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'They're losing a lot of money': This is what’s holding up hemp sales in Florida

'You told me I'm doing stuff wrong, but you won't tell me what I'm doing,' Daniel Meara says
Posted at 1:07 PM, Jun 21, 2024

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — An Okeechobee business owner is begging for answers, so he can keep his shop running, after hundreds of items were pulled from his shelves during a crackdown on Florida hemp shops.

Sunshine Wellness owner Daniel Meara is passionate about his business, serving barbecue on one side of the building and selling hemp products on the other.

“My mom always taught me if there’s one thing that can bring the people together, that's food,” he said.

Meara believes in the therapeutic properties of CBD and other derivatives of the hemp plant.

“I'm not saying hemp is the cure all, but hemp can save the world,” he said. “It's the only plant that can house you, heal you, clothe you and feed you.”

He also believes in accountability.

“When I signed up to say I want a hemp license, I agree that you can check my products, and I welcome that,” he said.

However, when multiple inspectors from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services showed up on June 5, he was stunned.

Sunshine Wellness owner Daniel Meara June 2024 Okeechobee
Sunshine Wellness owner Daniel Meara says he has done everything to be in compliance and now just wants help so he can sell his products.

“It was just like a kick in the gut,” Meara said.

Inspectors spent about four hours inside Sunshine Wellness, Meara said, pulling merchandise from shelves and marking it with “stop sale” tape.

“All the stuff that you had to get rid of, how much was that worth?” I asked.

“$140,000, $150,000,” replied Meara.

Meara told me he wants to be in compliance and in fact he thought he was. However, he still doesn’t know exactly what steps to take. Aside from some labels taped to trash bags full of product he can’t sell, Meara still doesn’t have an inspection report.

“You told me I'm doing stuff wrong, but you won't tell me what I'm doing,” he said.

Paula Savchenko is South Florida-based attorney who represents cannabis companies.

“It takes them a couple of weeks to get you the stop sale order report,” Savchenko said.

She told me she’s recently noticed a change in how FDACS has been enforcing hemp laws.

“I'm not really sure why this is something that's coming up just now in the last six months, because they weren't really paying attention to it and enforcing it before,” she said.

bags of merchandise Sunshine Wellness June 2024.png
Daniel Meara bagged what he says is about $150,000 worth of merchandise he had to pull from shelves after an inspection.

There has also been a lot of confusion and and inconsistencies in enforcing Florida's hemp laws.

“We had a situation where one inspector looked at a product package and label and they approved it," Meara said. "And then a week or two later, another inspector was at the facility and they saw that same product package and label and they said, 'Oh, that's attractive to children, you need to change that.'”

Savchenko said it leaves business owners like Meara in a state of limbo, as inspectors scour entire inventories before issuing a report to allow the products to be sold.

“So, they're losing a lot of money, while they're waiting for that inspection report,” she said.

For now, Meara said he’s been in touch with inspectors.

“I dropped the ball on a couple of things like the food allergens that should have been on there,” he said. “So, I agreed with pulling it.”

Paula Savchenko is South Florida-based attorney who represents cannabis companies
Paula Savchenko is South Florida-based attorney who represents cannabis companies and says inconsistencies and confusion is slowing business sales.

But otherwise, clarity has been hard to come by. Meara showed me how he fixed the allergen issues with a label maker.

A press release from Okeechobee police issued after the inspection at Sunshine Wellness, and other hemp shops in the city, said some of the THC-A products at sunshine contained more than the legal concentration limit of 3%.

Meara told me those products are under 3% on the shelf but the concentration goes up when the substance is smoked.

While THC-A was once a legal gray area, according to Savchenko, the state now takes a position against it.

Then, there’s Sunshine Wellness’ logo.

“I don't know how to continue on with my packaging as they won't tell me if my logo is going to pass or not,” he said.

I tried to ask FDACS about the inspection in Meara’s store and one other in Okeechobee that closed after its inspection, and what these business owners should be doing, while they wait for answers.

The agency didn’t respond to multiple messages.

Savchenko told me she’s made some headway with them.


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“To try to make a consistent package and label rules and the way the rules are applied for all of the groups in the industry, so that they know exactly what they need to comply with,” she said.

However, the process has been slow.

"And this right here was a very, very big hit," Meara said.

A hit Meara said he can take, as long as he can keep Sunshine Wellness open while he weathers the storm.

“I have enough. I've done enough and I am enough. Now, I just want help," he said.

Many of the items in Meara’s shop, and hemp shops across Florida, would have become illegal if Gov. Ron DeSantis had signed a bill restricting most hemp sales.

Proponents said the extra regulation would make the product safer.

The governor vetoed that bill earlier this month, saying it would harm small businesses.

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