PBC gets its first med­i­cal pot shop

Guide­lines are strict; S. Florida pa­tients wel­come shorter drive

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Skyler Swisher Staff writer

Palm Beach County’s first med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary is now open — the lat­est sign a bud­ding in­dus­try that will serve tens of thou­sands of peo­ple is tak­ing root in South Florida.

About 50,000 Florid­i­ans have reg­is­tered to use med­i­cal mar­i­juana since vot­ers ap­proved its use a year ago, and 21 dis­pen­saries have been ap­proved in the state, ac­cord­ing to the Florida Depart­ment of Health.

Knox Med­i­cal opened the lat­est dis­pen­sary in Florida at noon Tues­day in a for­mer bank build­ing in down­town Lake Worth, mak­ing it the first pot shop in South Florida out­side Mi­ami-Dade County. City Hall is just across the street, along with the city’s main street, filled with restau­rants, bars and an­tiques shops.

Knox Med­i­cal CEO José Javier Hi­dalgo said the new dis­pen­sary will im­prove ac­cess to med­i­cal cannabis for ev­ery­one in South Florida by pro­vid­ing a shorter drive for pa­tients in Broward and south­ern Palm Beach coun­ties des­per­ately need­ing the medicine. The cen­ter at 1 S. Dixie High­way is open seven

“This re­ally pro­vides a lot of re­lief. I am not a fan of opi­oids.” Steve Buch­holz, pa­tient

days a week.

“What I am ex­cited about for this area is we are go­ing to be­gin de­liv­ery from this dis­pen­sary to through­out South Florida,” he said. “That’s go­ing to shorten the de­liv­ery times.”

Step in­side the med­i­cal mar­i­juana cen­ter, and the in­te­rior re­sem­bles a den­tist or doc­tor’s of­fice. Pa­tients must be buzzed into the shop and check in with clerks be­hind com­put­ers in a re­cep­tion area. Pa­tients with a state-is­sued med­i­cal mar­i­juana ID card can pro­ceed to a room with glass dis­play cases show­cas­ing Knox Med­i­cal’s prod­ucts.

Mar­i­juana leaves are ab­sent from the cen­ter’s decor, and signs don’t ad­ver­tise med­i­cal mar­i­juana is for sale. Knox Med­i­cal went mostly with wood pan­el­ing and white walls. An armed se­cu­rity guard is sta­tioned at the busi­ness, sur­veil­lance cam­eras are abun­dant and em­ploy­ees must pass back­ground checks, com­pany of­fi­cials said.

No dis­pen­saries have been ap­proved for Broward County. Three are open in Mi­ami-Dade.

Fed­eral law doesn’t al­low mar­i­juana to be sent through the mail, but dis­pen­saries of­fer a courier ser­vice for qual­i­fied pa­tients. The com­pany de­liv­ers the prod­uct from the Pan­han­dle to the Florida Keys.

Knox Med­i­cal of­fers its prod­ucts in vials — not from jars of mar­i­juana buds com­monly as­so­ci­ated with pot dis­pen­saries — to treat se­ri­ous ill­nesses, such as cancer, glau­coma or Parkinson’s dis­ease. Florida reg­u­la­tions don’t al­low the com­bus­tion, or smok­ing, of any kind of mar­i­juana. Pa­tients can pur­chase drops that are put un­der the tongue or car­tridges that can be used in a vape pen. Knox Med­i­cal also plans to of­fer medicines that can be ap­plied to the skin.

Knox Med­i­cal grows its mar­i­juana in Win­ter Gar­den in Cen­tral Florida, Hi­dalgo said.

A vial of 300 mil­ligrams of the medicine costs $45, while 600 mil­ligrams runs about $90. The prod­ucts are boxed and la­beled like any other type of medicine. Dosage is de­ter­mined by a doc­tor’s rec­om­men­da­tion, and pa­tients can leave with up to a 70-day sup­ply. Low THC and higher THC va­ri­eties are avail­able. THC is the com­pound that pro­duces a eu­phoric high and is sought by recre­ational users.

Only a doc­tor ap­proved by the state can rec­om­mend mar­i­juana treat­ment, and the doc­tor must have at least a three-month re­la­tion­ship with the pa­tient.

Dosage de­pends on the pa­tient and the con­di­tion be­ing treated, said Paula Har­ri­lal, vice pres­i­dent of sales for Knox Med­i­cal. While some pa­tients may need four car­tridges a month, oth­ers might re­quire more or less, she said.

Even be­fore the dis­pen­sary opened Tues­day, Steve Buch­holz, 57, of Lake Worth, was wait­ing to pick up his sup­ply.

He said he uses med­i­cal mar­i­juana to treat chronic pain caused by arthri­tis in his knee. Pre­vi­ously, he had to go to Mi­ami to pur­chase med­i­cal cannabis.

“This re­ally pro­vides a lot of re­lief,” Buch­holz said. “I am not a fan of opi­oids at all be­cause of the ob­vi­ous haz­ards.”

Three-fourths of Florida vot­ers in 2016 agreed that peo­ple with cer­tain med­i­cal con­di­tions should be al­lowed to use mar­i­juana to al­le­vi­ate their suf­fer­ing.

Mo­ra­to­ri­ums or bans on pot shops passed by seven ci­ties in Broward County make it more dif­fi­cult to open there, Hi­dalgo said. Knox Med­i­cal wants to do busi­ness in a heav­ily traf­ficked area with am­ple park­ing, a site sim­i­lar to where a Wal­greens or Star­bucks would lo­cate, he said.

“One of the things that I find ridicu­lous about mo­ra­to­ri­ums is the only peo­ple suf­fer­ing from mo­ra­to­ri­ums are the peo­ple who need the medicine,” Hi­dalgo said.

Knox Med­i­cal opened its first Florida mar­i­juana re­tail out­let in Gainesville in May and oth­ers in Or­lando, Tal­la­has­see, and Jack­sonville.

With mar­i­juana il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law, the dis­pen­saries are a cash-only busi­ness, but Knox Med­i­cal does ac­cept debit cards. Credit cards are not ac­cepted.

Peo­ple who qual­ify for med­i­cal mar­i­juana pre­scrip­tions have con­di­tions that in­clude cancer, epilepsy, glau­coma, HIV/AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s dis­ease, Parkinson’s dis­ease, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis or “other de­bil­i­tat­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions of the same kind or class,” ac­cord­ing to the amend­ment ap­proved by vot­ers.

The Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion has not ap­proved mar­i­juana as a “safe and ef­fec­tive drug” for any con­di­tion, and stud­ies on its ef­fi­cacy are lim­ited be­cause mar­i­juana has been tightly con­trolled. Two drugs con­tain­ing a syn­thetic ver­sion of a sub­stance that is present in the mar­i­juana plant have re­ceived FDA ap­proval.

Dr. Ahmed El­had­dad, a Palm Beach County physi­cian who can rec­om­mend mar­i­juana treat­ment, said his pa­tients — in­clud­ing some with se­ri­ous, ter­mi­nal can­cers — have been re­port­ing good re­sults.

“They use it just to make it through the chemo­ther­apy,” he said. “They are get­ting off opi­oids. They are sleep­ing bet­ter. They are less de­pressed.”

JOE CAVARETTA/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Paula Har­ri­lal, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of Knox Med­i­cal, shows the clinic’s prod­ucts dur­ing the mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary open­ing Tues­day in Lake Worth.

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