Florida nurseries post required performance bonds for medical marijuana

- The Florida nurseries selected to cultivate and distribute the first medical marijuana in the state have successfully reached their first benchmark.

All five have posted their $5 million performance bonds mandated by the Department of Health. The deadline was Wednesday at the close of business.

The Office of Compassionate Care named the five nurseries on Nov. 23. They then had 10 business days to post the $5 million performance bonds.

The five nurseries are Hackney Nursery Company in Quincy (Northwest), Alachua's Chestnut Hill Tree Farm (Northeast),Costa Nursery Farms of Miami (Southeast), Alpha Foliage in Homestead (Southwest) and Winter Garden's Knox Nursery (Central).

In order to qualify, nurseries had to have been in business in the state for at least 30 years and grown a minimum of 400,000 plants at the time of the application. According to the Office of Compassionate Use, 24 nurseries applied.

The Florida Legislature passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act in 2014, allowing patients to receive low-THC cannabis after obtaining permission from their physician. The cannabis is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, which induces euphoria, but high in cannabidiol (CBD). The law benefits children with severe epilepsy and patients with advanced forms of cancer.

"We truly believe that this is a revolution in patient wellness, and Florida is setting the national standard for a responsible, patient-focused program," said Susan Driscoll, president of Surterra Therapeutics and managing director of Alpha Foliage. "We see a big shift in patient preferences toward all-natural treatments, and cannabis extracts are at the heart of this trend."

The process of awarding the licenses though has been fraught with legal challenges. The Department of Health first proposed awarding the licenses via a lottery system, but that was struck down by a judge. A three-person committee was then established to screen the applications and select the five nurseries.

The delays though frustrated many legislators who fought for the bill.

"The state government has done its job now the pressure and the attention is on the industry to move forward so that they do not cause further delays for families," said Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island).

Monday is the deadline for administrative challenges to the approved dispensing organizations. Four of the five nurseries selected — Hackney, Chestnut Hill, Costa and Knox — were represented on the rules committee.

The licensees must request cultivation authorization within the next 65 calendar days and then must begin dispensing low-THC cannabis within 210 calendar days of being granted authorization. A rulemaking workshop for dispensing organization inspections was held by the Office of Compassionate Use on Wednesday.

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