise the governor on the appointment of more than 120 judges to Florida’s courts.”

Medical marijuana advocates start their own PAC

Gary Stein, a medical marijuana historian and advocate, has opened his own Florida fundraising panel — the first of its kind — to support pro-marijuana candidates and influence legislation.

Clarity PAC was officially registered Wednesday as a non-profit corporation and political committee, state records show.

Its mission: “To advocate for full legal access to medicinal cannabis and the responsible adult use of cannabis, and to help create and pass legislation supporting that topic.” It hasn’t yet posted any contributions or expenses.

Its official launch will be this Sunday, with a noon rally in St. Petersburg at Cage Brewing, 2001 1st Ave. South.

“Clarity PAC will be presenting all candidates’ and elected officials’ views to Florida voters to help them make an informed choice at the polls in the form of spreadsheets … that include answers to specific questions, publicly issued statements and letter grades on reliability on cannabis issues,” Stein said in a statement.

That “information will be coming from more than just the traditional surveys sent to candidate’s offices or calls from phone banking,” he added.

“Advocates across the states, dubbed ‘canna-warriors,’ will be tasked with connecting with candidates … Canna-warriors will be paid for audio and video recordings that can be posted on the internet, and quotes from the candidates will be documented for the media.”

Among the committee’s backers: Tampa strip club mogul, free speech fighter and medical marijuana patient Joe Redner.

Redner is suing the state to be allowed to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it; his doctor recommended fresh juice as the best way to keep his lung cancer in remission. Redner won at trial, but the state is appealing.

Also on Stein’s board is Bill Monroe, a Navy veteran who’s director of facilities for 3 Boys Farm, a medical marijuana treatment center based in Ruskin.

Cannabis Cures Investments, or CannCure, recently agreed to buy a 60 percent interest in 3 Boys, with the closing expected in mid-August. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

State moves forward on marijuana licenses

State health officials will hold a workshop Aug. 17 to take input on the application process for new medical marijuana licenses.

The workshop, announced Thursday, will deal with one license earmarked for a black farmer who was a member of litigation dealing with federal discriminatory lending practices and four other licenses for applicants seeking entry into the state’s highly restricted medical marijuana market.

The Legislature ordered the new licenses following the passage of a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida. The Legislature passed a law last year that required health officials to issue 10 new licenses, including to applicants who had legal challenges pending as of January 2017 or who had scored within one point of the highest-ranked applicants in five regions.

Last month, the health department issued a license to Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami, Inc., shrinking the number of available licenses, because six of the 10 licenses authorized under the 2017 law have already been doled out.

The law also required health officials to give preference for two licenses to applicants who own facilities that were used to process citrus, the subject of at least one lawsuit. Because of litigation regarding the citrus preference, the department is holding off on accepting applications for the remaining two licenses.

But the state is moving forward with a process for the black farmer’s license and with an application process for four licenses ordered under a different part of the law. The measure requires health officials to grant four licenses after at least 100,000 eligible patients have enrolled in a statewide database, a benchmark that was recently surpassed. Office of Medical Marijuana Use interim director Courtney Coppola told a state legislative panel last month her office expects at least 400 applications for the four slots.

The upcoming application process will be the first opportunity for new operators to try to gain entry to Florida’s booming medical marijuana market, which is projected to generate $2.5 billion in revenue in less than a decade.

Charlie Crist sponsors bill allowing veterans to use medical marijuana

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist announced a new bill Wednesday that would allow veterans to be treated with medical marijuana without getting canned from federal government jobs.

Crist introduced H.R. 6589, also known as the “Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act,” during a roundtable discussion with veterans and cannabis industry representatives in Largo.

“Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans’ community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD. At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions,” Crist said.

“Our bipartisan bill would protect federal employment for those in compliance with their state’s cannabis laws. Because our veterans shouldn’t have to choose between treatment options or job opportunities,” he continued.

Republican U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson of Georgia, who is co-introducing the measure with Crist, added that “no one should face unemployment for choosing to pursue private legal medical treatment,” including federal workers, one-third of whom are veterans.

Crist’s email announcing the bill said it had already earned the backing of numerous marijuana advocacy organizations, including Americans for Safe Access, Florida for Care, Marijuana Policy Project, the National Cannabis Industry Association, NORMLVeterans Cannabis Coalition and the Weed for Warriors Project.

“Congressman Crist has been a strong ally in our fight to allow Florida patients access to medical marijuana and efforts to protect this access from federal interference. Florida for Care is proud to support his common-sense bill to protect employment of Floridians whose well-being depends on continuing medical marijuana treatment,” said Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida for Care, and campaign manager of the successful 2016 campaign to approve medical marijuana in Florida.

“We applaud Congressman Crist’s leadership on this important issue as we continue working together to protect patients and strengthen the state’s medical marijuana system.”

Medical marijuana company Surterra Wellness, which operates 10 dispensaries in the Sunshine State, also lauded the plan in a separate statement.

“We applaud Congressman Crist for introducing a bipartisan bill to protect veterans’ treatment options. Surterra stands proudly beside the Congressman as he pursues medical cannabis reform in Congress so that our communities and local veterans can have access to safe and effective treatment options,” said Surterra CEO Jake Bergmann.

“We have a significant veteran community in Florida that deserves the highest quality, most consistent medical cannabis products available. We are proud to lead a company that seeks to improve the quality of our brave men and women’s lives through safe, natural means,” he continued.

Rob Bradley says medical marijuana law will be upheld

Despite a Tallahassee judge declaring significant parts of the state’s medical marijuana law unconstitutional, the law’s chief architect on Tuesday said he was confident the law would be affirmed.

“The trial court ruling injected unnecessary uncertainty into the emerging medical marijuana marketplace,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican. “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”

In 2017, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure (SB 8-A) into law to implement the state’s medicinal cannabis constitutional amendment, passed by 71 percent of voters the year before. Bradley was the main sponsor.

In recent months, however, judges have been chipping away at the law, beginning with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ ruling that Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner can grow and make juice of his own marijuana.

In another case, Gievers struck down the law’s ban on smoking medical marijuana, saying that conflicted with the amendment. Both of those rulings are being appealed by the state.

Last week, Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson in a preliminary order struck down the requirement that Florida have a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

Dodson also ruled against the limit on the number of providers that can be licensed, and said creating special licenses – including giving a preference to former citrus processors – was out of bounds. 

Also on Monday, the company that challenged the state’s licensing scheme sent a letter (posted below) to state regulators asking that it be immediately “registered” as a medical marijuana treatment center, or provider. It’s partly owned by Redner.

“I am reaching out on behalf of Florigrown to see if we can reach a quick resolution,” wrote company president Adam Elend. “We sympathize with the difficult position the Legislature has placed the department in, but, as Judge Dodson stated, ‘… the legislative guidance was … inconsistent with the amendment.’ ”

Bradley disagreed: “Medical marijuana is being grown, processed and sold in a safe, orderly fashion today in Florida,” he told Florida Politics.

“As more companies come on line, and the Department (of Health) fully implements an integrated seed-to-sale system and a delay-free ID card system, the system will develop into a model for other states,” he added.

The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

“Floridians rightfully expect to have access to safe, quality medical marijuana, and also expect that the product be regulated properly like any other medicine,” Bradley said. “SB 8-A accomplishes both goals.”

Former Wrigley Co. CEO helps Surterra land $65M for expansion efforts

Medical marijuana company Surterra Wellness closed another successful round of equity fundraising that will allow it to start some substantial construction projects in the Sunshine State.

The company, founded in 2014, said it closed a $65 million “Series C” equity fundraising round in July. Series C funding is when investors put cash into companies that have shown viability in order to help them expand and grow at a more rapid clip.

Surterra, which runs 10 dispensaries in Florida, said some of that cash would be used to construct “substantial cultivation space in Florida” and double the number of its employees to 750 by the end of the year. Also in the cards: Building partnerships with other consumer brands, accelerating product development and conducting clinical research trials that test the effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating maladies such as anxiety, pain and PTSD. Surterra also has a license to sell medical marijuana in Texas and has an application pending in Virginia, CEO Jake Bergmann said Tuesday.

While Florida will get plenty of love as Surterra expands, the company said the funding will also help them establish roots in new state markets across the country.

The new round of funding was led by Wychwood Asset Management, the direct investment arm of William “Beau” Wrigley, Jr. As his name suggests, Wrigley was the one-time head of the Wrigley Company, the chewing gum empire founded by his family in the late 19th Century.

Wrigley’s role in securing the new round of funding for Surterra landed him the chairmanship on the company’s board of directors. Prior to the Wrigley Company’s acquisition by fellow confectionary giant Mars, Beau Wrigley was at the helm through a period of growth and navigated numerous acquisitions, including those of Altoids and LifeSavers.

“I am thrilled to join the Surterra team and help drive their mission to build a best-in-class cannabis healthcare business,” Wrigley said. “After extensive diligence, we determined that Surterra has the highest quality standards, best products, and most professional management team in the industry.

“We believe in the ability of cannabis to improve quality of life for patients across the country, and we are excited to build a global industry leader for the long term,” he concluded.

Surterra CEO Jake Bergmann said the company was “proud to welcome Beau, a business leader who brings decades of world-class experience and expertise in brand building, to Surterra Wellness. Having a seasoned industry veteran like Beau intimately involved in building Surterra’s business is exciting for the future of Surterra, our patients and the entire medical cannabis industry.”

The Wrigley funding, which took place last month, is the latest in a number of recent transactions in the state’s budding medical marijuana industry.

In an agreement announced last month, the Canadian firm Scythian Biosciences Inc. said it intends to spend $93 million to purchase a majority of 3 Boys Farms — a Florida medical-marijuana operator that has yet to begin selling products to patients — and an unnamed “health care organization.” In June, California-based MedMen announced it was paying $53 million to acquire Eustis-based Treadwell Nursery, another of the state-licensed “medical marijuana treatment centers.”

Since lawmakers in Florida first legalized non-euphoric medical marijuana in 2014, the state’s cannabis industry has been plagued by legal and administrative challenges, delays in implementing the constitutional amendment and drawn-out rulemaking processes that have created frustration for legislators, patients, operators and investors.

A Tallahassee judge last week ruled that a state law capping the number of medical marijuana operators “directly contradicts” the 2016 constitutional amendment, which was approved by more than 71 percent of voters. But it’s unclear what, if any, impact Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson’s decision will have since he did not stop health officials from continuing their current processes.

Still, marrying Wrigley — whose namesake brands have been found in checkout lanes around the world for more than a century — with one of the state’s leading marijuana purveyors can be seen as another step toward putting cannabis, which requires a doctor’s approval, in a category with other household-name products.

“This is about helping people. It can give people a normal life, let them go to school and be a normal member of society. It is incredible to craft that opportunity in an industry that is starting from scratch,” Wrigley said in the statement.

The candy heir pointed out that three-dozen states have some sort of authorization for cannabis.

“Once people can get over the perception curve, they see the many benefits of this,” Wrigley said.

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