The law allows medical marijuana to be used for cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV / AIDS, PTSD, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s and Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain.
Ocala’s first legal medical marijuana dispensary quietly opened along 200 State Road last week, selling a range of cannabis products by prescription only.
Florida voters approved the sale of certain forms of the drug for medical purposes through a constitutional amendment in November 2016. More than 71 percent of voters approved the measure. But until last week the closest pharmacies to Ocala were in Gainesville or Lady Lake.
In 1839, Curaleaf took over the location of a former home design shop on SR 200 between Sonny’s BBQ and a car graphics shop. The Massachusetts-based company hopes to open 22 stores in Florida by the end of the year. The location in Ocala is store number 18, said Vinit Patel, manager of the regional pharmacy.
Inside, the store resembles a boutique retailer, with brightly lit sales counters and bright colors. White is the dominant color, also for staff uniforms, with neon green reflections. On the back wall of the exhibition area is a large living moss sign with the company name.
“Ocala is centrally located. We’ve covered the other major markets in the state and in the middle of this beautiful area,” said Patel of finding a store in town.
Despite the quiet opening, the waiting area was packed with people filling out prescriptions on Friday. While there are several Ocala Doctors certified in dispensing marijuana prescriptions and hemp-derived CBD products are readily available in the county, the active THC products offered by Curaleaf are a first.
Patricia Erickson said she had post-traumatic stress disorder and smoked the black market drug for relief prior to legalization.
“I was so happy when (the amendment) was passed,” she said, adding that she is now only buying the legal form of the drug.
She said the drug relieved her stress levels and improved her mood. A nearby electrical outlet is also more convenient.
“I love having it so close to my home. I don’t have to worry about going so far to get my medicine,” she said.
Getting the legal medication isn’t as easy as filling out other prescriptions. A person must see a certified medical practitioner who will determine if their condition is qualified under state law. The doctor then registers the person in the state’s medical marijuana user registry. After the person pays the necessary state fees, the doctor can prescribe the drug. After the registration and the prescription have been validated in the pharmacy, the customer can only then enter the dispensing area.
All hoops are an attempt to thwart those who want to play the system.
The pharmacies must also follow strict rules.
The law requires that the cultivation, processing and sale of the drug are all within the state. Curaleaf operates one of Florida’s largest marijuana grows near Mount Dora and processes the facility in Miami. They hope to open another processing facility in Mount Dora, Patel said.
The company makes a variety of products, including high THC – the psychoactive component of marijuana – and low THC. These include vape oil, tincture, capsules, and CBD oil. The company also makes cartridges that contain the full flower of marijuana but are only intended for vaping.
“It’s a non-flammable flower. They’re in tamper-evident ceramic capsules,” said Patel, adding that the capsule requires a machine that heats the flower enough to release the active ingredients but not hot enough to hold the material to burn.
“The flower will always have a full spectrum effect,” said Patel, who is also a pharmacist.
He said that some of the products the pharmacy sells are of great value, but the benefits are greater than the passing feel.
“I worked for an independent (pharmacy) chain. Unfortunately, most of my patients were given opiates, benzodiazepines or a sleeping pill. I couldn’t do that anymore because I knew what this plant could really do for people.” Said Patel.
Prices range from $ 15 for small flower vaporizer cartridges to $ 90 for 30 milliliters of CBD oil. With the drug still banned by law, it is largely a cash business, although there are a few online companies that process payments.
Some locals are not thrilled with the pharmacy’s arrival.
Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn is personally against the sale of products with active THC.
“I’m not a huge fan of this stuff. I went to a guy who gives the actual prescriptions and he said, ‘I have 350 reasons to prescribe,” Guinn said.
The law allows the use of medical marijuana in patients with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV / AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or chronic pain.
It is this last condition that Guinn believes is the most abused.
“Chronic pain. It can mean anything,” he said. “I understand that 71 percent of people voted for it, but a lot of what has been talked about has been used by children with seizures. One thing is for sure. But I think it’s just being abused.”
Guinn also believes that the ultimate goal of the marijuana industry is to legalize recreational use of the drug.
“For me (medical marijuana), it’s a step towards legalizing marijuana. It’s just the first step. I think that’s not good at all,” he said.
In 2017, Ocala City Council voted 4-0 to end a temporary ban on pharmacies and put regulations in place for these types of businesses. While Guinn had the power as mayor to veto the measure, the council had the votes to overthrow him. Greg Graham, Ocala Police Chief, urged the council to ban the pharmacies of the time.
Contact Carlos E. Medina at 867-4157 or firstname.lastname@example.org