LAKE WALES — Polk County’s only medical marijuana facility has a new owner.

IAnthus Capital Holdings, a publicly owned company based in New York City, acquired GrowHealthy Holdings last month. IAnthus paid $17.5 million along with stock options through mergers and other transactions.

GrowHealthy, formed in 2014, bought a former mattress factory at 309 S. Acuff Road that same year and invested millions of dollars to renovate it into an indoor cultivation facility.

After buying the vacant building, GrowHealthy officials endured a long delay in their pursuit of a state license to produce marijuana for medical use. The company, in partnership with a Eustis nursery, barely missed out on being awarded one of the original five licenses in 2015.

GrowHealthy filed a challenge, alleging flaws in the review of applications by the Florida Department of Health. Amid an administrative hearing in late 2016, the company received a license, making it one of seven statewide. The number has since grown to 13.

The state granted GrowHealthy approval to begin cultivation last spring.

GrowHealthy originally planned to produce cannabis oil made from plants low in THC, the plant’s psychoactive compound. The Florida Legislature passed a law in 2014 allowing production and use of that product to treat a narrow range of conditions.

Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2016 allowing the unrestricted cultivation and use of marijuana to treat a wider list of ailments. That gave GrowHealthy and the other license-holders a vastly larger potential market.

The Lake Wales cultivation and processing facility comprises almost 200,000 square feet on 33 acres, which at the time of licensure was the largest cultivation facility in the state. The size of the facility provides significant room for expansion and is capable of producing 18,000 kilograms of raw medical cannabis flower annually once the facility is fully built out. GrowHealthy has 4,000 square feet of canopy under cultivation currently and inventory of 32,000 grams of raw cannabis flower ready for processing into final products. The Lake Wales facility includes a 15,000-square-foot extraction lab and commercial kitchen. GrowHealthy delivered its first product in November 2017, and holds a product inventory of 55 strains.

The original chief executive officer, Don Clifford, retired as a result of the sale, and Brian Brescia is serving as interim CEO as well as chief financial officer. Dr. Selim Ramin Benbadis, the company’s medical director, and Darrin Potter, chief horticulture officer, remain in those positions.

GrowHealthy now has about 30 employees, and iAnthus President Randy Maslow said he expects that number to rise steadily.

“We’re going to open dispensaries as rapidly as would be financially prudent, so if the patient base continues to grow and the numbers justify it, we will open dispensaries based on that,” Maslow said by phone. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We like to think we’re fiscally prudent, if not conservative.”

Maslow said iAnthus was attracted to GrowHealthy because the company took the right approach by spending most of its money on establishing a production facility rather than lobbying state officials over the details of the medical marijuana program.

IAnthus acquired GrowHealthy through four transactions, including the payment of $12.5 million in cash and the transfer of more than 12 million shares of stock. The company also paid $5 million for rights to a bond posted with the state as part of GrowHealthy’s license application.

IAnthus also took over GHIAA Management Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of GrowHealthy that holds a 40-year management contract to operate the business associated with the license awarded to GrowHealthy’s partner, McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery of Eustis. The deal allows iAnthus to acquire McCrory's, pending state approval.

IAnthus had previously acquired 6 percent of GrowHealthy through a preferred share purchase last October.

Each license-holder is permitted to operate up to 25 dispensaries in the state. Unlike some of its competitors, GrowHealthy has not yet opened any outlets.

In announcing the deal, iAnthus officials said the company intends to open its “flagship” dispensary in Palm Beach County by July. The company said it had begun lease negotiations on other locations and expects to open dispensaries in the Tampa and Orlando areas by the end of this year.

GrowHealthy began making home deliveries to patients last year, and iAnthus officials said they plan to expand that service.

This is the first venture in Florida for iAnthus, which operates in Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York and Vermont. The company is publicly traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange and in the United States on an over-the-counter market.

Experts predict Florida’s medical marijuana industry will grow to a $1 billion market by 2020.

GrowHealthy is not affiliated with a Lakeland medical center specializing in treatment with marijuana that opened last fall.

Kevin Kieft, president and CEO of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission, said the sale can only increase GrowHealthy’s local economic impact.

“Being part of a national company I think is great,” Kieft said. “It means more resources to pump some more money in, even more than they already have. They’ve already been a big economic boost for the area, but I think that will help even more.”

Gary White can be contacted at