First medical pot dispensary opens its doors

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For medical marijuana in Florida, the future is finally now.

Trulieve, the approved provider in northwest Florida, on Tuesday officially opened the first medical cannabis store in the state, in a strip mall in northeast Tallahassee.

“This is an historic day for the state of Florida,” CEO Kim Rivers told a roomful of reporters and medical cannabis advocates. The company was recently granted dispensing authorization by Florida’s Department of Health.

Trulieve is now the first medical marijuana provider to offer statewide delivery and make an in-store sale in Florida.

It will offer both the low-THC, or non-euphoric, strain previously OK’d by the state and the higher-THC strain allowed for terminally ill patients, Rivers said. Its marijuana is grown indoors to avoid using pesticides and other chemicals.

The store’s opening caps off an often frustrating journey for patients and their caregivers who had clamored for medical cannabis in the Sunshine State.

In 2014, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure legalizing low-THC marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

That same version is high in cannabidiol, or CBD, the active ingredient that helps control spasms and seizures. It is processed into an oil to be taken by mouth.

A three-member panel of state officials was tasked with selecting five approved pot providers for each part of the state. But that process got bogged down as officials struggled through the rulemaking process and fielded legal challenges from providers who weren’t selected.

Tuesday’s grand opening also was attended by the co-founders of the CannaMoms, a group of Florida mothers who have been advocating for medical cannabis for their kids.

“The will of the people does change the world,” said Moriah Barnhart of Tampa, the organization’s CEO. Her daughter was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer at two years of age.

“We’re being able to relinquish the title of criminal we were forced to embrace in order to save our children’s lives,” she added. “We now know our neighbors are standing beside us.”

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized medical marijuana under state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, but selling marijuana is still a federal crime.

The Obama administration, however, has given guidance to federal prosecutors to not charge those, particularly “the seriously ill and their caregivers,” who distribute and use medical marijuana under a state law.

Also, a proposed state constitutional amendment is planned for the 2016 election, backed by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, that would create a right to medical marijuana. A 2014 attempt failed at the ballot boxes.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.