At 10:12 a.m. Monday, Rich Murphy was handed a one-ounce bottle of hope.
Murphy, a 61-year-old survivor of a 2014 horrific traffic accident, received one of Florida’s first therapeutic doses of cannabidiol spray.
The spray was distributed by Surterra Therapeutics, a health and wellness-focused company.
Suterra president Susan Driscoll and Dr. Lisa Avery – Murphy’s neurologist – gave Murphy the orange-flavored bottle of Calm/CDB (Cannabidiol infused with natural Florida orange extract).
What followed was a round of hugs, smiles, watery eyes and a sea of media at Cann Health, Avery’s Palm Harbor office. Murphy was accompanied by his wife, Pamela.
Surterra, founded in 2014, has been licensed and approved by the Florida Department of Health to cultivate, manufacture and distribute medically-driven cannabis products to qualified patients throughout the state.
On Aug. 15, 2014, Murphy became one of those patients when a semi-truck running a stop sign and red light bulldozed his Ford F-150 truck.
Eight weeks earlier, Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 1030, also known as the “Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014.” The legislation legalized low-tetrahydrocannabinol cannabis for medical patients suffering from cancer or conditions that produce chronic symptoms such as epilepsy or severe and persistent muscle spasms.
Murphy was the first to sign on to the registry.
According to the Florida Department of Health, which oversees the physician-provided patient information and registration, 57 Florida residents are currently on the list.
The Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, known as Amendment 2, appeared on the ballot Nov. 4, 2014. The amendment was defeated by a slim margin of 57.62 percent, just under the required super-majority vote of 60 percent.
The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative (again named Amendment 2) is on the Nov. 8, 2016, ballot in Florida as an initiated constitutional amendment.
Avery, one of 99 Florida physicians able to prescribe medical cannabis, is optimistic about both the amendment passing and the benefits to thousands of patients.
To become one of the registry’s qualified doctors able to prescribe it, Avery completed an eight-hour state-approved continuing education course with the Florida Medical Association. Patients must have at least a 90-day relationship with the prescribing physician.
If voters approve the amendment, the spectrum of qualifying medical conditions will broaden dramatically. HIV, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder will be among those included.
Surterra and Trulieve are among six state-approved dispensing organizations and the only two to have begun delivery of their cannabis products. Murphy was Surterra’s first.
Driscoll said Surterra has offices planned for Tallahassee, Orlando, Jacksonville and Miami. Its first Tampa location, on Fowler Avenue, is slated to open by the end of August.
“Surterra is all about providing the highest-quality, cannabis-based product to patients all across the state,” Driscoll said. “We use all-natural products and no pesticides.”
Driscoll added that recipients of Surterra’s products are overseen by a wellness coordinator and delivered by the company’s security personnel with a vigilant patient identification process.
“For Mr. Murphy, we hope to empower his health and help him face his many challenges,” she said.
Among his numerous residual conditions, many a direct result of damage to his frontal lobe and cerebellum, Murphy suffers from seizures and takes 11 medications daily – most producing uncomfortable side effects.
Unpredictable and often numerous, Murphy’s seizures can be triggered by noise, unexpected situations or nothing in particular.
“Before the accident, Rich was the calmest person ever,” Pamela said. “We have 13 grandkids and 7 great-grandkids, and he would always be right in the middle of them. Nothing would bother him.”
Overwhelmed by television crews, bright lights and interviews in the small conference room at Avery’s office, Murphy and his wife took a 15-minute break outside to escape the commotion.
Though Pamela witnessed improvement throughout her husband’s rehabilitation process, she has done extensive research on the positive aspects of medical marijuana.
“Our hope is that Rich can enjoy a quality of life comparable to what we had before the accident,” she said. “Before meeting Dr. Avery, I knew nothing about cannabis but today, perhaps we can share our situation with others. And hey, we can be proof that if grandma or grandpa can use it medicinally, we can educate others as well.”
“Yes, today has brought hope.”