By Veronica Castillo

Renard Peeples

Picture it: The year is 1998 in St. Augustine, Florida, and15-year-old Renard Peeples is arrested and charged with possession of marijuana. He was sentenced and served one year and six months in juvenile prison. Shortly after his release, he discovered long-lost family in Rhode Island who bought him a plane ticket. With that move came a shift in thought and perspective for young Renard:

Fast forward to 2019. Renard and his wife and business partner, Jessica Lynn Peeples, open up the first Releaf Clinic location. It’s the country’s largest medical cannabis clinic located just five minutes from where Renard was arrested for possession of marijuana so many years ago. Releaf Clinic is a minority-owned medical cannabis clinic based in Florida. The clinic helps Floridians obtain and renew their medical cannabis licenses, with locations all across the state.

What’s your personal relationship with cannabis?

Cannabis saved my life. Not only does it help with my anxiety, but it gives me an entire reason to live and succeed. It gives me a passion to work towards and allows me to help entire cities; that’s something I never thought I would be able to do. I’m able to protect our patients and ensure a quality of care that they often don’t get in the traditional healthcare industry. Cannabis has helped pave the way for not just my own family, but the families of both our employees and our patients. Relief is something difficult to find nowadays, you know?

Why open a cannabis clinic when you also cultivate cannabis?

As much as I loved the process of growing, something about it just felt dirty. Like I was doing something wrong. Right after I got out of juvenile prison and moved to Rhode Island, my brother, who owned seven shoe stores, blew my mind. It inspired me so much. I’d never seen another black man move like that. He made me want more; that just so happened to be a clinic.

Tell me about the idea and the process that led to the launch of the first Releaf Clinic. 

It was a combination of a few things — my family issues, getting out of prison, motivation, and an itch I couldn’t scratch. Let me be really honest, it was also president 45 saying what he said and being as wild as he was and yet still got elected. I realized that if he can become president, I can do anything I want.

When I was up in New England, I worked with a clinic learning the ins and outs of the business and community needs. I was shocked at the number of people lined up at the clinic. Jessica and I saw how untraditional the setting was and with what we learned, thought that it would be easy to do it ourselves. I saw the need among patients, learned their concerns, and brought that experience down with us to Florida. 

Jessica came up with the business plan. We left everything behind, even sold our house. We drove down with a U-Haul, $10,000, and 20 pounds of plants. We tried to make it work with our first clinic, but our partners didn’t have the same ideals. Jessica and I realized a little too late that many clinics still saw the industry as a “concierge business” rather than cannabis as the medicine that it is. 

We lost almost everything, getting evicted in the process, but the risks we took paid off. Not just for us, but for our patients. We found a property right off of Atlantic Boulevard and couldn’t even afford the entire deposit. The landlord was very kind to us.

On May 25, 2019, we opened our first clinic. Our patients and the doctor from the previous clinic followed us there, and the community gathered with us because they knew we truly cared about their wellbeing.

What led to multiple locations throughout Florida? 

We gained a reputation for how we interacted with our patients within the medical cannabis community. We held events for general education and veteran education, working closely with several communities to help whoever we could. Swamp City was one of the first to approach us from word of mouth, which sparked the Gainesville location.

My sister Samantha opened up her own clinic in Pensacola, and of course, St. Augustine had to be opened. It was where everything started. Both Orlando and Bonita Springs were attempts to franchise, but we found that it was better suited to have them be fully under our wings. Ocala is our home now. Our Ocala location opened July 3 and Bonita Springs will be opening in the next few months.

How does one get a medical cannabis card in the state of Florida?

To get your medical marijuana, you either need to be a Florida resident or a seasonal resident. We know a lot of veterans come for certain months, and they typically qualify as seasonal residents. Just make sure your license is up to date so they know where to send your physical card.

There is a list of 13 medical diagnoses that qualify for a card, but conditions of a like or kind in similarity also qualify. You do need to have medical records and a valid diagnosis before coming in. Typically, you’ll give us a call, we ask the basic screening questions, and make sure that you’re able to provide us with records.

Patients come in and consult with the doctor before going through the process of registering with the state. Our coordinators work with each patient to make sure that they are fully educated on the process of registering and what using the medical cannabis card means for them. Permanent residents can purchase from a dispensary the second they leave our office!

Anything unique, different, or first seen in the state of Florida as it relates to medical cannabis?

Florida, like any state, has its pros and cons. One of those cons is that Florida implements vertical integration, meaning that you cannot cultivate at home and work with dispensaries. Legislation is very against home grow practices due to Florida’s lack of liberal policies. That said, this means that products in Florida are much more regulated and patients are far more guaranteed to get the medicine they need.

Many people are relocating to Florida and many are leaving their industries to make new careers in cannabis. As a Floridian in cannabis, what are three things people should consider before making these moves?

My biggest advice is to work with what you have. Really consider Florida’s laws and policies before making a big jump. We didn’t really understand the breadth of it all when we got here, even though we worked in the industry for years in New England. We made it, but it’s going to be hard.

Again, Florida has vertical integration, which functions very differently from other states. Keep that in mind and also bear in mind the cost of living in Florida, especially as dispensary workers. On the bright side, the community absolutely thrives all across the state from Miami to Tallahassee. Read up on policies before you make the leap, but know that no matter where you land, you’ll find someone who’s got your back.

What can minorities in cannabis do to launch, grow, and succeed in this space?

Don’t confine yourself. Don’t look at the space as a space not for you, as limited. Don’t see it as a space full of rules and a reflection of race. Dividing yourself is where people get it wrong. We need to see ourselves as humans and get out there brazenly. 

I was a high school dropout, barely in 9th grade, and if I had listened to anything around me, I wouldn’t be here. Seize what you know you want. If there’s a voice in your head saying that you can’t, let me be the one to tell you that you can.