The Flowery: Former Police and Military Family Now Growing Medical Marijuana
On a visit to the Flowery, a medical marijuana grow operation in Homestead, Florida, it's stunning to see how inconspicuous the set-up is. Tucked away in the sprawling farmlands of South Dade, it's easy to miss the building — driving past rows of ornamental flowers and plants.
Ori Sivan and Donovan Garrison greet visitors at the security gate, they run the business and operations for the Flowery respectively. Also part of the family business is Donovan’s father, Stephen, who happened to be sitting in a back office outside the grow operation.
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He’s well over 6 feet tall, with a stocky build and long white beard, his grandchildren have called him Santa Claus. Stephen is a gregarious man, filled with colorful stories about his many years running Bill’s Nursery in Homestead.
Florida law requires medical marijuana growers to have 30 plus years in the nursery business, so the Flowery operates as part of Bill’s Nursery. But prior to his current operation, Stephen served as a police chief in Virginia Gardens. He also lost his son Matthew, an Iraq War veteran, which led his family to start selling medical marijuana.
Florida’s medical marijuana market has more than doubled in the past two years. There are nearly 600,000 registered patients and it’s valued to be a more than $1.2 billion business. The Flowery is one of 22 licensed medical marijuana treatment centers, the term used by the state for growers and distributors. But the lucrative business is highly competitive, with larger companies like Surterra and Trulieve outselling the Flowery by millions of dollars.
Stephen Garrison understands the contradiction, that he used to arrest people for marijuana and now his family grows the crop themselves.
“I’ve made plenty of marijuana arrests in my 20 years in law enforcement. It was the law and I enforced it,” he explained. “But I think that anybody that’s in jail for that should be turned loose today. They should expunge people’s records, it’s ludicrous.”
The inspiration for the Flowery all started with Stephen Garrison’s son Matthew. He was a disabled veteran who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq. He believed in the medical advantages provided by marijuana compared to all of the other drugs Veterans Affairs doctors had prescribed to him, according to his father.
Matt was charged with an incredibly dangerous and important mission during his tours of duty, finding improvised explosive devices and detonating them. His experience as an exchange student in France as a teenager helped him prepare for this responsibility.
“He spent an entire summer raiding using metal detectors. And the first thing you learn when raiding French antiquities is you look for structure,” said Stephen Garrison. “If you’re going to look for IEDs, you should stay mounted. If you send soldiers out there with these metal detectors, snipers are going to pick them off one at a time.”
Matt was recognized by the Military Times for uncovering the largest weapon cache in the Iraq war.
But he returned from the war with scars, both emotional and physical. His sister Steph Frohock now handles marketing for the Flowery. She explained adjusting to life back at home for Matt was incredibly challenging.
“They’re giving him prescription drugs for sleeping because he had nightmares. Rightfully so because he sees his best friend get killed right next to him. I think that was another thing of not having that, somebody else that could relate to you because none of us could relate to him,” she said via Zoom.
Matt was prescribed painkillers by the VA and Ambien for his sleep issues. His family noticed the adverse reaction the drugs were having on him and recommended he try getting a medical marijuana card. But Matt was afraid he’d lose his concealed carry permit if he was registered as a medical marijuana patient, even though marijuana patients can have those permits.
Matt died in January 2017 from an overdose of his sleep medication, it was ruled heart failure. The family applied to become medical marijuana growers later that year but the first application was denied. They sued the state of Florida and in 2019, their license was finally granted.
The Flowery’s grow operation is all indoors. The rooms are divided by the different stages of the plant’s life cycle, from seedling to full bloom. There are different light systems and water filtration depending on the kind of marijuana being grown. Sivan worked for many years in the marijuana industry in Washington before joining the team at the Flowery.
“What stops us from doing outdoors in Florida is the humidity,” he said. “The outdoor Florida summer that density pretty much translates directly into mold. It’s one of the main things we are dressed up to stop is mold spores from growing.”
Florida law requires medical marijuana companies to handle all aspects of the operation, so the Flowery cannot outsource deliveries. Donovan Garrison handles the company’s operations. He explained the state’s vertical integration system puts a big strain on them financially.
“Sometimes, and it kills me every time, I go to Jacksonville for one order. Now hopefully I have a bunch of stuff in the middle that I can make sense of it. But there’s a lot of days I lose 500 dollars a day in labor, in fuel and insurance just to get to my customer,” Donovan Garrison said.
The Flowery is looking to expand its operations. They recently built a new warehouse space, up the street from where they’re growing marijuana now. At a company meeting there in May, they talked about working towards producing more than 10 times their current output.
They’re also exploring other forms of cannabis products: distillates, tinctures and edibles. Sivan and Donovan Garrison say it’ll be a while before they get to that point.
“We haven’t even begun, we couldn’t open a store if we wanted to because we wouldn’t have enough production for a store,” said Sivan. “The biggest complaint, you know, is I have a lot of friends that are medical patients and everybody is out of everything all the time. You know I have friends that will drive 40, 60, 80, 150 miles to go get flower from somewhere up north because everyone is sold out here."
After our tour of the new space, we explored the home the Garrisons have owned for decades, which sits on the same land of the nursery.
Inside, Stephen Garrison showed me the various military honors and photos he continues to adorn for his son Matthew. He gets tearful as he reflects on memories of his son.
“He was considered certainly by me and by his fellow soldiers, as a hero,” Stephen Garrison said.
Stephen is helping raise Matt’s two children. After an interview in May, he was heading off to his granddaughter’s elementary school graduation.
He says he supports his grandkids if they choose a career in the military or if they want to stay working on the farm.