With another big step, Alachua County is becoming an epicenter for medical cannabis cultivation and manufacturing in Florida.
Toronto-based company Liberty Health Sciences, an investor and operator in the medical cannabis market launched in 2011, closed a deal Feb. 16 to purchase 242 Cannabis, a subsidiary of medical cannabis company 242 Cannabis Canada — a deal which includes a 387-acre parcel north of Gainesville, southeast of Brooker.
242 Cannabis was paid for with more than 18.5 million shares of Liberty Health Sciences stock issued at $1.65 per share, putting the current deal at about $30.5 million, but it includes an option to cash out at $2.07 per share up until three years from the closing date.
The land near 18770 N. County Road 225 had been owned by Alico Citrus Nursery, which shut down its citrus production in Gainesville last year. The land will become the home of what is called the Liberty 360-degree Innovation Campus, said CEO George Scorsis.
The campus — already fitted with about 200,000-square-feet of greenhouses and processing facilities — will undergo a retrofit in the coming months to include the construction of a 16,000-square-foot processing area for the extraction and refining of cannabis oils and manufacturing of products for vaporizers, including preloaded disposable pens, cartridges and pods. A commercial kitchen will also be built for the manufacturing of cannabis edibles.
“We have a rate of acceleration in Florida that is far exceeding what most people have anticipated,” said. “We wanted to be in the forefront of that so that there wasn’t shortage of products.”
Liberty will grow and manufacturer cannabis products, but also plans to develop new products, Scorsis said, hence its innovation campus name.
“We talk about, ‘How do we start developing softgels and transdermal applications, or beverages?’” Scorsis said. “We’re interested in all areas of innovation and want to become the leaders in the space.”
Last year, Liberty bought and took full ownership of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm’s Medical Marijuana Treatment Center license, facility and operations, for about $40 million. Liberty had previously entered an exclusive management agreement to help Chestnut Hill, Alachua County’s first cannabis manufacturer, after its products were struggling to make it past production and into retail stores.
Upon completion, Liberty’s Alachua County operation is expected to produce about 27,000 pounds of medical cannabis a year.
Liberty Health Sciences, the brainchild of Ontario, Canada-based medical marijuana company Aphria, will sell its products at Liberty-branded dispensaries, Scorsis said. Aphria still owns about 30 percent of the company.
According to Florida medical cannabis law, licensed organizations selling medical cannabis must grow, manufacture, and sell all the products the company carries. Its products sell in retail under the licensed Aphria brand.
Liberty’s dispensaries will be called Cannabis Education Centers, Scorsis said, because the industry is new and patients need to educated about what they’re using — an alternative to traditional medicines.
“They need to feel safe using it,” he said.
Scorsis said Liberty Health Sciences opened its inaugural dispensary in The Villages in January and has plans to open five more in Florida this year — in south Tampa, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg and Port St. Lucie.
The dispensary operations and plans are being finalized and will be submitted to the Florida Department of Health, Office of Medical Marijuana Use, for approval.