Complaints about medical marijuana farms are popping up all over the state. The smell and size are among the chief concerns for people who live in homes nearby.
Four months ago, Channel 9 first told you about Mount Dora homeowners who said they felt trapped by the powerful smell. Since then we’ve heard from other communities also demanding the state do something to control the odor.
It’s becoming more of an issue because some of the farmers who bought original medical marijuana licenses are now selling to much larger companies already in the medical marijuana business. That has meant larger-scale operations that these neighbors didn’t realize they would have to deal with.
“I found out that you had run a story about Curaleaf in Mount Dora, and coincidentally, we are having the same problem,” Yvette Blackwell Gomez said.
She and more than a dozen of her neighbors gathered in a neighborhood barn in the South Florida area that’s used as an events space to air their concerns.
“Come over here, spend a month with us, live here. See if you like it. And you’ll see. And this is a growing issue,” one neighbor said during the open discussion.
Area leaders sent a memo to the legislature in May, urging them to act because their hands are tied. The medical marijuana industry is regulated by the state, and a lot of the details surrounding it can be exempt from public records.
Each company is required to fill out a variance to operate on existing farmland that may have been used for landscaping or fruits and vegetables prior to the explosion of the medical marijuana industry in Florida. The variance has a box to check if the company has an odor mitigation system in place, but we could find nothing in the document or the state law explaining what’s specifically required.
“We have plant nurseries out here. Nothing produces odors like that,” Michael Waneck said.
There was no shortage of complaints from homeowners and business owners who live near the large Curaleaf farm, situated in a rural area.
“I honestly did not fathom in any way that they were gonna grow marijuana (in the) open air, didn’t even realize it until we smelled it,” one neighbor said.
Curaleaf, a major player in the medical marijuana industry, touts 26 cultivation sites across the U.S., but the locations can be kept secret in Florida because of security concerns.
According to records, there are more than 30 greenhouses on the site, and from the air, you can see there’s more room for the business to grow.
We asked Sen. Ana Rodriguez, who represents part of the area, whether this is an unintended consequence of medical marijuana.
“I think that definitely, it did open a door, to an unintended consequence. This is something that’s very, very new in our state. And so, a lot of these companies are going through growing pains, and I think that they have the ability to implement the proper mechanisms to contain the odor. And that’s something they need to do,” Rodriguez said.
In a statement Curaleaf told us:
“While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we can confirm that we have not received any recent complaints due to odor or operations in the Homestead area and the facility has passed all state inspections. We currently have odor mitigation equipment in place across all Florida cultivation facilities and remain wholly compliant with state cannabis regulations. Curaleaf strives to make a positive impact in the communities we serve and will continue to take careful precautions consistent with best serving our patients, team members, neighbors and communities wherever we operate.”
The company told us it has also made changes at that Mount Dora cultivation site that we first took you to in July, where we had no issue smelling a stench similar to that of a skunk.
Since then, Curaleaf told us in a statement:
“The company recently completed construction, and received Department of Health approval, on a new drying room in the area of the Mount Dora property furthest from residential neighbors, which will further distance residents from operations more likely to produce odors.... We are now moving our drying process to this area ... as well as making shift adjustments to ensure any green waste, which could contribute to odor issues, is processed in a timely manner.”
The South Florida homeowners are hoping a lawsuit will force changes for them, but Curaleaf has filed a motion to dismiss it, arguing that the medical marijuana law in Florida is clear — regulation of the industry is left to the state — going on to say that the court cannot circumvent the legislature.
“You could take any smell. It’s Coco Chanel; if you smell it 24/7, it’s going to drive you crazy, let alone a smell that can be compared to the smell of a skunk. It doesn’t belong here. And they’re just being selfish,” one South Florida neighbor said.
Rodriguez is hoping for proactive measures, which is something Curaleaf told us it’s already done.
“I’d rather that these companies take proactive measures and implement best management practices within their business. I hope perhaps with this type of reporting that we’re having, uh, today, that they will look at it and consider doing this, without having legislative intervention,” Rodriguez said.
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