JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - More people will soon have access to Medical Marijuana, but first Florida lawmakers have to set the new rules.
There's a lot of confusion since the passing of Amendment 2 last year, which expands the 2014 law -- the one everyone is operating under right now -- to give more patients with more ailments access to the controversial weed.
To clear up some of the confusion, News4Jax was the only local TV station taken inside a secure Florida facility, west of Tallahassee, to reveal just how medical marijuana is being grown and sold, how it's getting ready to serve even more patients and when new rules allowing more people to legally use it will likely be in place.
We recently went to Quincy, Florida, and were taken inside the growing facility for the company Trulieve. It's located in a heavily guarded, non-descriptive warehouse. Inside, they grow the plants, extract the THC, and then manufacture the drug to be distributed and sold.
Growing and processing medical marijuana
Trulieve is the first fully licensed medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility in the state. It’s now one of seven such facilities in Florida.
“It was a two year process, we submitted an application through a competitive process implemented by the Department of Health. Our application was 2,000 pages, and included our standard operation procedure, methodology and process of safety in delivering medical cannabis to patients in Florida,” explained Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers.
Before entering, we were checked at the door, to make sure we didn't bring in cell phones.
"We don't want anyone to have the opportunity to take pictures and post on social media any of our trade secrets," explained Jason Pernell, Trulieve COO.
Pernell is an electrical engineer and electricity is the reason you walk into the nursery where the plants are grown, it looks like you are walking into heaven.
"We control the different stages of the plants as they go through seasons. When the plants are smaller, we simulate the sun being in the northern hemisphere, so the days are longer, temperatures are higher, and the humidity is higher," Pernell explained.
The cannabis is dried and medicinal parts of the marijuana plant are eventually extracted.
"We grow the plants, we harvest the flowers, we dry the flowers, we process it into an oil, we cut it and infuse it into our finished product, label it, package it and deliver to our dispensaries," added Pernell.
Besides making sure we didn't have cell phones, we were also asked whether or not we had been around any plants. The reason: bugs.
This facility doesn't use any pesticides and if we had been around bugs, they would have to destroy the crop we came in contact with.
Dispensing and selling medical marijuana
Trulieve is the license holder for the northwest Florida region. After the cannabis is grown and processed into medical marijuana, the company ships the final product to three dispensaries around the state.
We went to one dispensary in Tallahassee and noticed the storefront looked more like a juice bar or boutique then we expected.
Marijuana is sold there in various forms including capsules and vaporizers, with a board listing the different prices. One example of a price was 200mg of CBD oil in a syringe for $25.
While there, we found a couple who had traveled a few hours from Panama City to try medical marijuana for the first time. Wanda Fulton suffers from Parkinson's, and they scoured the state for the right doctors, until they found one who could legally recommend it for her.
“First time we tried it, it wasn’t really that difficult just a matter of finding the right doctor and her telling us to come here. Diagnosing Wanda that she actually needed it and that’s all there was to it,” said her husband Keith Fulton.
"Everyone said go ahead and try it," Wanda Fulton added.
Finding a doctor can be confusing because only certain doctors are trained in dispensing medical marijuana right now. Marijuana Doctors is just one website that lists medical marijuana doctors in Florida.
It's important to note the doctors can’t actually “prescribe” medical marijuana because prescriptions operate under Federal Law which still lists marijuana as illegal. So, all doctors can do is recommend a patient needs medical marijuana and that patient can take that recommendation to a licensed dispensary, like Trulieve.
But once the new law is in place, Rivers says her company is ready to keep up with demand.
"We have built our facilities and infrastructure to handle increased capacity," she said.
Changing Florida's medical marijuana laws
Currently, there are only a few medical conditions that allow for medical marijuana right now, until the law can be written. When voters approved the Amendment 2 in November, it did not immediately take effect. This has caused some confusion.
"We would like to see some additional clarity," Kim Rivers told News4Jax.
Republican State Sen. Rob Bradley, who represents District 5, has already gotten that ball rolling, having drafted proposed legislation to include Amendment 2 -- to drastically expand the current law and allow medical marijuana for more medical reasons.
While we were told by doctors who are trained to recommend medical marijuana that the new rules likely won’t be in place until October, Bradley tells us it's likely to happen sooner than that.
“I think individuals who qualify for medical marijuana under Amendment 2 that they should be able to start getting their product, if they don't qualify now, which they may, but they should be able to qualify much sooner than next fall,” said Bradley, although he wouldn't give us a specific timeline.
Bradley did however address concerns some may have about expanding medical marijuana and the worry those not in need will still be able to get it.
"I think that part of the reason why I've filed this bill and become involved in this issue is because we need to treat this seriously. This isn't a joke," said Bradley. If you look at how some other states, Colorado and California for instance, have handled this issue, and I've visited other areas of the countries where medical marijuana laws are in place. It's a joke. Everybody knows you can get it with your knee hurting just by some 'doc in a box' and we don't want that to be Florida."
Bradley’s bill would do something else. It would also allow patients to be able to order medical marijuana and have it delivered to their homes.
“That is why I think delivery is important because if community standards suggest that they don't want storefronts in their communities or they want to limit the number of storefronts, which I think is appropriate by the way,” said Bradley.
Tallahassee isn't the only level of government debating medical marijuana. Trulieve is struggling to find communities where the company can set up shop.
Some local officials have raised concerns that they’re not equipped to regulate medical facilities and need more guidance from the state. That won’t come until the law is written by the legislature.
Local communities that have already passed moratoriums to delay medical marijuana storefronts include:
- Atlantic Beach
- Jacksonville Beach
- Neptune Beach
- Clay County
- Flagler County
St. Johns County is also considering a delay. Commissioners are scheduled to have a final vote on a 12-month moratorium March 21.
“I actually think that Clay County and other communities that are doing moratoriums right now are handling it in a prudent fashion. They are really waiting to see what we do in Tallahassee and then they can react to that,” Bradley explained.