In Florida, several companies have applied to be the state's medical marijuana dispensing organization. For these companies, a surety bond (which is a specialized type of bond) is required by statute.
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The six nursery businesses that have applied to be Southwest Florida’s medical marijuana dispensing organization are turning to prominent professionals in the Sunshine State and cultivation experts from Colorado who have experience in the pot-growing industry.
The state has been divided into five regions and only one license will be issued per region. Overall 28 applications were submitted from 24 nurseries. The six applicants for the region that includes Southwest Florida are based in LaBelle, Arcadia, Sarasota, Ruskin (two), and Homestead.
Applications, including a $60,063 non-refundable fee, were submitted to the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use by the July 8 filing deadline. The selections are expected to be made by early October. The department has not finalized the selection committee panel members, according to an email Friday from Mara Burger, press secretary.
To be eligible, nurseries had to operate for at least 30 years and have an inventory of 400,000 plants. The nurseries vying for the application for this region specialize in various crops, from palmettos to orchids to bromeliads.
Applications will be scored on the following criteria: cultivation, 30 percent; processing, 30 percent; financials, 20 percent; dispensing, 15 percent; and medical director, 5 percent.
Once licenses are awarded, nurseries have 60 days to begin cultivating their first cannabis crops and 150 more days to offer the medicine for sale.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act into law in 2014, but legal challenges caused delays.
The new law allows dispensaries to grow marijuana that’s low in tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that provides a euphoric high, but high in cannabidiol, which can calm seizures. The drug, which can be prescribed to patients with intractable epilepsy and several other medical disabilities, will be made into an oil and taken orally.
Jeffrey Sharkey, a lobbyist for the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, called the law a “pioneering effort from legislators that’s conservative in nature.”
Marijuana dispensary operations are expensive, he noted, with operating budgets in the millions and each nursery having to put up a $5 million performance bond.
Sharkey said that Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, filed a proposal (HB 63) earlier this month to be considered during the 2016 legislative session that would overhaul the 2014 law. It addresses a range of issues, including expanding the number of people who qualify to receive medical marijuana and where it can be sold.
“Most of those folks who will move forward are certainly anxious to see the regulatory framework expanded to include more medical conditions,” Sharkey said.
Colorado sold nearly $700 million of marijuana in 2014, the first full year of recreational pot sales, according to data from the Colorado Department of Revenue. That’s $386 million for medical marijuana and $313 million for recreational cannabis. That generated $63 million in tax revenue, and another $13 million collected in licenses and fees. Total sales in Colorado are expected to exceed $1 billion by 2016.
Twenty-three states have some sort of medical marijuana program.
A reporter from The News-Press sifted through thousands of pages of documents provided by the Florida Department of Health in response to a public records request.
A couple of the applications were heavily redacted. It’s clear, however, that the drive to get a license has led to partnerships between nurseries, doctors, professors, pot purveyors, investors, and security and technology firms.
Whichever businesses secure the lucrative licenses for this use will also be in prime position should voters approve a more wide-ranging medical marijuana initiative that’s likely to appear on the November 2016 ballot. United for Care, the group led by prominent attorney John Morgan, is collecting signatures for a new petition toward that effort.
Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana through the Amendment 2 ballot initiative got 58 percent of the vote last November. That came up short of the legally required 60 percent to amend the state Constitution. Should the measure pass in 2016, it would allow a full-fledged medical marijuana program.
Back to the licenses available through the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. What follows is a glimpse at each proposal for the region that includes Southwest Florida, in no particular order.
While most of the information was gleaned directly from the applications, some of it was determined through additional research. The intent was to include the same information for each applicant, though that was not always possible because some applications were more redacted than others.
Perkins Nursery Inc. (LaBelle)
Owner: Perkins family
Company history: Started in 1977
Application filer: Danny Perkins
Medical director: Dr. Gary Parsons, most recently chief medical officer of NCH Healthcare System, Naples
Property for operation: 450 Church Road, Felda (to be leased from Ronnie Taylor)
Dispensary locations: two in Fort Myers — 9851 Bernwood Place Drive and 3349 Fowler Street
Notable: The application includes many resumes from people in various parts of Colorado, with experience in marijuana cultivation.
Sun Bulb Company Inc. (Arcadia)
Owners: Rodney, Tom and Rod Hollingsworth
Company history/information: A national leader in orchid supply, Sun Bulb distributes to more than 4,000 Home Depot and Lowe’s stores, and dozens of other independent garden retailers.
Application filer: Rodney Hollingsworth Jr. — co-owner and president
Medical director: Dr. Orlando Florete of Jacksonville
Dispensary locations: Tallahassee, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville area (listed under company goals)
Notable: There are a lot of Naples residents mentioned in application. The company would be committed to making home deliveries. The application includes many letters of support from elected representatives, as well as from the Epilepsy Foundation and Epilepsy Foundation of Florida.
Joint venture: Sun Bulb has a joint venture agreement with Florida MCBD LLC, an operating partner with vast experience in low-THC cannabis cultivation, processing and dispensing. Together, they have formed Solcanna Scientific LLC.
Company quote: “The company has taken a community-based approach to its translational medicine work.”
TropiFlora LLC (Sarasota)
Application filer: Joseph Sansonetti
Operating nurseryman: Dennis Cathcart
Medical director: Dr. Jennifer Kleinbart of Palm Harbor
Master grower and production lead: Dr. Rien Havens of Colorado
Property for operation: 7216 21st Street E., Sarasota. The facility is about 7 miles from I-75 in Manatee County. All functions will be performed on the same property.
Dispensary locations: Sarasota
Notable: It would do business as MARIJ AGRICULTURE INC.
Tornello Landscape Corp., doing business as 3 Boys Farm (Ruskin)
Owner: Robert Tornello
Company history: Started in 1978
Application filer: Robert Tornello
Medical director: Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, University of South Florida
Also listed: Gregory Gerdeman, professor of biology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg
Dispensary locations: Tampa, Sarasota and Estero, with future locations in St. Petersburg and Sebring
Notable: Their application says it is the first nutrient flow technique hydroponic produce farm in the country to be USDA-certified organic.
Company quote: “We gathered an unparalleled team of minds — medical, scientific, cultivation and security professionals — in order to be truly turnkey and ready to begin. And we are. Right now.”
Plants of Ruskin Inc. (Ruskin)
Owner and principal player: Glenn Dickman, part of one of the biggest landholding families in Hillsborough County, and John Tipton, who was part of a 12-member committee that helped to craft Florida’s rules for the medical marijuana law.
Application filer: Glenn Dickman
Medical director: Dr. Margarita Cabrera-Cancio, founding medical director of Tampa Care Clinic and Pinellas Care Clinic for HIV patients
Property for operation: 15 acres in Hillsborough County
Dispensary location: First would be in Apollo Beach
Alpha Foliage Inc. (Homestead)
Co-owner: Charles “Chuck” Buster
Medical director: Dr. Joseph Dorn of Monticello
Reserve medical directors: Dr. Clifford Selsky of Maitland and Dr. Joseph Rosado of Pace
Research and development team adviser: Dr. Ronald Aung-Din
Additional doctors available to serve as medical director: Dr. Casey Conner and Dr. Raymond Moreno
Notable: This application was most heavily redacted. It would do business as Surterra Therapeutics 1.