Before the sun set over the rows of palms and ferns and hibiscus that Thursday, Chuck Buster had heard from a half dozen friends, all calling to tell him that his next venture could be in Florida’s medical marijuana business.
For more than three decades, the co-owner of Alpha Foliage has tilled the Homestead earth near the southern tip of Florida, raising tropical foliage season after season. But a rising drumbeat to bring medical marijuana to Florida, plus a Legislature that relented on the last day of the lawmaking session last spring have combined to create a potential new business boom for nursery owners such as Buster.
What he learned on that Thursday in May was that his nursery qualified as a potential pot growing location. So with 300 acres at his disposal and 30 years of experience in the foliage business, Buster suddenly found himself poised to enter the legal pot business.
He’s far from alone. Alpha Foliage is one of 50 veteran nurseries, including 12 based in South Miami-Dade County and one in Broward County, eligible to compete to become one of five regional growers. That has fueled a frenzy of callers — ganja-preneurs, investors, technology companies — looking to partner with an eligible nursery in what will become Florida’s newest legal crop, a limited, low-THC form of marijuana for medical purposes. It will be used for patients with seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms and cancer.
“I started getting all these inquiries as to whether I had any interest in partnering in a marijuana growing operation,” said Buster, as he surveyed the growing list of agricultural companies from the town of Havana in North Florida to Homestead, that met the criteria of operating for at least 30 years and having an inventory of 400,000 plants. “Everybody is trying to be a part of this.”
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized use of some medical marijuana. Florida became part of the group with the passage of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act this year.