A former mattress factory in Lake Wales could become the nation's largest medical marijuana factory, as a south Florida company is expected to invest millions of dollars in re-developing the property.
The old Sealy plant on Acuff Road just off of S.R. 60 was purchased by GrowHealthy, a company geared to developing the 180,000 square feet of warehouse space into a premium pot plant that the company hopes will be the envy of the industry.
"To be able to look at a facility and say, 'This is how you should do it,'" said Don Clifford, GrowHealthy CEO. "This is the best growing practice you can get."
The plant, which hasn't been occupied in more than a decade, was sold for about $2.2 million, Clifford said. The company expects to spend another $5 million to prepare it for marijuana production.
Seventy-five employees could be hired by the company with an annual payroll of $4.1 million to start.
Craig Roberts, one of GrowHealthy's officers, said he himself wasn't too keen on the marijuana industry at first, but now says it's a reality that Florida residents will have to face one way or the other.
"Medical marijuana is like a speeding, out of control train," Roberts said. "Whether you like it or you don't, it is coming to a state, to a county, to a city, to a schoolyard near you."
And that's what worries Lake Wales resident Ray Wozniak, who said there could be side effects on the community.
"For some reason there's always loopholes, and I could sort of see this filtering down to kids and teenagers," Wozniak said.
Glen Bauschke of Haines City is an admitted pot smoker, and he drove by the old mattress factory just to see the facility after hearing about its future. Bauschke is hopeful it helps the local economy.
"It's going to take a lot of people to grow this stuff. You're going to need delivery drivers," Bauschke said. "It's jobs."
GrowHealthy said it has received preliminary approval from Lake Wales officials. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has openly opposed legalizing medical marijuana, but the company said it will work with law enforcement to prevent any problems with the products.
"If this is done properly, the risk is lowered dramatically," Clifford said. "Our position is that if the voters choose to do this, somebody needs to be in this business and keep it as safe as possible."