As of this week, Lee County is now home to two medical marijuana dispensaries.
Michael Costa guided visitors through the front lobby of Curaleaf Tuesday evening.
“Up here is kind of our admissions area," Costa said. "So, when a patient walks in here, they walk up to the admissions window, and this is where we’ll ask them for their patient ID card.”
Curaleaf is a Fort Myers medical marijuana dispensary – well, not 'a’ dispensary. It’s the Fort Myers dispensary –at least, for now – since the City of Fort Myers enacted a ban in December.
But, Curaleaf still opened Tuesday as planned because the medical marijuana delivery service received approval to dispense well before the temporary moratorium took effect.
“Since we started serving patients in Florida, we have been delivering to multiple areas throughout the state," Costa said. "This is one of the areas that we have existing patients that we have been serving, so we are always trying to increase the availability of our products to our patients.”
As Curaleaf’s director of associate training and dispensary support, Costa said the company has made extra efforts to make its products available since Amendment 2 passed in Florida because many of Curaleaf’s patients have debilitating disorders that make it hard for them to travel so far for these cannabis products.
Mac Strong is a partner and VP of cannabis clinics My Florida Green.
“You should’ve been there yesterday when I’m looking at a veteran who got shot in the back in Afghanistan, yesterday, in wheelchair, suffering," Strong said. "Nothing works for him.”
Strong came out to Tuesday’s opening of Curaleaf because he said he wanted to check out the closest dispensary to My Florida Green’s clinic in Naples.
He spent the evening mingling with a crowd of other clinic operators, licensed physicians and patients seeking products – ranging from capsules to vaporizer pens to oils.
Depending on the product, the orders can range in price anywhere from $15 to $300.
Clinical pharmacist Silvia Silveira says patients are not prescribed these cannabis products.
“Cannabis or medical marijuana is ordered or recommended by a qualified Florida physician – a physician who took the FMA course," Silveira said. "The orders are placed in what is called the Medical Marijuana Use Registry, also known as the MMUR.”
Silveira said the MMUR is a sort of virtual registry where physicians register their patients and recommend everything from the method of treatment – like topical or inhalation – to even the strain of marijuana if they’d like. Dispensaries, like Curaleaf, then access this registry to ensure they get people the products they need.
She said it’s had some other, unintentional positive effects as well.
“It’s been very helpful for patients trying to get off the opioids,” Silveira said.
Opioid overdoses take the life of someone in the U.S. every 16 minutes by the most recent numbers, and Southwest Florida has some of the worst numbers in the state. But, Silveira said, death is not a risk with medical marijuana.
“The receptors for cannabis are not expressed in the part of the brain called the brain stem, and so, that area of the brain is what controls your respiration," Silveira said. "And, there’s a lot of opioid receptors there though, and that’s why people die of overdoses; they stop breathing.”
Mac Strong says My Florida Green has seen a different issue in the 16 months since the medical marijuana bandwagon came to the state. The company has gone through a number of physicians because they went into the two-hour course to get licensed to recommend medical cannabis for the money.
“They see pot leaves and big numbers, and they think it’s the next opiate thing," Strong said. "They’re perfectly comfortable writing an opiate prescription one day and then a cannabis recommendation the next day. That is, to me, a disaster, and you have no business being in the cannabis world. You should get the hell out of it.”
Silveira said the only way to combat that problem is through education, which she said Curaleaf is heading with workshops and community outreach events across the state, like Tuesday’s opening.