Don Clifford’s GrowHealthy is high on marijuana’s future in Florida

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Don Clifford said he intends to spend another $5 million in the next 45 days converting an old Sealey mattress factory into a state of the art facility for growing medicinal marijuana. He has already spent $2.1 million on the project after checking with officials in Lake Wales about whether his GrowHealthy Company would be welcomed.

“They said if we were going to pay taxes, create jobs and obey the law then there wouldn’t be any problems,” said Clifford.

Clifford said the company will employ 75 people in Lake Wales and create another 100 jobs in a second project in the state, which he declined to provide any details.

GrowHealthy is moving ahead with its medicinal marijuana plant even though he does not qualify to apply for a Charlotte’s Web license and passage of Amendment 2 is not certain.

We asked Clifford five questions. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

1. What are you doing with an old mattress factory you purchased in Lake Wales?

We chose Florida to build a model.  And that model is one that when you walk in you have to shield your eyes because it is bright white – it’s like walking into a surgical suite.

The focus is on the safety and quality and consistency. We are trying to put the best technology we can in.  We’re trying to put the best automation that we can in. And we’re trying to close a huge gap.

The purpose of having a 185,000-square-foot site is to get scale – one of the key issues with Charlotte’s Webb is there is no Charlotte’s Webb available. The amount available compared to the need is quite small.

Our intention is to be the largest that we could, in terms of Charlotte’s Web and to develop a model, a model , we believe has applicability across any state that should choose to use Charlotte’s Web or legalize medical marijuana.

So if we were to bring people in from Georgia, or anywhere else, we could say, ‘this is how you do it. This is what a pharmaceutical grade quality facility looks like. Here’s the automation, the security, here’s how you do all these things.’”

2. You’re placing a big bet that Amendment 2 is going to pass:

We’re placing a big bet that medical marijuana will continue to grow across the United States. Amendment 2 may or may not pass but we have seen a number of states already that have approved it and we see additional states considering it and (the industry) continues to grow.

3. Passage of Amendment 2 is not guaranteed and you are not a nursery that qualifies to apply for one of five Charlotte’s Webb licenses but yet you put a lot of money and have developed a set of procedures and proprietary software for a business opportunity that may not come.

If you are a nursery and you are looking around trying to figure out how am I going to participate in this and who is the best player to partner with, I think I’m going to be very successful.

4. Why Florida? There are 20 other states where you could invest money and get started today while Florida goes through a rule-making process and conducts a lottery to award just five licenses.

The appeal of Florida is that they have a chance to do it right.  If you look at Colorado and the implementation that they have done, I fully believe if they had the ability to pull it all back in and do it over, they would do that.

We saw Canada do that.  They threw their hands up a year ago and said, ‘we can’t handle this process.’  So they changed the law.

Our belief is that Florida has not accepted many of the same rules and programs that other states have adopted like Colorado.  We believe that all those things (avoid Colorado-like problems) play into a technology company hands.

5. Earlier you mentioned that the proposed delivery system is a good idea and will prevent pot shops from sprouting on every street corner. Others say the system creates a host of problems but you see it as a problem solver.

Let’s look at it from the patient’s viewpoint.  What does a Charlotte’s Web patient look like?  The client base is going to be kids, people who are disabled, people who are not mobile.  If you take the delivery van scenario that is included currently and my role is to support the patient base it is hard for me to imagine how you get a better level of support than delivering it straight to their home.

It depends on your focus. Is it easier for a company to say, ‘we have a dispensary you come to me and buy it?’ Sure, but does that serve the needs of the patient?

The Department of Health has scheduled a public hearing Friday on proposed regulations for Charlotte’s Web regulations and a legislative committee has asked for clarification of some of the proposed rules.

It is unclear when DOH will conclude the rule-making process and award five licenses to cultivate marijuana and extract oil from it to dispense as a medicine.