Ocala's first medical marijuana dispensary opens

Governor-elect may drop some legal battles over medical cannabis regulation

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

OCALA, Fla. - As the first medical marijuana dispensary located within the City of Ocala celebrates its grand opening, Florida’s next governor signaled his administration might be willing to drop some ongoing legal battles that have delayed the state from fully implementing a 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing medical cannabis.

Curaleaf, which operates more than 18 of the state’s 78 medical marijuana dispensaries, opened a new location on Southwest College Road on Tuesday. Previously, patients living in Ocala had to travel to Lady Lake or Summerfield to visit a dispensary.

“We are known to deliver high-quality cannabis with the emphasis on patient education, physician engagement and community outreach,” said Vinit Patel, Curaleaf’s regional dispensary operations manager. “Seeing patients come back and visit us often should let you know we’re doing something right by them.”

One of those patients, David Stallings, visited the store Tuesday to pick up a so-called “flower pod” that allows users to inhale medical marijuana using a vape pen.

Stallings, who suffers from a form of skin cancer, admits he used to illegally smoke marijuana to ease his discomfort.

Earlier this year, after receiving a required recommendation from a physician, Stallings obtained a state-issued card that allows him to legally purchase medical marijuana.

“The product is getting a whole lot better.  A whole lot, remarkably so,” Stallings said. “Because now it’s out from under the cloud of secrecy.”

Stallings supports a group led by Orlando attorney John Morgan that is suing to overturn the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana. Currently Florida law only allows medical cannabis to be administered through other means such as vapes, balms and oils.

Other lawsuits have been filed against the state regarding the way the Florida Department of Health issues licenses to medical marijuana growers and distributors.

Critics believe appeals filed by the administration of outgoing Gov. Rick Scott have delayed the state from fully implementing a 2016 constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, which was approved by more than 70 percent of voters. 

Last week, the administration of governor-elect Ron DeSantis signaled some of those legal challenges may end.

DeSantis himself has not specified which lawsuits he opposes, but Lt. Gov.-elect Jeanette Nuñez told The News Service of Florida that DeSantis “has said he’s not interested in continuing that fight.”

“I think he has a different perspective than Gov. Scott. I think he wants the will of the voters to be implemented,” Nuñez told the news organization.

There are currently 14 companies licensed as “medical marijuana treatment centers” in Florida. Most are authorized to cultivate, process and sell medical marijuana.

Seven of those licensed companies, including Curaleaf, operate the state’s 78 dispensaries.

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