ST. PETERSBURG — Among topics that stir passionate interest, two that rank high are medical marijuana and craft beers.
A group of Tampa Bay entrepreneurs has ambitious plans to profit from both.
They are leasing a vast warehouse space in St. Petersburg where they hope to build Pinellas County’s first medical marijuana greenhouse. And even if state officials don’t approve the cannabis component, part of the space already is poised to become Florida’s first commercial hydroponic farm for growing hops, a key ingredient in beer making.
“Hops and cannabis are very close cousins,” says Brenden Markopoulos, president of Twin Bays Hops Farms.
Once home to a roofing-supply company, the long-vacant space on 39th Avenue N near the railroad tracks already has been permitted for the farm. It would provide fresh hops for Tampa Bay’s robust craft-brewing industry and could produce the first harvest as soon as September, Markopoulos says.
Getting approval to grow medical marijuana will be far more difficult. The process started this month when Markopoulos appeared before the city’s Development Review Commission seeking an exception to zoning rules to build a commercial greenhouse.
Commissioners deferred action. They told him to come back with more details about security and “odor reduction” after nearby residents expressed concerns about crime, lighting and the smell of marijuana possibly permeating their neighborhood.
“I don’t oppose pot, just this facility,” said Mirela Setkic, whose parents live a block away. “Does anyone want to buy homes knowing there is a huge marijuana greenhouse across the street?”
Approved in 2016 as Amendment 2 to Florida’s constitution, medical marijuana is projected to become a billion-dollar industry in Florida. So far, though, only 13 businesses have been allowed to grow, process or sell it in the state.