As medical marijuana becomes a big business in Florida, the companies who got in the door first are doing everything in their power to minimize competition and maximize their bottom line. And that means pushing for a closed system that prevents most people from breaking into the cannabis industry — and hurts patients by stifling competition and innovation.

That’s what a South Florida pot advocacy group argues in a new lawsuit against the state. The group, Patients and Producers Alliance, says the state’s heavily limited rules for granting medical-pot-growing and -selling licenses is unconstitutional.

“What we’re seeing is basically a state-by-state plan by what you could call ‘the big dogs’ of the industry,” Aaron Nevins, president of the alliance, says. “There’s a barrier to entry, and it’s harming the market… It’s putting profit above patients, essentially, and it’s allowing corporate America to stamp out any competition.”

Nevins’ group filed its lawsuit against the Department of Health February 14 in Leon County. The state has yet to respond in court and, no date has been set for a first hearing.

He says medical marijuana in Florida has gotten off to a slow start because the state has deliberately stifled competition. So far, only 13 licenses have been issued o marijuana producers, and Nevins says several of those licenses are essentially being held for ransom by companies that have no intention of ever growing pot for patients in need.

“There really isn’t a lot of opportunity,” Nevins says. “You have a couple of people that own a majority of the licenses. A lot of them are selling for very inflated valuations — they’re flipping for $40 to $50 million — and they’re not even producing any product.”

Florida’s approach to regulating a medical marijuana industry has been troubled from the get-go. New Times reported in