Since the Florida legislature legalized medical cannabis in 2014 and approved five vertically integrated licensees in late 2015, the team at cannabis provider Trulieve has experienced several significant firsts. Trulieve was the first licensee to have cultivation facilities up and running, first to open a dispensary in the state, first to serve a patient, first to make a home delivery, and first to sell statewide. Several more “firsts” are set for the days and months ahead.

When George Hackney, Sr. pauses to reflect on Trulieve’s success and how far the company has come in such a short time, he’s filled with gratitude for the team. Teamwork—effective, efficient teamwork based on family and trust—is a hallmark of Hackney and the two additional nursery partners who formed the cannabis company. “This is an amazing venture where all the people involved are extremely involved, from seed to sale,” Hackney says.

Behind Trulieve’s Beginnings

As president of Hackney Nursery, a wholesale Florida plant nursery known for large-scale production of high-quality ornamental landscape plants, Hackney didn’t foresee medical marijuana in his future. However, Florida’s application requirements made many of the state’s nurserymen take notice. Applicants were restricted to nurseries that held a license in effect for at least 30 years and had a minimum of 400,000 nursery plants in production. This limited qualified applicants to those nurseries in the highest production category recognized under Florida’s nursery laws. Those requirements, plus a required $5 million performance bond, curbed the field of applicants significantly.

Florida’s initial plan called for a lottery system that divided the state into five regions, with just one license per region. In Hackney Nursery’s Northwest region, only five nurseries qualified to apply. Hackney discussed the opportunity at length with his four sons who work with him in the nursery business and with extended family members in the medical profession. “They were very encouraging on marijuana being a benefit for people with certain illnesses,” he recalls. The state’s initial focus on children with seizure disorders also helped convince him to pursue a license.

Hackney’s fondness for teamwork led to meetings with other qualified nurseries. In the end, Hackney Nursery, Simpson Nursery and May Nursery joined forces to compete for the license for Florida’s Northwest region. Legal challenges to the state’s system resulted in several changes and delays in the award process, but the main requirements of a current nursery license dating back at least 30 years and 400,000 nursery plants in production stayed, as did the allegiance between the three nurseries. In November 2015, the self-funded cannabis company was approved to cultivate and distribute marijuana. Cultivation facilities were in operation in just 70 days, and Trulieve opened Florida’s first medical cannabis dispensary in July 2016, in nearby Tallahassee.

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