Alan Shapiro began his horticultural career cutting grass, and soon, he may be growing it.
Located down a bumpy, native plant-lined dirt road is Grandiflora, a 106-acre wholesale regional plant nursery with clients including Disney, UF and Busch Gardens.
Shapiro, the 63-year-old president of Grandiflora, gestures at the rows of the nearly 2,000 types of neatly potted succulents, flowers and herbs in his greenhouses.
“Look, we do medicinal plants already,” he said, pointing at a patch of aloe, a plant used to treat sunburns.
Each of the flowering plants bears the phrase “Grandiflora Grown.”
But someday soon, that label may find its way onto an entirely different product — medical marijuana.
Grandiflora, also known as San Felasco Nurseries Inc., is one of 39 nurseries that meet the specifications of Florida’s latest medical marijuana legislation.
Senate Bill 1030, also known as the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014,” would legalize non-euphoric medical marijuana for specified patients with debilitating or terminal diseases. The legislation has passed in both the House and the Senate, and Gov. Rick Scott has signaled that he will not veto it.
According to the bill, nurseries seeking a license must meet specific qualifications. They must have been in business for at least 30 years, have the capacity to grow more than 400,000 plants and afford a $5 million bond.
But only five nurseries in Florida will be licensed to grow the crop — one for each corner of the state, plus central Florida.
The rest of the details — on growing, dispensing and selling the product — are pretty much up in the air, said Aaron Keller, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture.
“The Florida Department of Health will be doing rulemaking, and they will really be the point agency involved in creating that system of regulation and enforcement,” he said. “Our role as the Department of Agriculture is really just to identify the growers who would be allowed to based on the Legislature’s actions.”
The Northeast section of the state, where Gainesville falls, has two potential candidates: Grandiflora, in Gainesville, and Loop’s Nursery, in Jacksonville.
When the original list of potential growers came out, Shapiro said he was surprised to see his nursery named but even more so at the flood of phone calls that followed.
“People are calling me from other states where it’s already been legalized for medical marijuana, and they would like to partner, or they would like to support growers, they would like to help set up our operation,” he said. “Our phone’s been ringing off the hook since our name started going on the list.”
But before he can even begin to consider taking on partners, Shapiro said he’s going to find a lawyer to help him with the process.
He doesn’t know what kind of changes he’d have to make to be able to grow the herb, as the state has yet to release details, but he’d be willing to retrofit empty or unused parts of the nursery to meet requirements.
“I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch,” he said. “Because I don’t want to put tons of research in and then fail. I want to do just enough to do the proposal for the state and explain to them why we’d be a good operation for them to use.”
Shapiro has been involved with horticulture since he mowed lawns during his summers at UF, where he graduated in 1972 with an English degree.
Now, more than 40 years later, he still loves plants and their benefits to humanity. Although his motivations are monetary, Shapiro said he still worries about the effects of legalized marijuana on society, especially its exposure to children.
“Even if you have stores that check your ID, you can always convince an older friend to get it for you or raid your mom’s liquor cabinet,” he said. “What’s to say the same thing won’t happen with marijuana?”
[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 6/5/2014 under the headline "Local nursery could be tapped to grow medical marijuana"]