The first dispensary to open in Alachua county, Florida will be in the college town known as Gainesville, Florida aka Gator Territory! I’m curious to see the demographics of the medical marijuana patients 12 months from now. Will there be a large amount of seniors or college students applying for a medical marijuana registration for IDs? I would love for you to share and leave your comments with us down below.
The first of two growers and dispensers of medical marijuana in Alachua County is getting ready to open in January as a state law approved by voters earlier this year takes effect.
CHT Medical, a subsidiary of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in Alachua, announced Wednesday it has received authorization from the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use to process and dispense medical cannabis.
“Our mission is to bring revolutionary new products, science and research to this important new field of medicine, and make it available to patients and physicians in the State of Florida,” said Robert Wallace, CEO of CHT. “Patients have found the use of medical cannabis to alleviate certain conditions associated with epilepsy, cancer, chronic pain, opiate abuse, PTSD, and many other conditions and illnesses.”
CHT Medical is one of six licensed dispensing organizations for cultivation, processing and dispensing medical cannabis to patients in Florida, and the state is poised to approve two more. Many are expected as soon as physicians can begin prescribing medical marijuana to patients with specific conditions in January.
Gainesville’s growing status as a national hub for medical care and research could also make it a major player in the medical marijuana industry that state officials and industry experts expect to boom across Florida.
Two of the licensed dispensaries are in Alachua County. The other one is San Felasco Nurseries, operating as the Green Solution. A third plant nursery, Knox Nursery out of Orange County, has zoning approval to open a dispensary in Gainesville. The location is a former hamburger restaurant on Southwest 34th Street.
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said once more local dispensaries are licensed, their locations in the city will come down to policy. City staff recommends dispensaries be at least 750 feet away from schools, 300 feet from religious gatherings and at least 500 feet apart from other dispensaries. Stores could be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., in accordance with state law, and would restrict on-site pot use and the sale and consumption of alcohol.
Poe said he hopes Alachua County and Gainesville policies align for the sake of residents. Florida is lucky to have seen how other states, like Colorado and Oregon, have been successful with the medical marijuana transition, he said.
Just three doctors countywide have completed the eight-hour training required to order non-euphoric cannabis, according to the state health department: Justin Davis, of Florida Marijuana Doctors; Matthew Ellis, of North Florida Regional Medical Center; and Brent Stewart, of Advanced Pain Medical Center.
“Pain is best treated when you can modulate a variety of receptors,” Stewart said. Many of his patients have muscle spasms and muscle pain, he said, which aren’t always soothed by narcotics.
Medical marijuana appears safer and sometimes more effective than other pain management medicines, Stewart said, although federal law has limited research. “We really are just beginning to scratch the surface of this therapy,” he said.
Almost half of U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s going to be about the production and distribution,” he said. “All the things go through a pretty rigorous process.”
The National Cannabis Industry Association estimates medical marijuana in Florida will be a $785 million industry annually at first and potentially grow to $1.5 billion by 2020.
“You have got a multibillion-dollar industry with a clear trend from prohibition to state regulation,” said Adam Cohen, the chief executive officer of MJardin, a Colorado-based marijuana consulting, management and dispensary firm. “There’s no unringing this bell.”
Florida health officials have agreed last week to issue another medical marijuana license – the state’s seventh – to a Central Florida nursery that lost out to a competitor by a fraction of a percentage point last fall.
The Department of Health inked the agreement with McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery – after nearly a year of protracted and expensive litigation over the license – before administrative law Judge Elizabeth McArthur could issue a ruling and as health officials tried to work out a deal over another license in a separate challenge.
In the Dec. 12 settlement, posted Monday on the Division of Administrative Hearings website, state health officials acknowledged that the Lake Wales-based McCrory’s should have received a Central Florida license awarded in November to Knox Nursery.
Of the seven applicants in the Central region, a three-member panel charged with evaluating the applications gave McCrory’s an aggregate score of 5.5417, just a fraction below Knox, whose score of 5.5458 earned the Lake Mary-based grower a license.
The administrative challenges are rooted in a 2014 law that initially called for one license to be awarded in each region of the state for nurseries to grow, process and distribute medical marijuana. That law allowed limited types of non-euphoric cannabis for some patients and was expanded early this year to allow full-strength pot for people who are terminally ill.
The agency’s attempts to resolve the administrative challenges by granting new licenses come as lawmakers prepare to grapple with a vastly expanded medical marijuana market in the state, the result of a constitutional amendment approved by voters last month.
Amendment 2, which was approved by 71 percent of Florida voters, takes effect on Jan. 3. It allows higher-strength marijuana to be used for a wider list of medical ailments once a new set of rules are adopted and implemented.
The state legislature and Department of Health have six months to revise current rules and must implement them within nine months. The Florida Senate’s Health Policy Committee conducted a workshop hearing last week to begin the process.
The current law – which was approved by the state legislature in 2014 – allows non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms. It was expanded in March to allow patients with terminal conditions access to higher strength cannabis.
The March legislation also ensures that once the patient registry reaches 250,000, an additional three licenses will be made available, one of which will be designated for black farmers.
The state registry currently has 340 physicians and 1,495 registered patients but state officials anticipate a significant increase once the amendment is implemented.
Backers of Amendment 2 have maintained that the limited number of licenses allowed in Florida would not provide the access to marijuana treatment anticipated by authors of the proposal or by voters who overwhelmingly signed off on the measure.
In Alachua County, nearly 77 percent of voters approved of the measure.
State economists estimate that 500,000 patients could be eligible for the treatment, but industry observers predict that number could be even greater because the amendment gives doctors leeway to order pot for illnesses not specifically identified in the amendment.
One of the state’s marijuana vendors last week told a Senate panel that the state will have a more-than-adequate pot supply when the amendment is fully implemented later next year, adding that her company alone could provide marijuana treatment for 650,000 patients.
The Department of Health is “focusing on our role in implementing the amendment as outlined in the measure approved by voters,” agency spokeswoman Sarah Revell said in an email.
“The department remains committed to ensuring a regulatory structure that best serves the people of Florida. The department will continue to work with all licensed dispensing organizations to deliver product to patients as quickly and safely as possible,” she said.
The law passed earlier this year allows the agency to grant three additional licenses after more than 250,000 patients have signed up for the marijuana treatment, Revell noted.
The number of licenses available to businesses interested in growing, processing or selling pot products is expected to be one of the most contentious issues lawmakers face as they contemplate implementation of the constitutional amendment during the legislative session that begins in March.
Four of the state’s six medical marijuana license-holders are now producing pot treatments. According to Clifford, patients receiving full-strength marijuana – currently limited to terminally ill patients – are restricted to purchasing five days’ worth of treatment due to a supply shortage.
“They (Department of Health officials) have looked at this. They’ve looked at Amendment 2. They want to add some capacity and move forward. We applaud that effort,” Clifford said.
– The News Service of Florida and the Associated Press contributed to this report.