A 9-year-old California company that grows and sells medical marijuana has begun operations on the DeLand Municipal Airport.
The company, called Cookies LLC, was founded in 2012 by San Francisco-area rapper and entrepreneur Berner and his partner Jai, a cultivator and breeder also from the Bay Area.
Cookies is one of only 22 companies in Florida to be licensed to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana.
Cookies bought the 400,000-square-foot former Brunswick plant at 2000 Brunswick Lane for about $10 million, DeLand Economic Development Manager Nick Conte said.
Cookies plans to add another 200,000 square feet in the near future, with a total investment of about $100 million.
“We lucked out,” Conte said. “It’s one of the four fastest-growing industries in the country, according to Forbes and others.”
Conte said Cookies will hire about 100 employees to start, and will have about 500 to 600 workers after expansion. It’s a high-tech industry, he said, with workers required to wear protective gear so they don’t contaminate the foliage or be affected by it. Employees will need to have agricultural skills and knowledge.
Florida is a medical-use-only market that requires patients to obtain a recommendation for medical cannabis use from a qualified physician and then apply for a state-issued ID card, Cookies notes on its website.
Qualifying conditions to obtain a medical-use card include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and “other comparable debilitating medical conditions” like severe/chronic pain and anxiety.
Medical cannabis was legalized in Florida in 2014, and the program was significantly expanded by the passage of Amendment 2 in November 2016. State regulators mandated that companies distributing medical marijuana must be “vertically integrated” seed-to-sale operations, meaning they’re responsible for everything from growing the plants, creating products to sell, and distributing them to centers around Florida.
According to its website, Cookies is one of the most respected and top-selling cannabis brands in California and is globally recognized, amassing a stable of more than 50 cannabis varieties and product lines including indoor, outdoor and sungrown flower, pre-rolls, gelcaps and vape carts.
Cookies’ overall vertical integration and seed-to-sale business allows for complete quality control at every step, from cultivation and production to retail experience.
In September, Cookies announced a two-year expansion plan into Florida, and Conte said the DeLand facility will anchor its operations in the state.
Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, or MMTCs — Florida’s official designation for vertically integrated cultivation, processing and dispensing companies for medical cannabis — are the only authorized outlets for medical cannabis in the state.
Among the 22 licensed in Florida, Cookies is the only minority-owned and -controlled brand to own an MMTC license — something Conte said the company is very proud of.
“Our team is excited and extremely humbled to be able to own one of the few licenses in Florida,” Cookies founder and chief executive Berner said in a news release announcing the expansion. “This is a major milestone for the expansion of Cookies, and we look forward to the challenge of growing some of the best cannabis in the world, in one of the toughest climates. We are building out a massive cultivation and breeding facility to feed our stores all throughout the state and keep the menu exciting.”
Jon-Luca Del Fante, who oversees construction and development for Cookies and will be managing its DeLand operations, said the property was very enticing.
“We had a very, very good kickoff meeting with the city staff, and they were very welcoming,” Del Fante said. “Operations are certainly underway. The first 10,000-square-foot building will be complete in the coming weeks, so we’ve already started hiring for that. We’re in the process of permitting for the next building — that will be 8,000 square feet, and that will be an office building.”
Del Fante said Cookies is excited to be in DeLand.
“Everyone from the city staff to anyone we’ve come into contact with, like contractors — everyone’s been really fantastic and welcoming,” he said. “We’re looking to start a number of jobs for the local community. We look to be building a Google-like campus for our staff and the city.”
— Beacon reporter Noah Hertz contributed to this report.