Acreage Holdings, a publicly traded company from Canada, will soon open a marijuana growing and processing facility at a defunct roof tile manufacturing plant in Baker County that’s been vacant since the recession brought production to a halt in 2009.
When a Canadian medical marijuana company approached the head of Baker County’s Chamber of Commerce about growing pot in the rural county of 28,000 people, he almost chalked it up to a pipe dream.
“My remarks to them at the time were, ‘I don’t know if it would ever happen in Baker County,’” said Darryl Register. “We’re a very conservative, strong church community.”
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Less than a year after he was contacted by the company, Acreage Holdings, Register was swinging a shovel during an Oct. 29 groundbreaking ceremony in Sanderson, where the company will soon open a marijuana growing and processing facility at a defunct roof tile manufacturing plant that’s been vacant since the recession brought production to a halt in 2009.
Despite some initial concerns over safety at the facility, Register said the community quickly welcomed Florida’s nascent cannabis industry. After all, more than 64 percent of the county’s voters approved the 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana, and the facility is expected to create 80 to 100 new jobs in an area starving for them.
“We have about half as many jobs as we need. More than 60 percent of our population commutes every day out of the county to go to work,” Register said. “An employer creating 80 to 100 jobs is a big deal for us, especially good jobs like the ones this company is bringing.”
Why did a publicly traded company based in British Columbia choose a small town in North Florida to grow marijuana? The short answer is location.
Florida law requires any medicinal cannabis sold in Florida to be grown here, so the company needed to open a growhouse to supply the seven dispensaries they plan to open around the state next year.
North Florida’s climate, which is less humid and cooler than southern Florida, is well-suited to grow pot. Another nursery grows cannabis roughly 150 miles west in Gadsden County.
Sanderson had everything else the company needed: A roomy facility that met all of the regulatory and zoning requirements, and a community that wanted them there.
“We wanted to work with a community that was welcoming and interested in having a facility,” said Rhonda Kratz, an Acreage Holdings executive. “They’ve been incredibly welcoming… We haven’t received any push back or challenges.”
Marijuana will not be sold at the facility. Instead, the company will grow pot and either dry the flowers into a smokeable product or extract the THC, the main psychoactive compound in the plant, and produce other products.
The company will soon plant a crop in retrofitted shipping containers while it finishes renovating the facility into a climate-controlled grow house. The first crop will result in the creation of 15 jobs and be harvested in March.
At full build-out, the company plans to have 33,000 square-feet of canopy space available for growing, which it expects to yield 25,000-plant crop. They expect to harvest the first full crop next August.
By then, the company expects to employ as many as 110 employees for a variety of roles, including building maintenance, administrative positions, security and specialists for growing and production.
Kratz said the facility would supply any additional dispensaries the company opens in Florida, a market that the company believes is on track for serious growth.
“It’s a great opportunity with an untapped market of potential patients to discover the program,” she said. “The medical marijuana program has 277,000 people enrolled in the registry. The population is 21 million. A good number of people voted to legalize it.”
Register also feels bullish on the industry’s future.
“I said at the groundbreaking (ceremony), ‘We’re making history right here in Baker County,” he said. “This is going to be a strong industry moving into the future.”