Two Tallahassee entrepreneurs are betting the farm on converting an empty jet engine parts factory into a cannabis cultivation center that will crank out a brand of medical marijuana unlike that of their competitors.

“We want to be the craft beer of medical marijuana,” CEO Derek Hart of Huxley Medical Group said during a tour of the building they say will house the company’s environmentally-friendly, pesticide-free cultivation, production and distribution center.

Huxley Medical Group is Hart and longtime partner Costa Vathis. A third partner they wouldn’t name has 20 years of experience in the medical marijuana cultivation business. They’ve also lined up a biophysicist and medical director and plan to hire 20 workers with “living-wage salaries” averaging about $50,000 a year.

It’s a calculated risk. Huxley doesn’t have a medical marijuana license yet, but Hart and Vathis anticipate the Legislature will open the door to more medical marijuana companies this session. They believe it is an inevitable outcome as the Legislature drafts new rules to implement Amendment 2, a November ballot issue that gained support from 71 percent of the state’s voters.

“Every business we’ve started has had some risk involved,” said Vathis, the CFO of the newly formed company. “It goes with the job.”

Amendment 2 expands who can get medical marijuana, which several industry experts said would create a $1.6 billion industry in just a few years in Florida.

Several bills introduced in the Legislature would increase the number of licenses available for companies seeking to enter the medical marijuana business to meet the anticipated increase in demand for the product. One bill in particular, by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would authorize the creation of five additional medical marijuana treatment centers by October, one of which to satisfy litigation must be reserved for a black farmer.

Hart and Vathis want to have their production facility completed when the application process reopens.

“If it’s not in place we won’t get a license,” Vathis said.

Hart is registered as a lobbyist to follow the legislation. “We’re gambling on the legislation and what happens beyond that,” he said.

They figure the state will eventually have to expand the number of licensed medical marijuana growers to meet the demand. “The demand will be there and the supply is not,” Vathis said.

During the 14 years the two have been in business together, they’ve started up several businesses, including Tour Transport, Camp Warrior, Fire Betty’s Arcade and the Fox & Stag cocktail lounge.

They got out of the transportation business a few years ago and put their resources into the hospitality industry, Hart said. But now they’ve sold Fire Betty’s and Fox & Stag to Matt Larmoyeux of The Strip Entertainment to put their full focus on the medical marijuana business.

“We feel like this is our calling and deserves our full attention,” Hart said. “When you’re calling people for money you want them to know that.”

Larmoyeux said he plans to “improve upon what was already there” at Fire Betty’s and Fox and Stag and would have more information to share later.

Huxley bought the 27,000-square-foot building on a 10-acre lot on Hartsfield Road that once housed Chromalloy Compressor Technologies, a company that reconditioned jet engine fan blades. Chromalloy sold the property in 2005 to the 6/10 Corporation, now the Six/Ten LLC, out of Winter Haven.

They wouldn’t disclose the price they paid for the building and property, but it is valued by the Leon County Property Appraiser at close to $900,000.

Hart said it was a natural fit for what they want to do with it. And it was a chance to revive a building that had not been used for a decade, he said.

“We will start building in the next couple of weeks and have it turn-key by July,” Hart said.

Entering through the front door one passes a handful of rooms that will contain the company’s offices and security monitoring room. There is a 320-square-foot vault for storing products ready for delivery.

Another door opens to a cavernous room. Hart points out where a nursery and 10 growing rooms will be built. A separate 370-square-foot room will be the extraction room where the plants will be turned into tinctures and other products for sale to patients with recommendations from their physicians.

By this time next year, they hope to be distributing their first batch of products.

They hope that the Legislature allows a wider range of products than currently are available, including the ability to smoke or eat medical marijuana.

“Patients should be allowed to medicate however they want,” Hart said. “It’s a matter of personal choice and

freedom.”

Contact Schweers at jschweers@tallahassee.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeffschweers.

Read or Share this story: http://on.tdo.com/2oSwVeZ