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State lawmakers’ effort to put voter-passed medical marijuana into effect in Florida fell apart over a disagreement on whether to cap the number of dispensaries each cannabis grower could open. It’s an issue that could be a boon for one of the state’s largest licensed growers.
Surterra, one of Florida’s largest medical marijuana growers, is banking on opening 55 dispensaries in the next five years as part of a plan to bring in more than $138 million in sales by 2021, according to a confidential pitch deck put together by a potential investor and obtained by the Times/Herald.
But state senators in the final weeks of session were pushing to limit the number of storefronts each grower could open, finally settling at 15 apiece on the last day of session. The House, meanwhile, negotiated for no caps at all, or a cap of 100 in its final bill. The existing licensed growers — including Surterra — opposed caps, as well.
To push its agenda in Tallahassee, Surterra hired three lobbying firms this year. One of their lead lobbyists is Michael Corcoran, brother to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.
This naturally raises questions. A company represented by Michael Corcoran stood to gain if there were no meaningful cap on dispensaries. And the House position on caps was advocated in part by Richard Corcoran.
Corcoran says he was never once lobbied by his brother on the marijuana bill.
Asked if he ever had a conversation with his brother about the caps, Corcoran was blunt: “No. Nope.”
“Why don’t you write about how Richard killed the gaming bill and his brother has a gaming client? Why don’t you write about how Richard took it to the hospitals and his brother has a hospital client?” Corcoran added. “I don’t care who lobbies me. I’m going to always do the right thing and damn the consequences.”
The people he says he talked to about medical marijuana include Tallahassee lobbyists representing growers other than Surterra, as well as John Morgan, the Orlando trial lawyer who bankrolled the campaign on Amendment 2.
Michael Corcoran did not respond to calls from the Times/Herald for comment.
He is one of 10 lobbyists from three major firms registered with the state and in a Florida House database to represent Surterra. In addition to his firm, Corcoran and Johnston, Surterra hired Ron Book and The Rubin Group.
It is common for lobbying firms to tell the state that all of their lobbyists are working for all of their clients, which makes it difficult to discern which lobbyists were directly involved with trying to influence which areas of public policy.
For most of the session, Richard Corcoran kept an arms-length distance from the medical marijuana issue, Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said. Rodrigues, who was appointed to the leadership role by Corcoran, had weekly conversations with the speaker on the issue until the final days of session, when it appeared that negotiations with the Senate were going downhill.
What’s more, Rodrigues said, he never talked to Michael Corcoran directly about medical marijuana, either.
"Until the final week of session and even the final days of session, the speaker had a hands off approach on the bill for medical marijuana," Rodrigues said.
Photo: House Speaker Richard Corcoran (Scott Keeler | Tampa Bay Times)