Medical cannabis farms become major industry

Out among the farms of Alachua County, there grows a new type of agriculture that may prove to be Florida’s next cash crop: medicinal marijuana.

Liberty Health Sciences is just opening their second medicinal marijuana farm in the county. The Canadian-based company has now grown to nearly 200 employees in Central Florida with their newest operation spanning more than 200,000 square feet.

"We say seed to sale because we're vertically integrated,” said General Manager Lewis Swarts, a UF Grad who grew up in the Orlando-area.

If you’re expecting a few plants growing in a dark room to put some bud in little baggies…that’s not at all what you’ll find here.

Swarts and his team have made medical marijuana a serious business at the facilities and a true industry. 

The plants grow in high-tech greenhouses that automatically adjust lights and conditions to grow the plants just right. All of the growing is under the care of experienced ag experts and scientists who are working to create a consistent produce.

Swarts said that’s the big goal for them: to give their patients a consistent product to fit their needs and offer the relief they need.

Under the state’s medical marijuana laws the team truly operates “seed to sale,” processing the plants on site and utilizing their own experts in their lab to turn the plants into oils and vapor products.

They even distribute the products in their own dispensaries and via personal delivery.

Additionally, Liberty is developing new ways for patients to use that cannabis from app controlled vape pens to topicals. Swarts said they even hope to one day get into edible forms of cannabis.

It may not be sprouting right out of the ground, but cannabis could be a new face for agriculture in the state. 

The company’s newest facility is on land that once functioned as a citrus farm but could no longer fill that purpose. Additionally, Swartz said several of their ag-side workers are former fruit and vegetable workers who are finding new opportunities with the growth of cannabis.

Under the current state laws there are still major restrictions on what Liberty and other companies can do here. They can’t sell cannabis in the smokeable form nor can they sell it for recreational use. 

If any of that changes, Swarts says they’ll likely add what they can, but he said either way they plan to be leaders on the standards set in the industry.

Their facilities are held to the highest cleanliness and product handling standards; most of the male staff members even sporting beards covered by nets at all times they’re working.
Swarts said regardless of marijuana going rec or remaining medical only here: Liberty’s mission will stay the same.

"In the end having a patient or an adult user feel better and empower themselves to have a better life that's what we want,” said Swarts.