John Lockwood

The Florida connection to that Super Bowl-banned weed ad and a $63 million pot deal

img_1116CBS generated a lot of buzz by just saying no to a Super Bowl ad trumpeting the benefits of medical marijuana, and of course, #BecauseFlorida, there’s a connection to the Sunshine State.

Acreage Holdings, the Canadian-based MMJ company backed by former Speaker of the House John Boehner, was willing to pay $5 million for a 60-second ad, according to reports. But CBS put the ixnay on the spot.

But the Super Bowl kerfuffle isn’t the only news Acreage made this month.

Acreage Holdings paid $63 million — in CASH $$$$ — to acquire Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami, Inc., also known as Green Owl Pharms, according to a press release issued by the company.

“The combination of policy and demographics in Florida makes it one of the largest growth cannabis markets in the U.S. and we could not be more pleased to close this deal,” said Kevin Murphy, Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of Acreage.  With the fourth largest population in the U.S., Florida is expected to quickly become the fifth largest cannabis market with an estimated $1.1 billion in retail cannabis sales by 2022, according to Arcview Market Research.

It’s worth noting that Green Owl hasn’t started selling anything yet, and according to the latest update from OMMU, hasn’t even started cultivating cannabis.

Nature’s Way sued the state failing to get a license way back when from what’s now the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. But, after an administrative law judge scorched the state for using a flawed system to decide which applicants were granted the coveted licenses, the Department of Health settled with Nature’s Way in July and granted them a license.

More from the Jan. 4 press release announcing Acreage — whose legal team includes Florida regulatory whiz John Lockwood — had closed on the Nature’s Way deal:

Acreage paid the shareholders of Nature’s Way $67 million plus assumption of certain transaction expenses of the sellers, with $63 million payable in cash, of which $10 million had previously been escrowed in November at the time the parties signed the definitive transaction agreement.  The remaining $4 million in consideration will be paid in units of a subsidiary of Acreage, High Street Capital Partners, LLC.  The units are exchangeable for Subordinate Voting Shares of Acreage at the election of the holder.

Nature’s Way holds a vertically integrated operating license to operate a cultivation and processing facility as well as up to 30 medical cannabis dispensaries, which Acreage anticipates will carry The Botanist retail banner and soon-to-launch cannabis products. Acreage anticipates that it will invest significant financial capital throughout Florida to build out its cultivation and retail operations.

Acreage already operates in more than a dozen states, including Colorado, California and Massachusetts, according to the company’s website.

The pot license sales keep coming, despite a decided shift in attitude toward MMJ from new Gov. Ron DeSantis, who quickly made separated himself from his predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. DeSantis blamed lawmakers for creating “cartels” through the state’s current vertical-integration system, and has given them until mid-March to do away with a ban on smoking medical marijuana.

 

 

Legal eagle Lombard splits with Vezina, joins Radey

Big news for administrative law geeks in and around the capitol city: Ed Lombard has said bye-bye to his old firm, Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli, and joined forces with APA powerhouse Radey.

eduardo-lombard-2019-190x250The move by Lombard, who worked at VLP for more than a decade, now links him with Donna Blanton, a onetime journo who’s known throughout state government as one of the city’s top lawyers when it comes to all things DOAH.

Even those who aren’t DOAH dweebs might be familiar with Lombard: He represented the state Department of Health in numerous administrative challenges related to medical marijuana licenses and rules.

In a recent chat, Blanton gushed about Lombard, calling him “a rock star.”

“I am so happy he joined our firm. I’ve litigated with him and against him probably for ten years or more, on the same side and on the opposite side,” Blanton told us. “He’s one of the best administrative litigators in Tallahassee, if not the best. We are extremely fortunate to have him join us. He’s just really, really good.”

For his part, Lombard said he’s “extremely happy” to join Radey.

“This group has a very strong regulatory and governmental practice, and that matches very well with my emphasis on governmental and administrative litigation and procurements, too. So I think adding my experience here will help us as a group to continue focusing on trying to be a premiere Tallahassee firm for regulated industries,” he said.

Lombard earned a rep as a bulldog during his many clashes with lawyers representing would-be marijuana operators at the Division of Administrative Hearings skirmishes.

And it looks as though the health department will be traveling with Lombard to his new digs.

According to the Transparency Florida website, the state signed three contracts with Radey on Jan. 9, hiring the firm to represent the health department in two MMJ-related matters and a non-pot bid dispute over office rental space.

One contract — for $200,000 — is for legal representation in regard to OMMU. A $100,000 contract with Radey is for representation regarding seed to sale.

Another $100,000 contract is for a bid dispute with Tallahassee Corporate Center, LLC.

Blanton, meanwhile, has dropped her MMJ clients. On January 11, regulatory law superstar John Lockwood — who’s hired onetime Florida pot czar Christian Bax — filed a motion to take Blanton’s place representing Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami, Inc., at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

What will come of the current medical marijuana litigation — and there are more than a dozen lawsuits hanging out there — remains a mystery.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has done a U-turn when it comes to pot policy. He’s told the Legislature to drop the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana, and he bashed the vertical integration system that requires pot purveyors to grow, process and sell marijuana products. The new governor also indicated he wants more MMJ licenses.

Appearing with #PotDaddy John Morgan and Congressman Matt Gaetz last week (let’s ask him if he wants to be called #PotDaddy2), DeSantis said he doesn’t believe the Republican-dominated Legislature properly implemented the constitutional amendment, largely bankrolled by Orlando trial lawyer Morgan, that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

“Look, we’ve got a lot of fish to fry in Florida. The last thing I want to be doing is cleaning up for something that should have happened two years ago. This thing should have been implemented. We should have moved on. I don’t want to continue fighting some of these old battles,” DeSantis said.

Pot czar Bax teams up with Lockwood

img_0117.jpgIt’s probably one of the worst-kept secrets in certain capital circles, but all the chatter about Gov. Ron DeSantis and medical marijuana provided a good time to dish about Christian Bax, Florida’s former pot czar.

Bax, who stepped down as director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use late last year, has joined forces with regulatory lawyer extraordinaire John Lockwood.

Lockwood, who’s bested the state in a number of gambling-related legal victories, has emerged as one of Florida’s top cannabis lawyers.

“This industry is rapidly expanding and evolving and it makes perfect sense for us to have somebody with the significant experience Christian provides,” Lockwood said in an interview this morning.john-m-lockwood-team

Bax is “of counsel” to Lockwood’s law firm and also has his own  firm, which Bax said “is a full-service management and regulatory consulting” shop.

Bax said most of his firm’s clients are from outside Florida, and he doens’t represent anyone whose application he scored during his tenure at OMMU.

After he left state government, Bax said he “looked at a lot of different opportunities” before settling on the Lockwood Law Firm.

“It’s a really good firm and John himself, he’s a great lawyer. He’s very understated and he’s brilliant. So there was a very strong appeal of getting to work with him, especially because the law firm deals with some of the more cutting edge issues in cannabis,” Bax told Truth or Dara in a phone interview. “Getting to help John do that work has been very fulfilling and very interesting.”