JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The renovation of a building that once served as an auto repair shop on Beach Blvd. is a sign of good things to come for a growing number of patients in Northeast Florida. The first low-THC and medical cannabis dispensary planned for Duval County is expected to open within months.

The Tallahassee-based company, Trulieve, has begun the process of constructing a medical marijuana treatment center (MMTC) at 6259 Beach Blvd. in Jacksonville, Fla. This would make the fifth storefront the company has opened since July 2016.

The process to open the Jacksonville dispensary started back on Dec. 20, 2016, when initial permits were filed with the Jacksonville Building Inspection Division. Since then, Trulieve has had to file seven separate building inspection requests, the most recent on Feb. 30.

Still waiting on final approval, the general contracting firm Ticon, Inc. has begun doing demolition and minor plumbing repairs on the inside of the building which was once the auto repair shop A&N Auto Care.

Building plans should be approved by the end of this week, according to Trulieve community relations spokesperson Victoria Walker. The dispensary is expected to open within 60 days and will offer both CBD and THC products, all of which are non-smokable.

“Jacksonville is an important city for us to be in,” Walker said. “There are a lot of patients in Jacksonville that are currently having to get delivery, which is an additional cost to the patient.”

Walker says Trulieve has approximately 3,000 patients statewide, with several hundred of those in the Jacksonville area that require a home delivery. Trulieve makes a trip to the Jacksonville area twice a week, according to Walker, and every delivery costs the patient an additional flat-fee of $25.

All the deliveries currently come from Trulieve MMTCs in Tallahassee or Clearwater. Walker says the company will reevaluate the delivery model as more stores open, in hopes of enhancing logistics and speeding up transportation.

“Delivery will be an important part of our model, always, because it allows a portion of our patients who can’t or are unable to get to the dispensary the ability to still receive their medicine,” said Walker.

The goal for Trulieve has always been to get the medicine to the rightful patient as quickly as possible, Walker says. Next-day delivery is something they would like to see happen in the near future, with the possibility of same-day delivery once enough stores have opened.

On Wednesday, Trulieve opened its fourth MMTC in Pensacola to a mostly positive response from the surrounding community. Twenty patients, according to Walker, had gathered in the parking lot of the dispensary that morning, waiting for the doors to open.

“Part of the reason why we want to expand so quickly is patient access,” Walker says. “We are willing to make the investment because we know that the patient basis there [Jacksonville] will really welcome us into the community.”

The speed of success when it comes to newly opened dispensaries has a lot to do with the number of physicians in that specific area, says Walker. For example, the number of physicians in Tampa who have the legal right to prescribe medical cannabis is a lot larger when compared to the number in Pensacola. The number of patients is directly correlated with the number of physicians, as of now.

Mobile users | Photos: Trulieve Jacksonville

When asked whether the company believes the opening of more MMTCs – as stipulated in Florida Senate Bill 406 – is a good thing for patients, Walker sidestepped the question, saying it depends on other rules and regulations that would go into place.

“We are always going to operate, as we do today, under the legislation that is put into place,” Walker says. “So, today we are focused on our products and the availability of those product.”

In regards to medical marijuana moratoriums, Walker said it has made expanding more difficult, but has also helped Trulieve manage the process better.

Last month, the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed a 12-month moratorium prohibiting all things related to the growing and dispensing of low-THC and medical cannabis. Assistant County Attorney Paolo Soria says the moratorium was passed largely as a precautionary measure, though.

“St. Johns County has received some informal inquiries on any potential or existing zoning regulations, mostly from appraisers and realtors, however we have not received a formal application or request for a permit for the location or construction of a dispensary from an existing license holder,” said Soria.

A staff-led workshop on potential rules and regulations surrounding medical marijuana in St. Johns County will take place next week on April 13 in St. Augustine. The public and all interested parties are encouraged to attend.

Administrative and legal staff will be present to answer questions and present information on proposals, per Soria. Input from the public and other sources will be included in a draft of proposed regulations that will – at some point down the road – be presented before the commissioners.

As more counties in Northeast Florida debate the issue of whether to put a hold on medical cannabis, Trulieve may find considerable success in Jacksonville, where the market is currently unsaturated.

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