Local Company Looks Into Providing Medical Marijuana
Seeing an economic opportunity in medical marijuana, a health consulting company based in Indian Harbour Beach believes there is money to be made as several states and the federal government ease rules on the medicinal plant.
"We are approaching all 13 states where it's legal right now and working through the legalities of it," said Thomas Gaffney, president and CEO of Health Sciences Group Inc. "We are certainly preparing for the day it goes nationwide, and I'm sure it will."
The company is studying laws in states where it's legal to grow and dispense marijuana for medical use and is making plans to get a piece of the action by growing, transporting and selling marijuana to those with a prescription.
Though most state rules require nonprofit status for these operations, the company could make money by providing services to the dispensaries.
"It's wide open," Gaffney said. "The first people in the door make the money in it. It's a multimillion dollar business."
Health Science Group's attorney is investigating how to obtain licensing for growing and dispensing medical marijuana in California, including possibly forming a nonprofit organization.
The company has also been in negotiations with two growing distribution and dispensing operations in Montana, the only state where a caregiver can make a profit.
Several events have sparked the company's interest.
The Obama administration announced earlier this year that it would not prosecute medical marijuana outlets that follow state laws, instead leaving regulation and enforcement to the states. And a Florida group has begun a petition drive to introduce a ballot initiative seeking to legalize medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.
There are other indications the stigma of marijuana is waning somewhat.
The American Medical Association last month urged the federal government to reconsider its classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use and called for more research. It is suggesting the government remove marijuana from Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act, which equates it with heroin and cocaine.
Additionally, some advocates propose that legalizing marijuana would eliminate the illegal drug trade with Mexico, where violent drug cartels rake in millions of American dollars.
Gaffney, a businessman, sees an opportunity for his health media company, which operates the Web site www.igohealthy.org, publishes the iGoHealthy magazine and does consulting on health matters through the Web site. A Swiss subsidiary also markets a line of weight loss products and other nutritional and health management products.
"We're a small public company that took a big hit when the stock market went down," Gaffney said. "We're looking for other revenue streams to bring us back up." Gaffney has a personal reason to believe in the effectiveness of medical marijuana. Before succumbing to cancer after a two-year battle, Gaffney's father took pills containing the major chemical in marijuana, THC.
"It seemed to help his appetite and it seemed to help him feel better," Gaffney said, adding that he has never smoked marijuana. "I'm against marijuana as a recreational drug. My primary focus is to ease the pain and anxiety that cancer causes."
Working independently, People United for Medical Marijuana has begun a Florida petition drive to force a ballot initiative by 2010.
The organization has collected 31,243 signatures and $9,288 in donations. PUFMM needs more than 700,000 signatures and $5 million in donations for its campaign. The group is using social networking Web sites and volunteers to reach the goal.
Nathan Ward, 31, is leading the effort in Brevard County. His would like to use marijuana as a natural painkiller to treat two ruptured discs in his spine.
"I can't use it because it is illegal," Ward, an inspector for Harris Corp., said. He added that the side effects of traditional pain medication, which can include addiction, drowsiness, hallucinations, twitching and confusion, prevent him from taking prescription painkillers.
"The side effects are too severe to sustain for any length of time," he said.
He rejects the argument that legalizing medical marijuana would lead to more recreational use.
"It's going to be used either way," he said. "It's just the prohibition hasn't worked in general."
Economist Sean Snaith said that despite rational arguments in favor of medical marijuana, including its taxability, it's unlikely its use will be approved in conservative Florida.
"I just don't know if the genetic makeup of the state could handle that," said Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Economic Competitiveness. "But in this budget environment, who knows?"
December 5, 2009
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