The Florida Health Department has announced via official letters that five nurseries can grow and distribute a medicinal form of cannabis known as Charlotte's Web. The nurseries, which were required to have been in business for at least 30 years and have at least 400,000 plants, will cover specific regions across the state. The nurseries include Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in Alachua for the Northeast region, Hackney Nursery in Greensboro for the Northwest region, Knox Nursery for the Central region, and Alpha Foliage in Homestead for the Southwest region. Costa Farms of Goulds, located in Miami-Dade, will cover South Florida, including Broward and Palm Beach counties.
The five nurseries chosen scored the highest points in an application process that included twenty-eight nurseries that applied for the right to grow and sell Charlotte's Web.
It was Costa Farms that had forced the state to change a rule in which the health department would have chosen the nurseries via a lottery. Costa Farms filed a lawsuit last year, saying the law doesn't say anything about a random selection for what is surely to be a lucrative growing business. The courts agreed with Costa, and the change to a points-based application was made.
Now, the five nurseries selected will have ten business days to post a $5 million performance bond before getting a license, according to letters sent by the state to the nurseries. The Department of Health says that should a nursery fail to come up with the money, another nursery on a waiting list will be selected. The Florida Department of Health is also requiring the nurseries to request cultivation authority within 75 days. Once approved, the nurseries can start growing and selling Charlotte's Web within 210 days, according to the department.
Charlotte's Web, which is used mostly to help children with epilepsy, has very low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in it — which is the stuff that gets you high when you smoke weed. It contains 0.5 percent THC and isn't smoked but, rather, converted into an oil for use. It will be the only form of legal medical marijuana at least until medical marijuana gets on the ballot, potentially in November 2016. That initiative needs another 300,000 signatures to be placed on the ballot for voters to decide if all strains of medical marijuana should be made legal.
In April 2014, the Senate approved a Charlotte's Web bill by a 36-3 vote, and Rick Scott signed the bill into law soon after. The strain was supposed to be distributed this year but hit a bevy of issues on its way to being available to patients, particularly over how it would eventually be distributed and matters of regulation.
"We applaud Gov. Scott's signing of this bill," United for Care Campaign Manager Ben Pollara said at the time. "He is joining the ranks of the millions of Floridians who agree on one indisputable fact: Marijuana is medicine."
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The 2013 CNN documentary Weed showcased Charlotte Figi, a 5-year-old girl whose epileptic seizures were radically reduced after she was given her first dose of medical marijuana by her parents. The Charlotte's Web strain is named after her.
The state wants the five chosen nurseries to start growing medical marijuana by June 2016.
You can read the Florida Health Department letters to each of the nurseries here.