FORT WALTON BEACH — The doors to Fort Walton Beach's first medical marijuana dispensary will open this morning.
Miami-based Knox Medical was one of the first dispensaries established in Florida after Gov. Rick Scott signed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act in 2014 to allow for a limited use of medical marijuana. The local Knox Cannabis Dispensary outlet at 109-F Racetrack Road N.E. is the seventh Knox Medical location in the state and offers one-on-one service for medical marijuana patients.
The next closest dispensaries are in Tallahassee to the east and Pensacola to the west, according to the Florida Department of Health's Office of Medical Marijuana Use.
"We're super excited to be increasing access in the state of Florida," Mark Batievsky, director of retail operations for Knox Medical, said during a media preview Wednesday morning. "We want to provide the absolute best customer experience."
Knox Medical already has been serving Northwest Florida through its delivery program. Scott Klenet, a spokesman for Knox Medical, said the company has several hundred patients from the Alabama state line to Tallahassee.
The local office looks more clinical than some might expect. The products — which vary from capsules, creams, suppositories, sublingual drops and vaporizer cartridges — are largely kept out if sight. Patients have the option of CBD products, which contain less than 0.8 percent THC (the mind-altering chemical found in marijuana), low or high-THC products and a blend of THC and CBD. Prices start at $45 for a 30-day supply.
It is still illegal to smoke marijuana in Florida, even with a prescription.
"Like a pharmacy, we're regulated by the Department of Health," said Klenet.
Klenet said the practice wants to be "good neighbors" in the community and the shopping center that also contains a bingo hall, a Thai restaurant, a doctor's office and a nail salon. Klenet said the dispensary also plans to work closely with local law enforcement. The dispensary has a security guard on the premises during business hours and multiple cameras to create a safe environment for staff and patients.
While Knox Cannabis Dispensary only dispenses medical marijuana to those on the medical marijuana use registry, people can walk in to learn more about the products and how to get on the registry. Patients must seek treatment from a qualified physician who will then input information into the Medical Marijuana Use Registry. According to Florida law, only licensed dispensing organizations can grow marijuana. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Neaely a dozen doctors have been certified to prescribe medical marijuana in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. Just two doors down from Knox Cannabis Dispensary is Medical Marijuana Treatment Clinic of Florida (MMTC). Dr. Joseph Dorn started the practice, which has 14 locations throughout the state.
At the media preview, Dorn said he wasn't always a believer in medicinal marijuana, but about 10 years ago he started to notice the benefits while working in hospice care.
"I started to study it and found that it (medical marijuana) is the most effective thing for relief," he said. "I think it should be an alternative choice for people. It is safe; there's never been a death from marijuana overdose."
Dorn said his average patient is about 55 years old. He treats them for a host of issues, from cancer to PTSD, and says he sees positive results with "every single" patient.
"I had one patient with severe PTSD," he said. "He was low-functioning and taking 18 pills a day. After treatment, he is not taking pills during the day. ... He is a different person. There is nothing better than medical marijuana for PTSD."
There are more than 100,000 legal medical marijuana patients in Florida. Klenet said he expects that number to grow.
"There's a lot of myths and preconceptions about medical marijuana," said Klenet. "Our youngest patient is 9 months old using CBD for epilepsy. And our oldest patient is in their 90s in the end stage of cancer. The average patient looks like the state of Florida. People might be surprised to see how boring we are."
Knox Cannabis Dispensary's business hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit knoxmedical.com.