Florida officials have agreed to allow Trulieve to open more dispensaries than allowed under state law in a move that CEO Kim Rivers calls a win for patient access.
Quincy-based Trulieve, one of the state’s licensed vertically integrated cannabis businesses, challenged a limit on the number of storefronts that was included in a 2017 law aimed at implementing the state’s medical marijuana program, which was broadly legalized in 2016 through a constitutional amendment. Each licensed operator was initially limited to 25 dispensaries, but could gradually open more as the number of eligible patients in the statewide database increased, according to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report. The cap then rose to 35 dispensaries, and is set to expire in 2020, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Trulieve currently operates 26 dispensaries, and challenged the state’s limit under two main arguments, Rivers said. First, the company had 14 storefronts open before the legislature changed the law and imposed the cap.
“When the law was initially implemented, each license holder in Florida had an unlimited number of storefronts that they were allowed to open, along with cultivation and processing facilities to support those storefronts,” Rivers said. “Trulieve is one of the initial license holders in Florida, and we immediately began building out all facets of the business, including dispensaries, because we took very seriously the mandate from the legislature and from the Department of Health to provide patients access to medical cannabis.”
In the subsequent legislative session, lawmakers issued the limit on retail locations, as well as new zoning regulations that allowed local governments to either ban dispensaries completely or zone them as they would a pharmacy.
“Had we known that there was going to be a limitation or a cap placed on the number of locations, we very well may have placed locations differently,” Rivers said. “That, coupled with the zoning change—which in a lot of cases opened up additional locations as potential dispensary locations—[meant] we may not have selected the locations that we originally selected.”
Trulieve argued that out of fairness, the state could not change the rules of the game retroactively, and when the company took the state to court, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers agreed.
Trulieve’s second argument in the case, Rivers said, was that the cap on dispensaries is a limitation to patient access, and therefore should have been deemed unconstitutional and in violation of Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida.
Ultimately, the state acknowledged that the 14 retail locations that Trulieve built out prior to the law change should not be considered as part of the company’s total number of locations under the cap. Rivers and Office of Medical Marijuana Use Director Courtney Coppola signed a settlement agreement March 29, allowing Trulieve to operate a total of 49 dispensaries—its 14 original storefronts, plus the 35 allowed under the temporary cap.
“The state stepped up and offered to settle with Trulieve on the first argument, related to and very specifically around the number of stores that were open prior to now,” Rivers said. “One of the reasons that we decided to settle is because the cap structure, as a whole, is set in statute to sunset in the summer of next year, in 2020. So, one of our concerns was that if we continue to litigate, … that litigation could continue beyond the point which then the cap statutorily sunsets, making the entire case moot and really not doing anything to serve our broader goal, which is to allow for patient access.”
Although it was a lengthy process, Rivers said the case was necessary to improve patients’ access to the program. “I haven’t met anyone who says that litigation is pleasant, but we felt that it was an important enough issue to highlight the fact that Floridians voted over 71 percent for access to medical cannabis, and Trulieve, as a company, has always tried to be on the forefront of championing that access and that right for Florida patients.”
Trulieve is the license holder for the Northwest region of the state, she added, which is a rural area consisting of some of the Florida’s most vulnerable populations. “Access is important for all, not just for metropolitan areas of the state.”
Now, the company plans to move quickly to build out additional dispensaries to serve the state’s patient base.
“Trulieve has always moved very quickly and worked diligently to fulfill our mission of providing access to patients in Florida,” Rivers said. “With this ruling, we’ll continue to be able to do that, and in addition, we’ll be able to service areas that we’ve been prohibited from providing access to. So, we’re very excited and have already identified locations in our area and our region to be able to serve those patients who we believe are currently underserved in the state.”