You wouldn’t think that a clean, new strip mall in little ole Tallahassee, Florida, holds one of the biggest advancements in medicine in decades. On Tuesday July 26, Trulieve, the first medical cannabis dispensary in the state, opened doors to its first sale of legal cannabis product to wheelchair-bound Dallas Nagy -- to much clapping and cheering from the crowd that had squeezed into the small front of the shop for this historic moment.
Trulieve Dispensary holds one of six licenses in Florida which allows nursery operations to grow medical cannabis. Having slogged through a 2,000 page application, CEO Kim Rivers noted that it was a “long road, two years” to get to this point of distributing medicine.
Partnered with Hackney Nursery, located in Quincey, just north of Tallahassee, Trulieve offers high-CBD, low-THC products. THC is the cannabis chemical that gives a patient a euphoric “high”. That particular product won’t be available until August and it’s required that the ill patient have two recommendations from physicians of his or her terminally ill status. CBD, in the meantime, is thought to have anti-seizure and anti-spasmodic qualities, along with a laundry list of other anecdotal uses.
At Trulieve, high CBD products come in two types: oral and that which you inhale. The oral medications come in capsules, as a tincture in a bottle or in an oral syringe. The inhalation method uses vaporizers with either the vape that uses a pen-like cartridge filled with cannabis oil. The other vaporizer is for use with cannabis flowers because Trulieve recognizes that there are some people who are traditionalists who like to inhale their medication.
In the meantime, patients like Nagy, who lives about two hours out of Tallahassee in Hudson, Florida, gains access to high-CBD products which he uses to control seizures and muscle spasms. And according to COO Jason Parnell, the medicine Trulieve offers is lab certified as free from pesticides, insecticides and other undesirable chemicals. The secret: Inside growing.
“We control the entire environment of that plant,” Parnell said. “This medicine is going to patients with already compromised immune systems. So we offer the highest quality product possible without having to worry about Mother Nature [as compared with outside grow operations].”
Medical director Dr. Ken Brummel-Smith observed that the Quincy grow house is technologically advanced. “Really, it’s like walking into NASA. It’s just unbelievable what they have done to create this incredibly safe environment to grow the plants – not only in the most efficient way, but in the safest way,” Brummel-Smith said.
Trulieve has its own on-site laboratory with a full-time lab director. The company regularly tests its medicines on a regular basis by its own lab and by an independent outside lab.
But growing high-CBD plants seems to be the least of this new industry’s problem. Florida physicians are required to take an eight-hour course on the use of medical marijuana, then an exam. They are then to register with the newly created state Office of Compassionate Use. Though about a hundred or so doctors have taken the course and exam, only about ten percent are registered and able to recommend medical cannabis to patients.
“Patients should encourage their physicians to take the course to get certified but many won’t,” said Brummel-Smith. “Many doctors are worried that marijuana is still illegal from a federal standpoint. But the federal government defunded enforcement efforts against doctors prescribing medical cannabis. So, to me, the general risk is none.”
Cannamoms.com co-founder Moriah Barnhart reiterated this point. “We are begging the doctors of Florida to become certified to be able to order medicine for patients,” she said. “What you’re going to find is a lot of people searching for help and not enough medical professionals to help patients.”
One sticking point of the 2014 enabling legislation is the stipulation that the patient and doctor have a 90-day established relationship before any recommendations for cannabis meds can be given. This, say critics, is a requirement that is burdensome, and possibly expensive, for the patient. And though a patient may be chronically ill, they would still need a working relationship with a certified physician. And wait three months, at least.
Critics of the law also say that the categories of chronic illnesses could, and should, be expanded so that more patients qualify for medical marijuana. Said Dr. Brummel-Smith about Amendment 2, an upcoming referendum question that would increase the number of illnesses that would qualify for medical cannabis, “In general, expanding the options [of treatable conditions] is important.”
Presently, only those patients who suffer from pain, nausea, loss of appetite due to cancer or who experience seizures and severe and chronic muscle spasms qualify to use medical cannabis.
With one newly opened location, Trulieve has plans to open up locations in Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Pensacola and Bradenton by the end of the year. So for the lucky few who live in central Florida and who qualify for medical cannabis and can locate a certified physician, there’s a medical marijuana dispensary coming near you.
Interview & Author, Amy Zukerman