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Future legal marijuana growers bet on future profits

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As News4Jax reported last week, state health officials don't know when they will issue five licenses required by law to grow legal marijuana. When the licenses are issued, it will become an expensive investment, and those applying to grow legal pot are looking to the future for profits.

Once the state selects the five growers, they'll have a week and a half to post a $5 million performance bond.

In British Columbia, Canada, investors spent $30 million setting up a marijuana growing and processing facility called Tilray. The facility serves the country's medical marijuana patients. On a tour, heavy security was evident at every turn.

"(There were) intrusion sensors everywhere," Tilray President Greg Engle said. "We have to have a 2-foot gap beside it, so very high security."

The company has partnered with two growers in Florida -- one in the northeast and the other in the southeast regions of the state -- to grow legal pot here. Their Canadian grow house offers a look at how a Florida operation could look.

Florida lawmakers on the tour were impressed.

"I like the setup, and I like the security they have in place," Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) said. "I think it would be a good model for Florida to follow."

Those who have applied for licenses are actually betting on the future, not what the current law will mean for their profits.

Florida growers can expect a $7 million to $9 million investment -- far less than the Canadian facility, in part because of the weather. Still, earning a profit under the current law could be an uphill battle.

"I would guarantee you that everybody who has applied is anticipating an expanded regulatory framework of additional medical conditions for more patients," said Jeff Sharkey, with Florida Marijuana Business Association.

Only an estimated 9,000 people would qualify under the current law, but if voters or lawmakers approve full-blown medical marijuana, there could be half a million patients, which is why investors are willing to take a risk.