Update: 4:40 p.m. Jan. 18, 2016: Wallace provided a written statement to WUFT News on Monday afternoon. It reads: “Chestnut Hill has never represented that it has a partnership – formal or otherwise – with the University of Florida, including within Chestnut’s application to the Florida Department of Health to dispense low-THC cannabis. Chestnut’s team of advisors includes one former and one current professor from the University of Florida’s College of Medicine. In addition, Chestnut’s COO received a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Florida’ College of Pharmacy. We believe this team supports Chestnut’s overall goal to dispense low-THC cannabis to a medically needy population consistent with the Florida Legislature’s intent.”
Robert Wallace, owner of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in Alachua County told Florida’s Senate Committee on Regulated Industries on Wednesday that he is working with scientists from the University of Florida to develop and distribute medical marijuana by summer, and that he will donate a portion of his proceeds to the university for research.
Two days earlier he told the Alachua City Commission that he has a property picked out to dispense his proprietary product next to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
Yet spokeswomen for the University of Florida and UF Health say neither organization is working with Wallace’s business.
Wallace, whose nursery is the recipient of the northeast region cultivating and dispensing license for medical marijuana in Florida, confirmed to the committee he is on track to make the Feb. 7 deadline to request authorization to start growing the plant.
“We have put together a team of scientists both from the University of Florida and from the pharmaceutical industry and we have developed some proprietary technology,” Wallace said. “They are validated, pharmacokinetically tested products that will be a really revolutionary delivery system over what is currently available in the United States at all.”
“Those are big words, sounds like it must work,” responded committee chair Rob Bradley, the Republican senator from district 7 covering parts of Alachua, Bradford and Clay counties.
Watch the testimony: Robert Wallace of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm speaks to the Florida Senate Committee on Regulated Industries on Wednesday about his preparations to begin growing medical marijuana. (Begins at 54:25.)
If what Wallace described is to work, it won’t be with the help of the University of Florida nor UF Health.
“We’re not aware of any UF researchers or scientists, or of any UF Health Shands employees working independently with Mr. Wallace,” Rosanna Passaniti, media relations coordinator for UF Health, wrote in an email. “Our employees must abide by work policies established to ensure outside activities and financial interests do not represent a conflict of interest with respect to their role at the university or hospital system.”
Faculty and staff of the university are required to disclose outside activities to their supervisor, and faculty certify each semester via an effort reporting system.
Passaniti also said UF Health Shands has no plans to open a medical marijuana dispensary.
“We are not aware of any contract or collaboration with Mr. Wallace or of plans for any type of medical marijuana dispensary in association with UF Health Shands,” Passaniti wrote.
When contacted by WUFT News for comment, Wallace hung up the phone. Repeated attempts to speak with him by phone and email were also unsuccessful.
Janine Sikes, assistant vice president of UF media relations and public affairs, also said the university has no affiliation with Wallace. She said federal law prohibits the possession, cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, which also means UF is prohibited from doing so.
“Violating federal law threatens the federal funding UF receives,” Sikes said. “As a state agency, UF is required to comply with the law.”
Wallace told the Senate committee that he has plans to donate proceeds from the sale of medical marijuana to the university.
“In addition, we are contributing three percent of our gross sales to University of Florida for research on cannabis as a medicine; it’s something that we are passionate about, and it’s something that we want to work together to pursue,” Wallace said.
Sikes said UF cannot accept any money from any nursery or individual cultivating marijuana.
“Under federal law, UF could not accept known illegally obtained funding – from a grower, say. That said, there are limited ways we can do research on marijuana based on federal guidelines. But we are NOT doing any with Mr. Wallace or any other grower in Florida,” Sikes said.
Wallace said he has plans to open several dispensaries after the first is established near Shands. A medical director will be on staff at this location, however, no one on staff at the dispensary will be able to write prescriptions for patients. The staff’s role will be to educate patients on their prescribed medications, Wallace explained to the Senate committee.
Wallace told the committee his long term plans include home delivery and multiple retail stores throughout the state.
Payments for prescriptions will be processed through First Green Bank along with an onsite ATM at the dispensary, Wallace said during Monday night’s city commission meeting.
The greenhouses used to grow the cannabis plants are on Chestnut Hill Tree Farm at 15105 NW 94th Ave. in Alachua. This facility will be under 24-hour surveillance, using Crime Prevention Security Systems and onsite security, Wallace said.
Progress Corporate Park, located off of U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua, will house the processing facility for the medical marijuana, Wallace told Alachua’s city commissioners.
Once Wallace receives authorization to start growing after February 7, Chestnut Hill Tree Farm will have exactly 210 days to make products available to patients.
Caitlin Franz, Victoria Smith, and The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.