TALLHASSEE, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Down a dirt road, behind locked gates and a barbed wire fence, in an otherwise empty field outside Tallahassee, sits the first place in the state to grow a plant that the federal government still considers illegal.
Even though pot is still against the law in the Sunshine State, except for people who are very, very sick, a 6,000-square-foot facility is legally growing marijuana plants. SEE PHOTO GALLERY HERE
"This isn't so people can get high or have fun," explains Monical Russell, with Surterra Therapeutics -- one of six companies currently licensed to grow and sell medical cannabis in the state of Florida. "We need to do a better job of educating the public as to how they have access to medical cannabis."
So when we asked for an unprecedented look at what they do here, they said yes, making us the first Orlando news crew to see exactly what it takes to turn marijuana into medicine. It all starts with the mother plant, which has to be genetically perfect.
"We'll cut the number of clones from the genetic strain specified," says James, a horticulturalist.
They clone that perfect plant , over and over again, then follow each new plant the same way a grocery story keeps track of canned corn or breakfast cereal.
"All of the plants come equipped with a bar code. The tag stays with the plants at all times," James says. "It allows us to track individual plants all the way to the patient's medicine."
That takes a while, at least 90 days for the plants to go from plant clippings to fully mature buds.
"They're almost ready to harvest," James explains. "At that point, it will go into an oven to be dried overnight."
Florida law says you can't smoke any of this, so the next step is to grind the dried plant in a processor, until it winds up looking kind of like green coffee. They freeze it, until it's on to the lab, where cameras have never been allowed before.
"In this room, it actually goes from plant material to an oil," Russell tells us, "and that oil is where a lot of the medical benefits live."
The powdered plant goes into a machine which uses heat and carbon-dioxide gas to steep the ground cannabis and extract that oil. It is refined, and refined again, until it looks like thick, dark honey.
"It is put into products such as tinctures, which are drops on your tongue or lotions," Russell says .
It's probably not what you think of when you think of marijuana, but for people with serious medical problems, it could make a world of difference.
It's packaged in such a way, it resembles something you might pay top dollar for at a cosmetics counter, made with a plant that's low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which what makes one high. And that's what most patients who are eligible to use medical cannabis are legally able to get.