Lake Wales, FL -- Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd couldn't stop it. The city of Lake Wales couldn't either.
But it now looks like the largest medical marijuana facility in the country won't be moving into Lake Wales after all. A big decision made by a small church has derailed the pot plans.
"The church is not interested," said Pastor Marshal Kirchik.
His tiny Bethel Baptist Church may have only 11 members, but its decision has likely ended to plans to bring the nation's largest medical marijuana production facility to Lake Wales.
"Marijuana is marijuana," said Kirchik, "It does not belong in Polk County. Certainly not on church property."
BACKGROUND:Big pot facility coming to Polk?
Last week, a company called GrowHealthy, said it would retool an abandoned mattress manufacturing plant along State Road 60 to produce the recently-legalized pot extract Charlotte's Web.
But the law says such facilities have to be at least 1,000 feet away from a church.
A Lake Wales church has refused an offer to allow a medical marijuana facility on its land.
At first, Bethel agreed to lease GrowHealthy the acreage behind their small building to meet that requirement, but then, held a second vote over the weekend, deciding, "categorically and irrevocably, no," said Kirchik.
Kirchik says GrowHealthy first persuaded his church members medical marijuana would ease people's pain, and they voted 8-0 to let them use the land in sympathy.
But local law enforcement and Mike Hasha's coalition of 61 Central Florida churches called Ridge Baptist Association, convinced them legalized pot would hurt children.
"I've yet to have a parent come in and say life has been so good since my boy started smoking pot," said Hasha.
Kirchik says GrowHelathy offered the church 500 a month. Then upped it to $1,000, but there's no amount of money, he says, that would make the members reconsider their moral opposition.
He likened it to an alcohol distillery.
Legal or not, "nobody would want to have anything to do with it," said Kirchik.
GrowHelathy's CEO, Don Clifford says, "From the beginning, GrowHealthy has pursued multiple sites and growing facilities in Central Florida in parallel to our consideration of the Lake Wales facility. Our expectation was to make a final determination on our facility site with feedback from the local community. While the Lake Wales facility was a good option, we respect Bethel Baptist Church's decision."
Clifford says GrowHealthy is still determined to open a facility somewhere in Central Florida.
"We are now focusing on other options. We remain committed to joining the Central Florida community and, as a good corporate partner, bringing economic benefits to the area," said Clifford.
The church says if that's anywhere in Polk County, it will do what they can to oppose it.
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