Sarasota County approves medical marijuana zoning request

Company plans to build a major grow operation soon

Sarasota County officials gave zoning approval this week to a company that plans to build a large medical marijuana growing facility.
The plan is to build the facility on an existing farm and nursery about 8 miles east of Interstate 75.
AltMed has lofty goals to become a major player in the Florida cannabis industry, but the inspiration behind the company lies in part in the difficult story of a young girl and her family.
"The day that Kayla had her grand mal seizure was the worst day of my life," said AltMed co-executive chair Mike Smullen. "She was 2 ½, actually sitting in my lap as we were watching a movie and suddenly she started going into convulsions."
Kayla took medications to control the seizures, which also brought damaging side effects, like an inability to concentrate.
And while Kayla, now 15, has outgrown the seizures, her father was forever marked by the hardship.
Smullen retired after a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry when he and his colleagues sold their company, MedImmune, to a larger company. 
One day, Smullen said, he was watching a CNN program about the positive effects medical marijuana can have for kids suffering epilepsy. He saw a business opportunity as well as a chance to make a positive impact for children.
"We're trying to build this company the same way we put pharmaceutical and biotech companies together,” Smullen said.
They're going to try to do it in Sarasota County, where a 20-acre portion of land is zoned by county officials as "Open Use Estates-1."
The location is ideal because it won't break any state laws, such as growing near a school.
AltMed plans to cultivate, process and dispense medical marijuana on-site at the growing location based on the restrictions set forth in the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014, signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year.
The farm currently grows tomatoes and nursery plants.
If AltMed is granted a state license, which is provided through a state lottery system, the company hopes to begin by building a heavily-guarded, 25,000-square-foot indoor grow facility.
David Wright, the AltMed CEO and President, said he hopes to soon see "four 25,000-square-foot buildings with thirty 5,000-square-foot greenhouses."
The company would be able to grow the "Charlotte's Web" strain of marijuana if granted by a license, but it is also hoping that amendment two passes this November, which would expand the kinds of medical cannabis the company could grow.
Still, the company insists it would never expand beyond medical marijuana into recreational marijuana, even if Florida voters one day allowed it.
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