Grow Launch Takes Years

The passing of Amendment 2 in Florida this past November has significantly improved prospects for medical marijuana growers in the Sunshine State. The proposition added to the list of illnesses which Floridians can now treat with cannabis, allowed the use of higher THC content in patients’ medicine, and opened the field for more companies to start growing cannabis.

For Don Clifford, CEO of GrowHealthy in Lake Wales, Florida, it was an indicator that his years of work were finally about to come to fruition. “We’re all excited,” he said. “The dream is finally coming true, and we’ll be ready to produce medications for the patients of Florida here before the end of the year.”

Clifford, who also works as an industry consultant, began GrowHealthy by paying $2 million for a former mattress manufacturing plant in 2014. The plant had been shuttered since 2007, and a lot of work would be needed to meet Florida’s strict standards, so renovation began even before the application for a growing license was submitted.

The large building is surrounded by two chain-link fences with barbed wire, sensors between the fences, and a motor-controlled security gates. Two full-time guards are on duty 24/7 with access to hi-res cameras whose feeds can be streamed to the police at the push of a button.

Then there’s irrigation. Concrete floors had to be removed, wells had to be drilled and pumps installed to keep a constant ready supply of water for the plants. When Sealy’s owned the plant, it had included a sewage treatment facility, that was repurposed to clean and reuse irrigation water. The walls were coated with an antimicrobial paint, and 1,000-watt high pressure sodium (HPS) lights were installed.

Originally, Clifford’s goal was to receive one of five licenses which Florida doled out in 2014 to medical-marijuana growers. Although GrowHealthy did not receive one of the original licenses, they challenged the ruling and recently won, receiving their own license.

And the starting gun is about to go off in Florida. Currently, there are 2,000 patients who are both eligible for medical marijuana and have registered to use it. The number is low because previous laws were highly conservative in what diseases they deemed acceptable to treat with cannabis. Only epilepsy, cancer and ALS were cleared for treatment, and then only with strains low in THC.

With Amendment 2, estimates put the number of potential patients as high as 500,000, which would require a 250-fold increase in production. Multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV, AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease, among others, were added to the list. Doctors will also now be allowed to issue it if they believe that the benefits to their patient’s medical condition will outweigh the potential health risks.

To even the casual eye, it’s clear that GrowHealthy is making medicine. Employees wear scrubs, gloves, and rubber shoes, and entering the grow area means passing through air curtains and anti-microbial UV light. Positive air pressure keeps the outside air from mixing in the event of a breach.

“This is the most expensive way of doing it, but it’s the most predictable and it’s the most consistent,” Clifford said. “The medicines we make here will be the same time after time after time.” With how long he’s worked towards it, growing time after time is sure to be a welcome change.

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