BRADENTON — With news media converging for the historic event, a standing-room only crowd of patients crowded the lobby of Bradenton’s first-ever medical cannabis dispensary for its grand opening Tuesday morning.
And several customers offered choice words for Florida legislators, who have outlawed the smoking of medicinal marijuana despite 71 percent public support of last November’s Amendment 2 referendum, which made no reference to modes of consumption.
“I think they’re stupid,” said Glenda Spitzer, whose husband Tony had previously been controlling his Parkinson’s tremors by legally smoking medicinal marijuana in New Jersey. ”(Banning smoking) does not make any sense. They need to legalize it and help everybody be healthy.”
Recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, John Kuebler of Bradenton is getting his first full-night’s sleep in years, thanks to oil extracts from a dispensary in St. Petersburg.
“I exhausted every option with other drugs, and my doctor said I don’t know what else I can do, so he wrote me a prescription,” Kuebler said. “This changed my life. It worked immediately. I got 6.5, 7 hours of sleep the very first time. It was amazing. I think they need to legalize this for anybody with pain. It can help get them off opioids.”
The new business in town is called Trulieve, and CEO Kim Rivers was on hand to tout its products as Florida’s “first legal medical marijuana dispensary.” And its scope is ambitious.
Counting Bradenton, Trulieve has nine locations statewide, plans to open four more this fall, and hopes to bring a dozen more online next year, including Sarasota, North Port, and Venice. The goal, said Rivers, is to bring medicinal marijuana to within an hour’s drive of all Florida residents.
Headquartered in rural Quincy west of Tallahassee, Trulieve’s growing operation sprawls across 100 acres, counts 400,000 plants and 75 strains of cannabis. Rivers said those products fall into three broad categories: indica, sativa and hybrids. For simplicity’s sake, she compares sativa to uplifting, appetite-inducing Dayquil, indica to a Nyquil relaxant, and hybrids as a blend of the two. But none of those products can be smoked.
Instead, the tidy shelves at Trulieve’s office in Bradenton showcase vaporizers, nebulizers, oral syringes, extracts, tincture droplets, topical creams and oral capsules. However, with Orlando attorney and Amendment 2 architect John Morgan suing the state over the smoking ban, Rivers anticipates an expansion of Trulieve’s inventory.
Florida’s legal relationship with medicinal cannabis has been evolving since 2014, when the sale of CBD extract – a non-euphoric property of marijuana – was specifically approved to treat a limited range of afflictions, despite its widespread commercial availability in most states. CBD contains negligible amounts of THC, the plant’s psychoactive component.
In 2016, Florida lawmakers allowed residents to consume full-strength marijuana so long as they were pronounced terminally ill. In July, Gov. Rick Scott signed Amendment 2 into law, extending coverage to Floridians with ailments such as HIV, AIDS, glaucoma, PTSD and multiple sclerosis.
But Rivers says legislative restrictions are hampering marijuana’s efficacy.
“I’m not sure it’s as much about the smoking as the ‘entourage effect,’ from a medical standpoint,” Rivers said. “What that means is different properties working in conjunction with one another.
“You have at least 1,600 cannabinoids that are found in the plant. CBD and THC are just two of those. You also have a number of terpenes in a plant that create different medicinal effects. So when we go to an oil, unfortunately we’re refining that plant down to isolate certain elements, whereas the flower based product gives the total array of medicinal effects the plant has to offer.”
For now, Tony Spitzer, 65, has little choice but to stick with the oils, which appear to have controlled his Parkinson’s tremors well today. But his wife says smoking marijuana is far more immediate and efficient.
Glenda Spitzer says they plan to spend $610 today on hardware and product, which should last for “several months.” However, because marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug “with no currently accepted medical use” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, insurance companies are under no obligation to cover patient costs.
That Schedule 1 stigma – which equates marijuana with drugs such as heroin and cocaine – has been intact since the Nixon Administration put it there in 1972. In a 2016 Scientific American article detailing marijuana’s legal history, the White House ignored The National Commission on Marihuana (sic) and Drug Abuse verdict that the plant was no more dangerous than alcohol. Instead, it used the law as a weapon against the antiwar movement.
“I’ve worked with alcoholics before, and I will take people on cannabis any day of the week,” said Glenda Spitzer, waiting her husband’s turn to get in alongside several other patients with canes, and at least one in a wheelchair. “You have to be careful with it? Fine. You have to be careful with aspirin, too.”