Pubdate: Thu, 26 Jan 2017
Source: Tampa Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2017 The Tribune Co.
Author: Tony Marrero


TAMPA -- Four years ago, Bree Morris faced a choice between pain relief
and being close to family.

Permanently disabled from a car crash that injured her back, Morris, 53,
moved from Florida to Colorado after voters here rejected a medical
marijuana referendum in 2012. She left her children and grandchildren with
a hunch that access to medical cannabis in Colorado would work better than
the opiates that had turned her into a "zombie."

"From that day on, my quality of life changed," she said. "I started doing
walks around the park. I started feeling better about life. I'm able to
talk and be alert and do things and even go back to school to earn my

Now Morris is back in Florida, where medical marijuana recently became
legal. On Thursday, the Port Richey resident was one of the first patients
in Hillsborough County's second medical marijuana dispensary.

Trulieve, one of seven companies in Florida authorized to grow marijuana
produce and sell cannabis pills and oil, opened in a former fitness gym at
8701 N Dale Mabry Highway. It's Trulieve's third in Florida -- the other
two are in Clearwater and Tallahassee -- and the latest in a plan to
expand to all of the state's major markets, said chief executive officer
Kim Rivers. A St. Petersburg location is expected to open later this year.

The goal is to improve access for patients, Rivers said. Trulieve, which
has an 80,000-square foot indoor growing and production facility near
Tallahassee, already delivers anywhere in the state but patients can avoid
a delivery fee by picking up their medication in person.

"We think it's very, very important for dispensing organizations and
dispensaries to be located close to patients so they can develop a
relationship with that particular dispensary," she said.

A limited form of medical marijuana has been legal in Florida since 2014.
Physicians can prescribe strains of the drug low in THC for some patients,
including children with severe epilepsy and cancer. Early last year, Gov.
Rick Scott signed a law that allows the use of full-strength medical
marijuana for patients who are within one year of death.

Then, in November, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional
amendment that eases access to the drug. The Florida Legislature has just
begun the process of developing new regulations.

Meanwhile, Trulieve and others continue to open new dispensaries. Last
fall, a company called Surterra opened Hillsborough's first on Fowler
Avenue in Tampa. That and Trulieve's dispensary were permitted before the
Hillsborough County Commission approved a six-month moratorium on new

On Thursday, patients waited in Trulieve's sky-lit lobby, a sleek,
contemporary space decorated with wood-grained surfaces and earth tones.
They came for relief from conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn's
disease and fibromyalgia. Their doctors had already prescribed them a form
and dosage of medical marijuana and put the information in a registry that
the dispensary checks when the patient arrives.

Trulieve's product line includes capsules, tinctures, liquids that can be
swallowed and oils that are heated and inhaled through a vaporizer pen.
Some have no THC, the chemical that causes a euphoric high, and others
have enough to provide some euphoric effects.

Murl Rossell, 49, of Land O'Lakes showed up to Trulieve with fresh
bandages on his right arm from one of his thrice-weekly dialysis
appointments. He's smoked pot for years to cut down on nausea, improve his
appetite and help him sleep, and recently decided to try the medical
variety after a suggestion from his doctor. He picked up his first
prescription Thursday.

"It helps me to be able to cope with the day," he said. "Now that they
have something legal I can do, that's even better."

Morris, the Port Richey resident, said she is happy to live within a
manageable drive of two dispensaries, but Florida still has a long way to
go. In Colorado, she could legally purchase marijuana buds pulled from the
plant to make butter to cook with, and that's not the case in Florida. The
laws should also be expanded to allow providers large and small to open
dispensaries throughout the state.

"I want a free market system so other entrepreneurs can get together and
create dispensaries and grow and do things so we're not limited," she
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