Jeffrey Feiler (J. Albert Diaz)
As Florida prepares for a medical marijuana referendum, lawyers—smelling big profits— are scrambling to start niche practices advising marijuana dispensaries and growers and even open their own businesses.
Miami criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Feiler, past president of the Miami chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, launched Grass Roots Marijuana Florida Inc. this month. He’s selling store franchises throughout the state, charging $25,000 for reservations and $75,000 for franchises.
Feiler said he is in a good position to launch marijuana dispensaries because he helped his ex-wife, former Miami-Dade County Court Judge Loree Schwartz Feiler, and his daughter, Ally Feiler, set up a medical marijuana businesses in Colorado in 2009.
The Feilers are now opening their fourth Colorado store under the name Green Tree Medicinals. The company offers more than 120 products ranging from loose marijuana bearing names like Romulan White Widow and Super Lemon Haze to edibles and tinctures.
“I was there assisting them, acting as legal counsel to the various medical marijuana businesses that initially my daughter pioneered,” said Feiler, a prosecutor under former Miami-Dade State Attorney Janet Reno. “The way I see it, I have more experience with this than anyone in Florida, from a legal and business standpoint on how the business works. It’s only natural that I would get involved in this in Florida.”
Additionally, Feiler said most of his criminal defense clients face various marijuana offenses.
He hopes to sell up to 100 franchises throughout the state. He said eight territories have been reserved, some by lawyers. Feiler is taking fully refundable reservations until he has full franchise documents prepared. He has hired two lawyers to work on establishing the business and plans to continue practicing law once his business is up and running.
“I obviously take my practice seriously, but obviously I’m going to have to scale back,” Feiler said, adding he foresees no problems with The Florida Bar. “This is purely a business. This is like CVS pharmacy.”
Feiler said he doesn’t feel he is launching the business too early. The state constitutional amendment is set for a November vote, and several polls indicate a strong majority of Floridians would approve the measure. Sixty percent backing is required.
Orlando attorney John Morgan of Morgan & Morgan bankrolled the petition drive and is closely allied with former Gov. Charlie Crist, who supports the amendment and wants to return to the governor’s mansion. Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi oppose the amendment.
State legislators also have introduced identical bills to legalize medical marijuana.
“You need a long runway to do this right,” Feiler said. “It’s like if you wanted to open a cake shop. You still have to build it out, it takes months and months to do so. We have the growing operations, the farms, to deal with.”
Feiler said all franchisees would have to use marijuana products he obtains from “high-quality” farms to maintain consistency.
“The people who are going to start haphazard, hippie pharmacies are not going to have properly trained people,” he said. “They won’t have the ability to get their hands on quality medication. They will sell any garbage they can.”
Another former president of the Miami chapter of the FACDL is sold on Feiler’s plan. Miami attorney Barry Wax said he plans to buy a franchise.
“I think Jeff is the best person for this,” Wax said. “He has the experience behind him of following the Colorado model, which is probably the best model in the country. He has both the business acumen and the business plan to do this whatever the government regulation the state of Florida decides to enact.”
But Jeffrey Feiler may face some strong competition from an unlikely source: ex-wife Loree Feiler.
She downplays her ex-husband’s role in her Colorado businesses, saying, “He got a location for one of our stores. That’s pretty much what he did. He’s never been involved in the business on a day-to-day basis. It’s something I’ve been doing with my daughter.”
While Feiler said her business is profitable and “we’re now the biggest game in town,” she said many would-be marijuana store owners don’t understand how difficult the business is. She can’t find a bank willing to take her business, and few vendors are willing to do business with her because marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Additionally, she is not allowed to take business deductions like other businesses.
“The gross numbers are very nice, but people think they can just come here and will be making a million dollars right away,” she said. “It’s a very difficult business.”
Still, Loree Feiler plans to get involved in medical marijuana businesses in Florida, where she still does mediations and arbitrations.
“I have a lot of people who have sought me out and would like me to consult,” she said. “They know I’m involved on a day-to-day basis, and I’m a lawyer.”
She does not plan on setting up a franchise business like her ex-husband, however, and is not a fan of the model.
“They tried that out here in Colorado,” she said. “Why do you need to pay somebody else to set up a store for you?”
Another Miami criminal defense attorney, Paul Petruzzi, has established a practice with attorney Gennaro Cariglio to help marijuana entrepreneurs navigate licensing compliance and other state laws. They launched a Facebook page for Florida Marijuana Licensing on Wednesday and incorporated Thursday.
“Our goal is just to advise and provide traditional legal services for folks who want to open marijuana clinics or dispensaries,” Petruzzi said. “We don’t want to open dispensaries ourselves. That would be a conflict.”
Petruzzi said he and Cariglio have been kicking the idea around for awhile. Petruzzi is admitted to the federal bar in Colorado and is a longtime member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
The two lawyers considered waiting to set up their new practice area until the initiative or legislation passed but ultimately decided, like Feiler, that they needed to move now.
“I’ve already had clients asking me for advice,” Petruzzi said. “They want to know if Florida winds up tracking other states, will people with drug or felony convictions in their past be barred from setting up stores? Everyone will want to be a silent partner in that case.”