Reporter

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Three medical marijuana dispensaries approved for Kissimmee earlier this year may finally open their doors by January.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after San Felasco Nurseries - the company green-lighted nine months ago by Osceola County Commissioners - was bought by a national industry-leader called Harvest Heath & Recreation, Inc. for more than $60 million.

With the acquisition complete, Harvest officials say they want to move forward in Kissimmee. And when they do, one of the most profitable players in medical marijuana will have exclusive access to Osceola County, thanks to a decision made by local officials in February.

National weed leader coming to Osceola

The dispensaries in Kissimmee will now operate under the name Harvest and not the originally proposed name, The Green Solution.

All Harvest locations are just outside city limits. One will be on U.S. Highway 192 between Kissimmee and Celebration, another on U.S. 192 between Kissimmee and St. Cloud and the last location is set for South John Young Parkway near Poinciana.

Progress on the dispensaries stalled for months, due in part to major negotiations between Harvest and San Felasco Nurseries, the company already approved by commissioners to operate in Osceola County. Those talks resulted in a $65.6 million acquisition of the Gainsville-based San Felasco by Harvest on Nov. 20.  

The move will be Harvest’s first venture into Florida. The Arizona company’s footprint now includes more than 40 licenses in 10 states. According to a company release Monday, Harvest generated more than $11 million in revenue last quarter alone.  

Harvest Public Affairs Director Ben Kimbro described the deal as “tremendous” for the company. He said he also thinks it’s taken too long for the dispensaries to open in Kissimmee.

 “We plan to move very quickly now,” he said last week. “We want this done as soon as possible.”

Doors to all three dispensaries should open by the end of January, with the first location planned for this month, according to Kimbro, who didn’t specify what day in December the first store may open.

The company plans to create about 60 new local jobs in Osceola County while establishing a notable presence in the community, he said.

“We want to answer people’s questions, we want them to feel comfortable and educated about what they’re buying,” Kimbro said. “We don’t want to be that mysterious store that no one knows about.”

Kimbro - who also serves as a city councilman in Tulsa, Oklahoma - said he understands the importance of working alongside state and local government to get things done, especially in the marijuana industry where laws and regulations can change rapidly.  He acknowledged some additional “hoops to jump through” in Osceola County’s permitting process but assured that Harvest’s legal counsel is working through the process.

“We’ve never failed to open a dispensary due to legal issues or other setbacks,” Kimbro said. “We are definitely opening in Kissimmee, and want to foster those good relationships for the future.”

‘It’s about time this happened’

Michelle Cartolano is a Kissimmee resident who started using medical marijuana after an arthritis surgery in January. She’s excited for the dispensaries to open in Osceola County because it’s a hassle battling traffic and construction to get her prescription filled in Orlando.

“You can get it delivered, but it costs $25 from the one I go to,” she said.

Cartolano avoided opioids after her surgery by using medical marijuana instead, and said she wants to see the substance become more accessible for other Osceola County residents who need it.

“It’s big and important, and it helps a lot of people,” she said. “It’s about time this happened.”

But residents like Cartolano have wondered if a single company running the county’s only dispcnceries is considered a monopoly.

Harvest’s exclusive access is a unique situation more than a year in the making.

Exclusive access to Osceola County?

Soon after medical marijuana became legal in November 2016, cities and counties across Florida started restricting where dispensaries could operate. The state stepped in last summer and gave local governments an ultimatum - either regulate dispensaries the same as any other pharmacy or ban them altogether. Osceola County took the second option.

But there was a problem. The moratorium, or freeze, was only enacted after San Felasco had submitted three applications which the county had already preliminarily approved.

The Gainsville nursery threatened legal action, forcing the county to allow San Felasco to move forward in late February.

The moratorium was lifted for less than a day before the door slammed shut once again for all future applicants – including possible competition for Harvest.

In the state of Florida, no law clearly states whether counties can or cannot enact a moratorium on dispensaries after approving some but not others.

And when it comes to whether Harvest is creating a monopoly in Osceola County, the short answer is no, according to County Community Development Director Dave Tomek.

“We just didn’t have much interest from companies,” said Tomak, whose department oversees building and permitting for the county. “When we sent out requests for proposals, they (San Felasco) were the only ones who submitted applications.” Tomek said county commissioners can easily life the current moratorium if the demand for dispensaries grows.

“It just isn’t a burning issue right now,” Tomek said. “So we wanted to go with a few from one company to see how things went before allowing more.”

Companies outside the county offer delivery and provide competition to Harvest so it’s not a monopoly, said Tomek. If the company can’t keep up with demand, the county may allow other dispensaries a chance to offer services.

Until then, it looks like Harvest season in Osceola County.