Miami Beach is getting its first medical marijuana dispensary, a year after cannabis treatment centers began sprouting up in South Florida.
Surterra Wellness, one of seven companies currently licensed to sell medical marijuana to patients in Florida, plans to open a dispensary on Friday afternoon near the Lincoln Road Mall in South Beach. The dispensary will sell a variety of cannabis-based products to patients who have a recommendation from their doctor for medical marijuana treatment.
Located in a strip mall at 1523 Alton Rd., the dispensary has an open layout that includes a kitchen and a garden. "It's really meant to make people feel at home, feel comfortable and really de-stigmatize a process that is quite frankly villainized," said company CEO Jake Bergmann. "I think the patients looking for this on Miami Beach are going to be extremely happy."
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Bergmann said that in addition to selling vaporizer kits, oils, oral sprays, patches and lotions to those with a doctor's authorization, the dispensary will also educate anyone interested in learning more about cannabis treatment. The dispensary received final approval from the city of Miami Beach on Friday and plans to open at 3 p.m.
The Surterra Wellness Center on Miami Beach is the only dispensary that has applied to open in the city so far, according to city officials, but it could be the first of several.
Miami Beach initially hoped to limit the number of dispensaries to three, but had to scrap those plans after state lawmakers passed legislation last June that prevents local governments from placing more regulations on dispensaries than they have on pharmacies. In order to restrict dispensaries to certain areas, Miami Beach had to either change zoning laws for pharmacies or ban medical marijuana dispensaries altogether.
City commissioners opted to pass an ordinance last fall limiting both pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries to specific areas of the city. The restrictions don't impact existing pharmacies, which were grandfathered in under the old rules.
Medical marijuana dispensaries also have to meet stringent security and employee background check requirements, in addition to following other regulations. As long as dispensaries meet those requirements and secure the necessary approvals, the city can't limit their number.
"The right to medical marijuana is in the Florida constitution and we are obliged to provide the means to obtain it," said Mayor Dan Gelber. "We want providers to be very limited and very regulated."
Miami-Dade is currently home to three medical marijuana dispensaries, according to the Florida Department of Health — two in Miami and one in Kendall. Numerous clinics specializing in medical marijuana diagnoses, some more reputable than others, have also opened in the county.
Bergmann said his company hopes to have three wellness centers in Miami-Dade by the end of the year and a total of 22 statewide.
Florida first authorized a limited medical marijuana system in 2014. Two years later, residents approved a constitutional amendment expanding access to the drug, a move supported by 71 percent of voters. On Miami Beach, 80 percent of voters favored the amendment.
With a recommendation from a doctor, patients in Florida can now get a medical marijuana card, known as a Compassionate Use Registry Identification Card, which allows them to legally purchase the drug from a dispensary. Statewide, more than 70,000 patients have a card enabling them to receive medical marijuana treatment. It's unclear how many of those patients live on Miami Beach. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the Office of Medical Marijuana Use does not report the location of patients.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect final city approval for the dispensary.