TAMPA — Thomas Quigley doesn't have all the answers.
He doesn't know whether Floridians will vote to legalize medical marijuana in November. And there's no guarantee of what the law will look like if passed.
But, that doesn't mean he can't start doling out advice now.
Earlier this year, Quigley founded the Florida Cannabis Coalition, a Tampa-based consulting group aimed at educating entrepreneurs interested in the medical marijuana industry.
And, so far, people are interested.
Nearly 100 filled the Cuban Club in Ybor City Saturday to hear from Quigley and others about how to take advantage of the potential legalization.
Speakers included several lawyers, a real estate professional, a vaporizer product developer and investor.
"This industry, as exciting and interesting as it is, is not easy to jump into and do everything the right way," Quigley told the audience. "We will help you navigate through it. We are here to provide you some education, some motivation and some consultation."
Those who paid the Florida Cannabis Coalition's $299 per person membership fee are already at the forefront, he said.
"Everyone here should give themselves a big hand," Quigley said. "You're ahead of the game. Six to 12 months after this law passes, there's going to be a flood of interested people."
Opportunities are not limited to growers and dispensaries, either. Marijuana-related industries include clothing lines, solar panel installation, irrigation and more, Quigley said.
But, until a law is enacted, networking and lobbying should be priorities, he said.
Voters will be asked in November to approve Amendment 2, the constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for debilitating medical conditions. However, legislation that passes this session could limit its effect.
For now, Florida continues to be one of the strictest states in the country in terms of marijuana laws, said local criminal defense attorney Jason Sammis.
"Florida has the most severe penalties for marijuana in the country," Sammis told the audience Saturday.
Possession of an ounce of marijuana can land a person in jail for up to five years, Sammis said, while some other states only impose fines.
"I'm not telling you these things to scare you," Sammis said. Until marijuana is legalized on a federal level, "as business people, you will always have to be looking over your shoulder."
Tyler Markwart, director of branding and product development at Seattle-based Vuber Vaporizers, said one way to help marijuana-related businesses thrive is to be openly involved.
"In Washington and Colorado, people are open about who they are and respect me for what I do," Markwart said. "We need to legitimize the business so people don't have to worry about lying or being shady. They can just be a professional."
But, in Florida, there is still a stigma attached to the industry.
Some in attendance Saturday refused to provide their full names to a Times reporter out of fear of being connected to the topic of marijuana.
Bill Short had no such qualms.
Short is a product developer executive for HempTechRX, a St. Petersburg company that focuses on industrial hemp and medical marijuana products in legal states.
He attended Saturday's seminar to show support for Amendment 2 and network with like-minded people.
"We want to be the boots on the ground," Short said, "so that hopefully, when (medical marijuana) is legalized, we'll have been involved from the beginning."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.