TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – In what sounds like a line out of a Jimmy Buffett song, one of the state's soon-to-be medical marijuana purveyors used a helicopter and a landing at a golf course to squeak in minutes before a 5 p.m. deadline Wednesday to prove he had nailed down a requisite $5 million bond.
Bruce Knox, an owner of Lake Mary-based Knox Nursery, was the last of the five cannabis dispensing organizations --- picked by a Department of Health panel late last month --- to post a surety bond required by state law for licenses to go into effect.
Knox delivered the necessary paperwork to health officials at 4:58 p.m., the nursery's lobbyist, Jorge Chamizo, told The News Service of Florida shortly afterwards.
Department of Health spokeswoman Mara Gambineri confirmed Wednesday evening that all of the five licensees, including Central Florida region winner Knox, had met the deadline to prove they had the bonds. The other four applicants had filed their paperwork by Monday evening.
Knox boarded a friend's helicopter in Lake Mary, where the nursery is located and where he and his family live, late Wednesday afternoon after a delay in securing the bond.
The helicopter landed at a golf course and Knox jumped into a waiting car to rush the documents to the nearby Department of Health headquarters as the clock ran down.
"They zipped over to the department, and he handed it in there to Christian and thanked them for their patience and did a big exhale," Chamizo said.
Christian Bax is the executive director of the health department's Office of Compassionate Use, which last month chose the five winning dispensing organizations from more than two dozen applicants hoping to grow, process and distribute non-euphoric marijuana legalized last year.
Under the 2014 law, nurseries that have been in operation for at least 30 consecutive years in Florida and grow a minimum of 400,000 plants at the time they applied were eligible to seek the coveted licenses.
Challenges to the law and the rules implementing it delayed the awarding of the licenses. Some nursery owners --- and their teams of pot and investors --- spent millions of dollars preparing lengthy applications, acquiring equipment and securing dispensing facilities to start growing types of marijuana low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD. Parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy pushed for the law, believing the low-THC marijuana can end or dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures. Doctors can order the treatment for patients with severe muscle spasms or cancer.
But even after beating out the competition for the licenses, acquiring the requisite bonds proved sticky for some of the dispensing organizations, spurring the last-minute filing by Knox.
Knox's bonding company required 100 percent collateralization, Chamizo said, meaning the nursery had to come up with $5 million in collateral before 5 p.m. Wednesday.
"The issue was with the different investors. They were trying to renegotiate some of the terms of the deal at the last minute," Chamizo said.
It was unclear whether the Lake Mary nursery owner would get in before the clock ran out, Chamizo said.
"I was freaking out. To have gotten this far and not be able to get it because you miss a deadline that would have been huge," Chamizo said, sighing deeply. "I'm ready for a glass of wine."
The News Service of Florida's Dara Kam contributed to this report.
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