‘Gainesville Green’: Lore of city’s potent pot replaced by new reality – News – Gainesville Sun


Medical cannabis on the rise as more dispensaries seek to open in Alachua County

Gainesville native Tyler King claims he might not be alive if it weren’t for a 1969 edition of Playboy magazine that boasted about notorious partying at the University of Florida and the potent cannabis strain Gainesville Green.

His father, Claude, read the magazine near Buffalo, New York, where he lived, and came to Gainesville in the 1970s specifically to find out what the Gainesville Green buzz was about.

King said his father later met his mother here. King grew up with the sense that Gainesville was a pot-friendly city.

“It’s my culture, having grown up in Gainesville,” he said. “It’s been part of me for as long as I can remember. Gainesville always has been and I think always will be that green spot in North Central Florida.”

The Gainesville pot-friendly culture and his passion for its medical benefits led King to pursue a business venture, a self-described “lifestyle lounge,” called Swamp City Gallery Lounge. Swamp City sells CBD products, which come from industrial hemp that is sold legally in Florida — as long as it contains less than 0.3 percent THC.

Without THC, which causes the high or “buzz,” CBD is used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety medicine. It also helps with pain relief.

Lounge patrons can buy everything from CBD ice cream to CBD joints that look like the real thing.

Like King’s Swamp City, many other cannabis companies — some from out of state or the county — have settled in Alachua County.

At least two medical cannabis companies are licensed to grow in the county, two third-party testing companies scrutinize medical cannabis here and city permits show Gainesville could soon be home to seven cannabis dispensaries.

The interest stems from a number of factors, industry experts told The Sun, among them the county’s sentiment toward cannabis, access to medical services, its proximity to the University of Florida and its local talent pool.

Harvest Health & Recreation Inc., a Phoenix, Arizona-based cannabis cultivation company, purchased San Felasco Nurseries Medical Marijuana Treatment Center’s (MMTC) license and 8,000 square feet of cultivation space in Alachua for $65 million in November. It employs about 24 people, Ben Kimbro, Harvest’s director of business development, said in December. But new jobs could come if Harvest adds more cultivation space to its greenhouse at 7315 NW 126th St. in Alachua.

John Montague, a UF Law graduate, worked on the Harvest deal. Montague said Alachua County and Gainesville have an active and fast-growing medical cannabis market and it will only get bigger. It’s been that way, he said, since Amendment 2 was passed by voters in 2016, legalizing medical cannabis. Chestnut Hill Nurseries LLC, which has since dissolved, was awarded the first Medical Marijuana Treatment Center license in the area.

The license being awarded in Alachua County, combined with Gainesville’s proximity to the University of Florida and local politicians who are outspoken in their support of medical cannabis, created a buzz surrounding Gainesville among investors, he said.

The growth since then led Montague to start his own CBD company, Maku. It sells hemp oil from Colorado, and its office is based out of UF Innovate’s The Hub, a business incubator.

Montague would not disclose his company’s revenues but said he has already seen great interest since launching the company in October.

“There are many factors that make Gainesville sort of like cannabis capital of Florida and quite possibly in all of the Southeast,” he said. “It’s a college town where the mayor and city commissioners have both taken strong stances on decriminalizing marijuana. That’s a very important thing.”

Another company that has settled in Alachua County is Toronto, Canada-based cannabis company Liberty Health Sciences. Liberty has purchased almost 400 acres’ worth of property in Alachua County within the last year, including Chestnut Hill Tree Farm’s growing license, spending more than $40 million. It has begun mass-producing cannabis products as it retrofits existing greenhouses into a 228,800-square-foot growing center.

Liberty has reported that when complete, it will be able to produce 25,000 kilograms of cannabis products per year.

Cannabis products aren’t only being produced in the county but also tested.

EVIO Labs recently opened in Gainesville, at 2444 NE First Blvd, Suite 800, making the Gainesville location one of the first third-party medical cannabis laboratory north of Interstate 4.

Another testing lab, Botanica, operates out of UF’s The Hub.

And at least five more medical cannabis dispensaries are proposed for Gainesville, including Medmen, a California-based dispensary; New York-based Columbia Care, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers and providers of medical cannabis, and GrowHealthy, a dispensary with plans for several Florida locations. Liberty Health Sciences and Curaleaf both have confirmed they’re opening dispensaries in Gainesville this year.

If all the proposed locations open, the number of dispensaries in Gainesville — seven – would be matched only by Miami and Tampa as the Florida cities with the most dispensaries, according to Florida Department of Medical Marijuana Use data. The increase in dispensaries comes as the number of medical cannabis patients statewide continues to rise.

However, patient growth in Gainesville accounts for a small portion of the state’s overall cannabis market. There were only 2,720 physician recommendations for medical cannabis in Alachua County from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 last year. That’s only 1.6 percent of more than 136,000 recommendations issued in Florida during that time period, according to a report issued by the Physician Certification Pattern Review Panel.

Physicians issue “recommendations” rather than “prescriptions” because cannabis is not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration. While the number of local recommendations closely matches Alachua County’s percentage of the state’s population, it isn’t clear those are linked. Residents in Gainesville go to any approved physician in the state, and those appointments can be done online.

Statewide, there were about 193,000 active patient ID cards and 246,215 registered patients qualified to use medical cannabis — nearly four times the number of patients than in January 2018, when there were 65,310 patients in the statewide registry.

And as the number of patents continues to rise, so has the number of companies authorized to grow and sell it.

State lawmakers first legalized non-euphoric medical marijuana in 2014, authorizing five nurseries to grow, process and distribute cannabis products for patients with severe epilepsy, muscle spasms or cancer.

There are now 14 approved licensed medical cannabis treatment centers, or MMTCs, in Florida. Two, Harvest and Liberty, are located in Alachua County.

MMTCs are authorized to grow cannabis, manufacture products and sell them, in Florida.

Doctors can now treat patients for several other illnesses, including HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Anxiety and depression can also be treated with medical cannabis if deemed to be a debilitating condition by doctors.

The Florida Department of Medical Marijuana Use’s website said it is currently not accepting applications for more licenses but industry experts agree more licenses will be issued in the future.

The need for more licenses and growers could increase if state lawmakers repeal the smokable cannabis ban that makes the sale of cannabis flower illegal. As of now, Floridian patients can only purchase oils and tinctures.

Physician recommendations for cannabis typically are required to be renewed every three months, so those orders could have been issued more than once.

Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said Gainesville is a city that strongly supports Gainesville’s growing medical cannabis industry. Most importantly, he said, Gainesville’s proximity to UF Health and North Florida Regional Medical Center aligns well with cannabis company interests.

“If you’re a medical cannabis company, you want to be around other medical facilities because that’s what it is; it’s a medicine,” he said.

Research at the university, Hayes-Santos said, is also a plus.

“UF is an (agriculture) focused school and cannabis companies are growing plants,” he said. “Being so close, they should be able to learn from UF as more research is completed.”

Hayes-Santos hopes the commission can decriminalize cannabis within city limits, as long as it’s considered for personal use. A citation would be issued instead of an arrest, he said.

King from Swamp City said he hopes Gainesville continues to move toward more progressive cannabis policies. He said Gainesville is made for a robust cannabis scene.

“Gainesville has always been this very colorful, cultured area,” he said. “These are very accepting people and that includes officials and law enforcement.

“They could be making mine and a lot of (my colleagues) lives a lot harder than they are. But they’ve been great.”



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