By the end of 2020, Western New Yorkers could be drinking beverages, swallowing pills, inhaling oils and smoking joints made from marijuana and produced right here in South Buffalo.
Flora-California Prime, which calls itself a health and wellness company, plans to manufacture a range of cannabis products to address a variety of medical needs for adults at a new facility built by a California firm and endorsed by the City of Buffalo.
Those can include lotions, balms and creams to relieve skin conditions or muscle and joint discomfort, as well as pills for pain management and other ailments.
The same benefits could come from food or drinks infused with marijuana compounds like THC and CBD, as well as vaping oils and even cigarettes. Customers will be able to use products aimed at lowering anxiety, helping with insomnia, relaxing muscles and gaining more focus or stimulation.
That's more extensive than the initial description of the project, but recognizes that 70 percent of legal marijuana revenues in California come from traditional users smoking or inhaling vapors. Only 10 percent comes from purely pharmaceutical products, with the remaining 20 percent from pills, mints, lotions, creams, beverages and other concepts.
"We’re not a pharmaceutical company," said co-founder and Buffalo native Brad Termini. "We see our products as something you would see on a shelf of a Whole Foods or GNC."
That's where Flora officials see the greatest opportunity — by developing different formulations of the compounds that can be ingested in varying ways to benefit users.
"We're not sitting around thinking about how to develop the next strain to get you as high as possible," said Flora CEO Jim Caccavo in an interview with The Buffalo News's editorial board, hours after Mayor Byron W. Brown voiced support for Flora in his State of the City address.
"Most of us think of marijuana as smokable, and most of us think about joints and bongs," he said. "That's not even in our nomenclature. We don't talk about pot. We don't talk about weed. We talk about cannabis."
They are lobbying extensively in Buffalo to garner support for their project, which they say could be a game-changer for Western New York.
Termini noted there are now nine publicly traded companies in southern Ontario — with market valuations of more than $1 billion each — that didn't exist four years ago. They're creating jobs, paying taxes and spinning off other opportunities.
"We think Buffalo and Western New York should band together to bring this industry back to Western New York and create job opportunities," said Termini, whose father is developer Rocco Termini. "These are all things that Buffalo needs."
Led by Caccavo and Termini, Flora wants to invest more than $200 million in private funds to create what the executives call a high-tech cannabis campus at Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park.
Officials emphasized that Flora is not seeking any special subsidies from the state or city, although it would take advantage of any standard, existing incentive programs open to any company.
The project — and purchase — is dependent on the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo legalizing marijuana use, which the governor has already publicly backed, despite some resistance from critics and concerns from lawmakers. Passage is widely expected, so Flora executives are making sure they are ready to start construction on the site as soon as the law takes effect and the state issues a permit.
Flora has already been approved by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. to acquire 47 acres of land, with plans to complete the $1.9 million purchase by early in the second quarter.
Termini said company officials will file a site plan application with the city within two weeks, in order to obtain municipal approvals quickly.
Executives hope to be able to start construction by early 2020, with a goal of getting the facility up and running by the end of that year.
Flora — which has more than $60 million in support from an investment partnership — is based in Solana Beach, but it has primary operations in Salinas Valley. That's where it already operates four greenhouses with 250,000 square feet of growing space, built by a Dutch firm that has built marijuana greenhouses in Ontario.
The operation — which would be duplicated in Buffalo, but on a larger scale — includes air filtration systems, heat and humidity controls, supplementary lighting and automated systems to distribute nutrients and water to plants.
To prevent contamination, Caccavo said, there's "very little human interaction in the actual bays where you grow the flower."
"You'd be surprised how clean they are," Caccavo said. "These are state-of-the-art systems. It's not what you would expect in cannabis."