It was a grand opening in a modest setting that marked a major step in a budding industry.
Trulieve, one of seven cultivators licensed to grow and distribute marijuana in the state, opened its first South Florida storefront on Wednesday. The new location, the company’s fifth in Florida, launched inside a nondescript building in the industrial zone just east of Miami International Airport. The company has already been delivering medical marijuana to patients from other locations. Another grower, Modern Health Concepts, quietly distributes its products to patients in a limited pre-Amendment 2 program from its undisclosed headquarters in the Redland.
But following November’s vote in which 6.5 million Floridians approved expanding medical marijuana access, this is the first retail setting in Miami where patients with appropriate recommendations from their doctors can walk in, then walk out with medical pot.
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Even after months of planning, Wednesday’s opening was a bit of a rush job, said CEO Kim Rivers.
The company received its certificate of occupancy from Miami-Dade County abruptly on Tuesday, she said, and wanted to open as quickly as possible. The county’s laws regulating medicinal marijuana retail outlets also require that companies open their stores within a specific time frame, she said, so Trulieve was racing against the clock.
“We were hustling to get it open as quickly as we could to meet the required deadlines,” she said.
The facility, at 4020 NW 26th St., is white with green trim and situated among rental warehouses that host car rental and signmaking businesses, with the tails of grounded planes in view down the street and the loud rumble of flights overhead booming every few minutes.
But inside, it looks like any slick new medical office. There’s a check-in counter with two computers and some chairs. Only the television screen on the wall behind the check-in counter indicates the product being sold when rows of cannabis plants in a laboratory are displayed.
Once an employee verifies that a patient is registered to have access to medical marijuana, doors on the side open to the actual dispensary. At a glass counter, patient consultants are available to explain a range of products that include oils, “flower” that can be vaporized and a topical cream. The products are boxed, bottled and labeled like typical prescribed medicine. The strength of the product sold to each customer is based on the recommendation from the patient’s doctor.
Only doctors who are approved by the state can recommend marijuana treatment, and a patient must have at least a three-month relationship with that doctor before that recommendation can be made.
Before Wednesday’s opening, Trulieve emailed its roughly 500 South Florida patients to invite them to its grand opening. Eddie Ramos told the Miami Herald that about 20 patients came in during the initial morning rush, and more trickled in throughout the day.
“We had patients that we have previously delivered to, and we had new patients coming in for the first time,” he said. The staff at the Miami location said the first clients were mainly older people with chronic pain, though as the market grows, the range of patients will likely diversify. State lawmakers are currently debating exactly how the market will grow following the November passage of Amendment 2, which expands the list of qualifying conditions to include epilepsy, PTSD, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and “other debilitating medical conditions.”
For Trulieve, having a base of operations in South Florida is critical when it comes to serving its clients in the area. Rivers said Miami-Dade, specifically, is a “critical market.”
“Previously, we were delivering for our South Florida patients from our Tampa store. We literally had teams of drivers in South Florida meeting teams of drivers coming from Tampa,” she said, due to state regulations. “So we’re very excited to have that process streamlined.”
Having a physical location also allows the company to host patient-to-patient sessions and physician training. Medicine also becomes cheaper for patients, she said, because they no longer have to pay a delivery fee.
“It’s important to put a face and physical location into the community so that not only patients, but also the general public have an understanding of medical cannabis and the profound effects it has on patients. It becomes less stigmatized. It’s no longer an unknown,” Rivers said. “It’s very professional. Clean and comforting. This is not a head shop.”