Making marijuana: Behind the scenes of a Florida cannabis farm (2024)

According to Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, there are already 22 licensed Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers in the state.

It’s an over two-billion-dollar industry, serving roughly 1 million patients.

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It’s also a booming business that blossomed from a troubled past, in the US and for one family in Florida: The Cobb’s.

In the 1970’s, Bill Cobb was one of the state’s top marijuana smugglers using a sun-tan lotion company to disguise a 300 million dollar drug empire.

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“At that point and time, he was a sun tan lotion distributor,” said his son Brady. “He kept running that business that was the front business to wash that much cash from moving that much cannabis and that became the DEA task force name, operation Sunburn.”

The name Sunburn is now a legacy. Brady has taken his father’s passion as his own.

He went to law school, working to legalize cannabis before opening his own company in August of 2022. You guessed it- Sunburn.

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“We get the best of the best,” said Maria Rivera, as she looks across the room of baby plants.

Rivera works at one of two farms the cannabis company has, located in Winter Garden.

The farm operates 24/7 with weekly harvests and follows a vertical model. It means that every product you see on Sunburn shelves was grown, treated, and packaged right in their own facilities.

Rivera is the head of the farm’s propagation department and shows us what a plant needs to look like, “It looks strong and healthy, they look even, and they grow with roots.”

Rivera oversees step one, propagating and cloning. From a mother plant she takes a clone and repots it into a tray where it will remain for 3 weeks until roots start to show.

The whole room has about 12 hundred clones.

“They get stronger and stronger every time, in the morning when I come in I say ‘Good morning girls!’ and I know they feel it.”

This first step, is considered the most important stage. And Maria makes sure they are well cared for, singing and speaking to them. You can see her turn up salsa music, and she sings the songs to her little plant babies.

“Do you think that extra care and detail makes a difference in the product?”

With a laugh Maria responds, “Believe it or not they can feel it so that’s why I give them what I feel. I love my job, I love what I do, I love when I see my results. They like it. They like jazz and salsa.”

IT'S ALL ABOUT QUALITY

When the plants have enough root, they move onto the veg stage. There, they are put into a Rockwell brick that has monitored moisture levels. The veg room has about 4,000 plants that will remain for 4 to 5 weeks.

When that time is done, they move into a different room where they will begin their 60 day process of producing its fruit, or in this case, its well-known flower. This is known as the bloom stage.

In one room alone there’s about 18 hundred plants. In total, there are three rooms with sensors throughout that monitor things like light, humidity, and temperature.

We constantly monitor the plants and constantly keep track of the plant. As you see in here,” said Chris Keller, “As you saw in veg, there’s not a yellow leaf and not a single plant that is not completely healthy. And by the time they make it into here these are the best of the best.”

Keller is the team’s VP of Cultivation. He says quality is the most important thing.

The State of Florida doesn’t have restrictions or regulations on how a farm must grow their product, but they do have to ensure that what the customer buys is really what they receive.

If you take a look at each plant they have a different color band around them, what does that band mean? And how important is it in keeping track of the growth of the product?”

“Well, it’s the most important thing,” he states.

“The state regulates us to keep track of this plant from the beginning of it’s existent. From the moment it has roots, we assign a serial number to it.”

And that number remains with it until it dies or reaches the hands of the customer allowing them to know what exact plant and farm their product came from, ensure it was third party-tested, and provide the amount of THC and turbines the product has.

After the plants bloom, they go to the cure room to dry. After they dry, they go to the trim room where the flower gets separated from the stem and leaves.

The flower then gets weighed, packaged, and then distributed to the one of their 13 dispensaries across the state. All in all, the process from start to finish takes 6 months.

But what is the timeline for a plant to get to the store shelves?

“The timeline is insane, we have to be about 16 weeks, 4 months into the future, for what we will actually see on the shelves at market,” explained Keller.

He emphasizes, “We have to make decisions today that we won’t actually see until next year on the shelves.”

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THE NOVEMBER VOTE

Come November, the landscape of cannabis in Florida could change drastically. A market that right now is only available to those with medical marijuana cards could soon be available to anyone over the age of 21 for recreational use. That means marijuana could become one of Florida’s largest markets.

“If you look at other states that have gone recreational the sky does not fall. It’s not stoned zombies walking around everywhere. It’s a lot of people coming in and out of stores looking for an alternative to prescription drugs,” said Brady.

According to a new study of the journal Addiction that estimates tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, for the firsttime, daily marijuana use outpaced daily drinking in the US.

And in another big change for the industry, the Department of Justice began last month the process of re-classifying marijuana as a level three substance, no longer putting it on the same level as heroin.

The government treatment of cannabis is lagging well behind public sentiment. Which just to me means it’s slow progress,” explains Brady.

“There’s been a lot of forces in the lobbying world that have been fighting against us for some time, I call them our natural predators. And at some point, based on these numbers, we are going to become the predator.”

Cobb says Sunburn currently has 300 employees with an expected revenue of $48 to $55 million for this year. That’s almost double what they made last year.

And what it could look like when the market becomes open for all? Brady says it’s not even fathomable, “As we are planning for that, I can’t chase the shiny object. We are focused on the medical market at hand in Florida right now. There’s going to be a lot of noise from now until November.”

That noise will be a rigorous legislative session. If Amendment Three passes, they will have to determine if Florida will be a wholesale market, time and place restrictions, tax revenues, and what can be imposed to slow the market down.

It’s why Cobb says he’s going to be a fast follower, “I don’t want to make a lot of moves and spend a lot of money to scale up when I don’t know what the end market is going to look like.”

But the market now is a well-regulated one, and Sunburn operations runs like a well-oiled machine.

They are expecting to pot even more plants, opening five additional stores this year and a new farm in New Smyrna Beach.

They are willing to give the option of what they claim is a quality product to those who need it.

“Sometimes I cannot help people with money but doing what I do, I know the product can help a lot of people, headaches, seizures, backpain. I feel good when I help people saying I take this, and the headaches go away. That makes me feel good because it’s a little drop that helps,” said Maria.

Making marijuana: Behind the scenes of a Florida cannabis farm (2024)

FAQs

How much does it cost to get a MMTC license in Florida? ›

Fees. Application fee: The application fee for a Florida MMTC license is $146,000. This non-refundable fee is required for new applicants and must be paid at the time of submitting the application.

What's the penalty for growing marijuana in Florida? ›

It may seem like growing weed in Florida may not be that big of a deal, but it is still a serious charge. Cultivating Marijuana is a felony and can carry a lengthy prison sentence. Florida law views cultivation as a 3rd-degree felony, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 5 years as well as a $5000 maximum fine.

Can you get a license to grow marijuana in Florida? ›

The only way to legally grow marijuana in Florida is by having a Medical Marijuana Treatment Center. Florida residents currently cannot get a cannabis cultivation license permitting a cannabis growing business or home growing in any other way.

How many plants can you grow with a medical card in Florida? ›

(6) “Medical use” means the acquisition, possession, use, growing up to nine mature flowering marijuana plants and possessing the harvest therefrom, delivery, transfer, or administration of an amount of marijuana not in conflict with Department rules, or of related supplies by a qualifying patient or caregiver for use ...

How to become an MMTC in Florida? ›

Minimum Requirements for an MMTC License in Florida

At minimum, MMTC applicants must demonstrate they: Have been registered to conduct business in Florida for at least 5 consecutive years. Possess a nursery certificate of registration from the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.

What licenses do you need to open a dispensary in Florida? ›

You must have a Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (MMTC) license in order to dispense, cultivate, process, and transport medical marijuana in Florida.

How much does a marijuana grower make in Florida? ›

As of May 30, 2024, the average hourly pay for a Cannabis Grower in Florida is $14.43 an hour. While ZipRecruiter is seeing salaries as high as $30.54 and as low as $9.70, the majority of Cannabis Grower salaries currently range between $10.96 (25th percentile) to $18.70 (75th percentile) in Florida.

How many licensed marijuana growers are in Florida? ›

Most of the dispensaries in Florida are located in coastal cities as well as in the greater Orlando area. With the addition of the recently awarded licenses, there are now a total of 24 licensed growers in the state operating 119 dispensaries as of April 25.

How much does it cost to start a marijuana business in Florida? ›

In 2021, the expected cost of opening a marijuana dispensary in Florida stands somewhere between $250,000 and $750,000. The licensing fee for medical marijuana dispensaries in Florida is $60,830 – much higher than other states in the US.

Can you buy a gun with a medical card in Florida? ›

If you are a medical marijuana patient in Florida who owns a firearm, you should be aware of the following: You cannot purchase a new firearm while you have a medical marijuana card. If you are caught lying on a federal firearms form about your marijuana use, you could face criminal charges.

Is smell probable cause in Florida? ›

Probable Cause for an Arrest: Odor is NOT Enough

Probable Cause is required for a law enforcement officer to arrest a person without a valid warrant. Probable cause requires law enforcement to have a reasonable basis to believe that a crime is about to be, was committed, or that evidence of the crime exists.

What is the easiest state to open a dispensary? ›

Best States to Open a Dispensary
  1. Colorado. As the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana, Colorado is about as weed-friendly as a state can be. ...
  2. 2. California. California's status as the modern mecca of cannabis is well-known and well-earned. ...
  3. Oregon. ...
  4. Michigan. ...
  5. Massachusetts. ...
  6. Illinois. ...
  7. Washington. ...
  8. Nevada.

How much does a Florida medical license cost? ›

What fees can I expect to pay to the Florida Board of Medicine? The Florida Board of Medicine collects a $350 non-refundable application fee and $355 initial license fee. There is also a $250 or $5,000 NICA fee and optional $100 dispensing practitioner fee for selling pharmaceuticals in your office.

How much does a business Licence cost in Florida? ›

Florida business tax receipt: Florida doesn't require or issue a state business tax receipt (also known as a business license). However, most start-ups need a county or city business tax receipt (BTR). The cost of a BTR depends on your Florida location and can vary from $40 to $1500, depending on your business type.

How do I get a retail business license in Florida? ›

Steps to Getting Your Florida Business License
  1. Name and form your company. ...
  2. Apply for your Florida business tax certificate. ...
  3. Determine which other local licenses may be applicable. ...
  4. Apply for any additional statewide license(s) you need. ...
  5. Apply for federal licenses and tax treatment (as necessary)
Feb 13, 2024

Can I get my medical card online in Florida? ›

Patients must be entered into the Medical Marijuana Use Registry by a qualified physician to receive a card. Applications may be submitted online through the Medical Marijuana Use Registry or mailed to the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. All applications must include a registration fee of $75.

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