FLORIDA - The small congregation of Bethel Baptist Church in Lake Wales has shut down plans to open a medical marijuana growing facility less than 1,000 feet from its property. According to its website, GrowHealthy is poised to create a chain of medical marijuana nursery farms.
Michael Kirchik, pastor of Bethel Baptist, says that a representative from GrowHealthy approached the church and offered to lease a 3.2-acre parcel of land that belongs to it. The parcel is adjacent to the property where GrowHealthy planned to open a medical marijuana growing facility on what was once a Sealy Mattress plant.
It was crucial for GrowHealthy to secure the lease of the church land because state rules prohibit the cultivation of marijuana less than 1,000 feet away from a church property, said Kirchik. GrowHealthy could not be reached for comment. On Nov. 4, Floridians will decide the fate of Amendment 2, which would legalize the cultivation, purchase, possession and use of medical marijuana.
At last week’s State Board of Missions meeting, Florida Baptists approved a resolution asking pastors and church leaders to help defeat the legislation. Resources are available at www.dontletflgotopot.com.
The business transaction between Bethel Baptist and GrowHealthy has served as a backdrop for an issue that, so far, has not generated a lot of attention in the evangelical community.
On Aug. 24, the church voted 8-0 to lease the 3.2-acre parcel to GrowHealthy but held off on signing an agreement pending an appeal vote.
After the initial vote, the church started to receive a lot of negative feedback from the Lake Wales community, says Kirchik. "We were getting hits from all sides,” Kirchik told The Ledger, a newspaper in Lakeland. "I was getting hits from the Ridge Baptist Association, from law enforcement, from the people who run the city, all of them. A myriad of other pastors were also telling me how this is wrong and it's not Christian, it's going to open the door to all kinds of things for Polk County and even the state of Florida.”
Kirchik asked Michael Hasha, director of missions for Ridge Baptist Association, to speak to the congregation. “He [Kirchik] came to me and said, “Mike, what should I do?’” said Hasha. Hasha, along with a few others, attended the Aug. 31 Sunday service and encouraged the Bethel Baptist congregation not to lease the 3.2-acre parcel to GrowHealthy.
On Aug. 31, Bethel Baptist voted 5-3 to reject leasing the parcel of land to GrowHealthy. While GrowHealthy boasts on its website that it has purchased and is currently renovating the 185,000-square-foot Sealy Mattress Plant facility, the Polk County’s Clerk Office does not have a record of a recent purchase for that property.
By Keila Diaz - Florida Baptist Witness/Sept. 24, 2014
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