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2 area nurseries eye growing medical marijuana

Marijuana for medical use may be grown in Highlands and Hardee counties with two area nurseries among the 21 statewide growers who meet the general requirements of a medical marijuana bill passed by the Legislature.

Florida legislators approved Senate Bill 1030 on May 2 that would allow doctors to prescribe a special strain of marijuana for patients who suffer chronic epileptic seizures and other severe illnesses.

Governor Rick Scott said he will sign the bill into law.

Delray Plants CEO Randy Gilde said the Venus nursery is one of 21 nurseries on the list, from which five will be chosen statewide to grow the marijuana.

“Since that list came out with the criteria, we are looking into it at this time,” he said.

Previously his company wasn’t interested because the grower requirements weren’t clear.

“If there weren’t going to be any restrictions then you would have had 100 back-yard one-acre facilities competing so the price would have been competitive and would have driven the price down so we weren’t interested,” Gilde said. “Now that there are only going to be a select five that can do it in the state, we are looking at it.”

Delray has existing facilities that could be used to grow medical marijuana, but they would have to be retrofitted for improved security, he noted.

Windmill Farms Nurseries Inc, of Hardee County, is also on the list of 21 qualified growers. Windmill Farms has a Zolfo Springs mailing address, but is located on South Hammock Road with an eastern border near the Highlands/Hardee county line and abutting Highlands Hammock State Park.

Owner and President Eric Cord said his company is interested in growing the medicinal marijuana, which is known as “Charlotte’s Web.”

He is not sure of the odds of becoming one of the five growers, but, “we are sure going to try; we’re definitely doing more research about Charlotte’s Web and growing the medicinal [marijuana].”

His company is trying to get more information about Charlotte’s Web from it’s developer in Colorado, Cord said, but he believes it can be grown outside without a greenhouse for nine months of the year.

“Obviously, Delray has got a lot of greenhouses, but we’re looking at other ways other than the greenhouse angle,” he said.

It is a weed, and just like your lawn, on the cooler nights and shorter days of winter it will stop growing, Cord said. So lighted and heated greenhouses would be needed to grow marijuana during the winter season.

“I don’t think any of us nurseries down here really know anything about it at this point,” he said. “Everybody is scrambling to research and try to find out exactly how and what and what it is going to take.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam noted that under the low-THC bill approved by the Legislature, the Department of Health would choose five nurseries — one in each corner of the state along with Central Florida — to grow, manufacture and sell the product. And those growers must be registered nurseries that have operated in the state for a minimum of 30 years and produce more than 400,000 plants.

Putnam told the South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board on Wednesday, “There won’t be fields of marijuana growing in Florida. It will be grown under roof, in controlled environments, inside, for obvious security reasons.”

The strain of marijuana grown for medical purposes would be high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Meanwhile, voters will be asked to approve a proposed constitutional amendment in November that would lead to broader legalization of medical marijuana. Putnam, who is opposed to the amendment, expects the proposal will garner the needed 60 percent of votes for approval.

If approved the constitutional amendment would allow the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician. The Department of Health would register and regulate the centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes.

Gilde said he supports the current law that passed, but does not support the November ballot proposal.

“We are opposed to recreational use, which the November ballot could lead to,” he said.

Cord said, if it passes, he is not very interested in growing the smoking variety of marijuana.


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The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.