The last day to file an application to grow Charlotte’s Web medical marijuana was a rush. On Tuesday three nurseries were potential growers. After Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, 28 landmark applications were on record with the Office of Compassionate Use, state health officials said.
The first legal licenses to grow medical marijuana in Florida will be awarded by the Department of Health to one grower for each of five geographic regions. The qualifications included experience — a business pedigree of at least 30 years — and size — a farm capable of 400,000 plants, minimum.
A 21-day application period started June 17 after the last in a series of legal challenges against the Health Department was dismissed in court.
Four growers submitted two applications in separate geographical dispensing regions: Almond Tree Nursery in the Southeast and Northeast; Alpha Foliage in the Northwest and Southwest; Redland Nursery in the Central and Southeast; and Hart's Plant Nursery in the Northwest and Northeast.
The Central region received seven applications to cultivate Charlotte's Web, a strain of non-euphoric marijuana. There were six each in the Northeast and Southwest, five in the Southeast, and four in the Northwest, according to the Health Department.
» A hitch for Loop's: Jacksonville's city council recently passed a moratorium on Charlotte's Web.
Loop’s Nursery and Greenhouses of Jacksonville (at right), McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery of Eustis, and Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms of Homestead were the only growers to enter the race before Wednesday, said Mara Burger, spokeswoman for the Health Department.
Tropiflora (Sarasota), Plants of Ruskin, Alpha Foliage (Homestead), Sun Bulb Company (Arcadia), 3 Boys Farm (Ruskin), and Perkins Nursery (LaBelle) are vying to grow, process, and sell the low-THC medical pot in the Southwest's Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Okeechobee, and Sarasota counties.
At one point more than 100 nurseries appeared eligible to apply under Health Department rules that were redrafted in January. But the financial requirements were formidable, including a $60,063 application fee. A $5 million bond was required to protect taxpayers in case an operation goes sideways.
Now health officials have 90 days to pick five winners using a complex scoring system that replaced a controversial lottery. Charlotte's Web became law in June 2014.
A longtime nursery executive said a 90-day grow to produce Charlotte's Web's medicinal oil is possible after seedlings arrive. An better timeframe was 160 days.
Many businesses approached the rigorous Charlotte’s Web vetting as an essential step to get in front of future competition. Medical marijuana advocates expect another statewide vote for broader legalization in 2016. A 2014 amendment failed by two percentage points and another drive by United For Care is underway.
Estimates vary but as many as 100,000 Florida patients with debilitating and disabling pain could benefit from Charlotte’s Web, including children who suffer with neurological disorders.
» Applications by region (graphic via Sarasota Herald-Tribune):
Northeast (6) – Loop’s Nursery and Greenhouses, Almond Tree Nursery, Chesnut Hill Tree Farm, Hart’s Plant Nursery, Knox Nursery, Grandiflora.
Northwest (4) – Hackney Nursery, Alpha Foliage, Hart’s Plant Nursery, Tree-King Tree Farm.
Central (7) – McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery, Deleons’ Bromeliads, Redland Nursery, Treadwell Nursery, Spring Oaks Greenhouse, Dewar Nurseries, Razbuton.
Southeast (5) – Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms, Almond Tree Nursery, Costa Nursery Farms, Nature’s Way Nursery of Miami, Redland Nursery.
Southwest (6) – Plants of Ruskin, Alpha Foliage, Sun Bulb Company, Tropiflora, Tornello Landscape, Perkins Nursery.
Hasta la vista